Marlette Defends Firefighter Cartoon in ‘Chicago Trib’

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By: Dave Astor

Doug Marlette defended his editorial cartoon that upset Chicago’s mayor and a number of the city’s firefighters.

The March 14 cartoon — which Marlette did on a freelance basis for the Chicago Tribune — showed several Chicago firefighters hosing three African Americans as another firefighter shouted: “No, guys — the fire’s over there!” It was drawn after racist remarks were heard on Chicago Fire Department radio frequencies. So far, a firefighter and a supervisor have been suspended because of that.

When contacted, Marlette sent E&P a copy of an e-mail he had sent someone who wrote him about the cartoon. Marlette’s message said, in part: “I’m sorry that some of Chicago’s firefighters took the cartoon as an attack on the department as a whole and not on extremists in the department, but I wouldn’t change it. Is it an exaggeration? Of course. That’s what cartoons are. Is it unfair? I think it was fair commentary to invoke the iconic image of firehoses and police dogs of 1963 Birmingham to make the point that there is a problem in the Chicago Fire Department.”

Marlette added that he is a “great admirer” of firefighters and has expressed that in post-9/11 drawings and other cartoons. And he concluded that the guy in the cartoon shouting about the real fire “represents the true spirit” of the Chicago department. “After all, he’s professional, he’s color-blind, and he’s intent on getting the job done,” Marlette wrote.

Speaking directly with E&P, Marlette also said: “It’s important to hold all public-safety departments to high standards. That’s where the rubber hits the road. All citizens need to be protected.”

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was quoted in the Tribune as saying Marlette’s cartoon “was disgraceful. You cannot depict, because of a few comments, [an entire] fire department.” And James McNally, president of Local 2 of the Chicago Fire Fighters Union, said in the same article that the drawing was “disgraceful slander under the guise of an editorial cartoon.” But Tribune Editorial Page Editor R. Bruce Dold said the cartoon was about a problem in the department and added: “I don’t think it was intended as an attack on all firefighters.”

The March 14 drawing was the first of a number of cartoons Marlette may be doing for the Tribune on a freelance basis. Marlette is with the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat and syndicated by Tribune Media Services.

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