By: Dorothy Giobbe
For the second time this year, a Doug Marlette cartoon gets
Newsday’s editors up in arms; newspaper apologizes to readers;
prize-winning cartoonist takes a poke at his employer sp.
AFTER NEW YORK Newsday apologized to its readers for a Doug Marlette cartoon that poked fun at the pope, the cartoonist took a written poke at his employer.
“It is always bad news when a newspaper apologizes for expressing an opinion ? bad news for the First Amendment, bad news for journalism and bad news for readers,” Marlette wrote in an op-ed page piece.
It was the second time this year that a Marlette cartoon had Newsday editors up in arms. An earlier cartoon portraying radio shock jock Howard Stern flashing the Statue of Liberty was quashed by Newsday editorial page editor James Klurfeld, who said it was in bad taste.
The latest controversial Marlette cartoon ran on June 3. In it, Pope John Paul II wears a button that reads, “No women priests.” Next to the pope is an inscription from Matthew 16:18: “Upon this rock I will build My Church,” with an arrow pointing to the pope’s enlarged forehead.
In the days after the cartoon ran, Klurfeld said Newsday received “well over” 100 letters and calls from readers who interpreted the cartoon as “anti-Catholic” and a personal attack that mocked the pope.
A flurry of negative reactions accused Marlette of depicting the pope a “rockhead.” Some condemned the cartoon as anti-Polish and a “sacrilege.” Others threatened to cancel their subscriptions.
In the wake of the complaints, and over the protestations of Marlette, Newsday printed a memo to readers in its editorial space on June 7.
“While conceived as a critical comment on the recent papal declaration that women can never rise to the priesthood,” read the message, “the cartoon was perceived by many readers to ridicule the pope and the Roman Catholic church. This was not New York Newsday’s intention . . . . It is unfortunate, and we regret, that many readers were given an unintended message . . . . “
Klurfeld said the memo was not an apology for Marlette’s cartoon. Rather, “what we said was that we regret that those people who took this as anti-Catholic got that message, because that was not our intention.
“It said, to those readers who were offended, we regret that you were offended.”
But Marlette didn’t recognize a distinction. Given an opportunity to respond, he penned a Newsday op-ed the following week in which he defended his cartoon and blasted the newspaper’s apology.
“What I find most disturbing and beyond comprehension was the lack of fealty of professional newspapermen to the First Amendment,” Marlette wrote.
“Isn’t this why we have a First Amendment in the first place? So that we don’t feel the necessity to apologize for our opinions? We don’t need constitutional protection to run boring, inoffensive cartoons . . . . We need constitutional protection for our right to express unpopular views.”
He continued, “The point of opinion pages is to focus attention, to stimulate debate and to provoke argument. If we can’t discuss the great issues of the day on those pages of our newspapers, fearlessly and without apology, where can we discuss them? In the street with guns?”
Klurfeld said that Newsday “would have been better off if we had not run the cartoon . . . . We shouldn’t run something that’s so open to misinterpretation. It’s not that the topic is off limits; it’s how you do it.”
In fact, two days before, Newsday ran a Marlette cartoon that dealt with the same subject. In it, the pope stands with his back to a woman while nailing an edict proclaiming “No women priests” to the front doors of a church. “It’s a guy thing ? you wouldn’t understand,” the pope tells the woman.
That cartoon was “fine,” Klurfeld said. “We got some objections to it, but not in the same way” as the other cartoon.
By publishing the memo to readers, Marlette told E&P, Newsday capitulated to the sentiment of only one segment of Catholics.
“It’s always the pattern that when you do a strong cartoon, you get the negative reaction first,” Marlette said. “If you air that negative reaction, then you will see other people who are galvanized by seeing that, and they will come forward and you will get a debate and a dialogue.
“But Newsday was cutting it off and and saying that this is the reaction to the cartoon, and I was urging them to give it some time.”
In fact, 24 hours after Marlette’s written piece ran, he had received “two dozen positive responses, both to the cartoon and my piece.”
While Marlette says the incident won’t affect his editorial style, what concerns him is that “it sends such a demoralizing message to journalists, to realize that management doesn’t have a larger view and more of a fealty for the First Amendment, to free expression, and to solidarity with their staff.”
But Kurlfeld resists linkage with the First Amendment.
“We edit people all the time,” he said.
“We edit columnists, we edit reporters, and occasionally we edit our cartoonists. It’s how editors have always operated and are supposed to operate.”
? (This Doug Marlette cartoon published by Newsday was “fine,” according to editorial page editor James Klurfeld ) [ Photo & Caption]
?( This Marlette cartoon should not have run, Klurfeld said.) [Photo & Caption]
?(” It is always bad news when a newspaper apologizes for expressing an opinion- bad news for the First Amendment, bad news for journalism and bad news for readers.”) [Caption]
?(- Newsday cartoonist Doug Marlette) [Photo]