By: Dave Astor
Local Democratic leaders were outraged and a handful of readers canceled subscriptions, but much of the reaction was favorable to an Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle editorial cartoon featuring John Kerry and Osama bin Laden.
“We received about 50 letters, phone calls, and e-mails — and the positive responses outstripped the negative ones,” cartoonist Rick McKee told E&P. “We’re in a fairly conservative area.”
According to a Chronicle story, state and county Democratic leaders called a news conference and demanded that the paper apologize for the March 18 cartoon — which they said implied that bin Laden supports Kerry. Georgia Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Kahn described the cartoon as a “disgrace.”
The cartoon showed a newscaster saying: “Sen. Kerry claimed he has spoken to several foreign leaders who privately support him, but he refused the White House’s request to identify them citing confidentiality requests. … In other news, Osama bin Laden has released another videotape …” Then McKee drew the al-Qaeda leader giving a thumbs-up with one hand and holding a sign with the other. It read: “Vote Kerry! (Call me, John. We need to talk.)”
The Chronicle refused to apologize for the expressing of an opinion. “To me, this cartoon is merely saying that terrorists would rather have John Kerry to deal with than George W. Bush,” said Editorial Page Editor Michael Ryan. “And I think that’s not only a legitimate opinion but one that is borne out by the facts.”
McKee appreciated his newspaper’s support. “I don’t have namby-pamby editors here,” he said. “They really want to push the envelope.”
Still, McKee wasn’t expecting the cartoon to get the strong reaction it did. “I really didn’t see this coming,” he said. But he added, “it’s an election year” — with politicians especially sensitive during what’s shaping up to be a very polarizing presidential contest.
McKee, the Chronicle’s staff cartoonist since 1998, is distributed nationally as part of King Features Syndicate’s “Best and Wittiest” package. King officials said the Kerry/bin Laden cartoon wasn’t included in the package and thus did not receive any reaction from non-Chronicle editors or readers. The King officials said five cartoons a day from various artists are sent out via “Best and Wittiest,” and syndicate editors might have preferred other drawings that day.