By: Joe Strupp
Updated at 4:10 p.m. EST
Cartoonist Ted Rall said his controversial cartoon depicting some widows of Sept. 11 as greedy attention-seekers, which The New York Times and The Washington Post dropped from their Web sites this week after complaints, was a fair portrayal of a small group of victims’ relatives who are taking advantage of the tragedy to promote themselves or their causes.
“It isn’t about all those who lost people in 9/11,” Rall told E&P. “It’s about a half-dozen publicity hounds.”
The idea for the cartoon came after Rall saw several widows “doing the rounds on television with an agenda to promote careers and political points of view,” he said. He cited Lisa Beamer, whose husband drew praise as one of several airline passengers on Sept. 11 who attempted to stop the hijackers. Rall criticized Beamer for trying to copyright the phrase, “Let’s Roll!” which her husband reportedly proclaimed just before the group tried to overtake the hijackers on a flight that eventually crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
“It’s cynical, crass, and gauche,” Rall said about Lisa Beamer’s behavior.
The cartoon also criticized the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped in Pakistan and later died at the hands of terrorists. A scene in the cartoon depicts a woman standing before a bank of microphones saying, “It’s a bummer that they slashed my husband’s throat — but the worst was having to watch the Olympics alone.”
He made no apologies for going after Pearl’s widow, whom he claims was using the death to gain attention. “She kept appearing on television and it seemed pointless and tacky,” he said. “If your husband is dead, don’t you have more important things to do than go on television?”
Rall, meanwhile, reports receiving some 2,000 e-mails on the subject since Tuesday, more than the 200 per week he normally gets. “They’re running four-to-one in favor of it,” Rall claimed.
The controversial drawing, distributed the week of Feb. 28 through Universal Press Syndicate, includes five scenes of victims’ relatives who are more interested in the money they may get or the attention they receive than the loss of loved ones. For example, one panel shows a widow running her fingers through a pile of money and telling a friend, “I keep waiting for Kevin to come home … fortunately, the $3.2 million I collected from the Red Cross keeps me warm at night.”
Rall, 38, is distributed through Universal to about 75 newspapers and an unknown number of Web outlets, according to Universal spokeswoman Kathie Kerr. She would not reveal which newspapers are among the subscribers and did not know which may have not run the strip based on its content.
The New York Times, which often runs Rall’s work inside its Week in Review section, places all Universal Press cartoons on its Web site through a direct feed. The controversial cartoon went up Tuesday morning and was removed late Tuesday afternoon after a Sept. 11 victim’s widow called to complain, according to Times spokeswoman Christine Mohan. “The subject matter was inappropriate,” she said. Mohan added that the Times has since instituted a new procedure requiring all cartoons to be reviewed by a Web producer prior to posting.
Washingtonpost.com removed the cartoon Wednesday, according to Editor Dan Froomkin, who called the cartoon “distasteful.”
Rall said he is not surprised at the reaction and said news outlets have the right to decide what they will allow in print or online. “It’s their paper and their Web site and they can run what they want,” he said. “But it makes them look bad, it makes them look like they’re censoring something.”
The cartoonist, whose work also appears in Gear and Legal Affairs magazines, said the newspaper’s response shows that people have become too sensitive about many issues since the terrorist attacks. “There are too many things that have become sacred cows since Sept. 11,” he said.
Rall pointed out that he had done about six cartoons in the past six months that were sympathetic to Sept. 11 victims, as well as donating a four-page cartoon spread to an anthology book that raised money for the American Red Cross. “No one thanked me when I did that,” he added.
Kerr said UPS’s cartoon Web site, www.ucomics.com, had received about 60,000 page views per day since the controversy started, up from the usual 3,000 per day.