Reader-Drawn Cartoon in ‘North County Times’ Gets Angry Reaction

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By: Dave Astor

The North County Times of Escondido, Calif., has received many angry letters — and possibly some canceled subscriptions — after publishing a reader’s cartoon that put San Marcos High School in a bad light.

In the May 28 cartoon, two old men were pictured watching a scantily clad teen walk by a sign with San Marcos High School’s name on it. “What would you call a young girl who wears sexy clothes?” asks one man. The other replies: “Eventually, a ‘young mom’!”

Sheila Trebbin, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, said the idea that skimpy clothes leads to sex and pregnancy is a myth. She added that the school has a strict dress code that wouldn’t allow the outfit worn by the girl in the cartoon.

“We asked the newspaper for a public apology,” Trebbin told E&P yesterday. “They said they weren’t going to do that. They made a mistake, but they don’t want to admit it.”

North County Times Editor Kent Davy confirmed that the paper doesn’t plan to apologize. Davy did emphasize that he personally disagrees with the cartoon, “but it was an expression of opinion by a reader. We run all kinds of views.”

Someone who did apologize was the reader/cartoonist: 77-year-old Burleigh Hunt. After realizing how upset he had made many people, he wrote a letter to the editor that was published in yesterday’s North County Times. Hunt said he shouldn’t have specifically named San Marcos High School, and added: “I have nothing but respect for the school and its students, as well as for the teachers and administrative officials. I truly apologize for the discomfort this has caused the paper, and especially the school.”

Trebbin said parents, students, and others may have sent about 100 letters to the paper. Davy told E&P yesterday that five will be published today, and the rest after that. “We will run all that they send,” he said. “They can send 200, and we will run them all.”

The North County Times yesterday also published a commentary by the school’s principal, Nancy Peterson. She wrote, in part: “Anyone who has been on our campus knows that we do not tolerate skimpy clothing and have the strictest dress code in North County. We don’t even allow students to wear hats on campus. … [O]ur community of parents and students love their school, are proud of their school, and don’t like any disparaging remarks made about it. … As for the Times, I think their decision to print this cartoon was irresponsible and out of touch with what is happening in their own backyard.”

Trebbin said there has been a false perception, dating back about 20 years, of a teen-pregnancy problem at the school. So the cartoon, she added, fed into an inaccurate reputation the school has been trying to dispel. “We have no pregnant students,” Trebbin said.

How many canceled subscriptions has the North County Times received since running the cartoon? Trebbin doesn’t know the exact number, but added: “I’m hearing about them left and right.”

The controversy has also been the subject of a couple of local TV spots, according to Trebbin.

Davy said the North County Times began soliciting reader cartoons about six weeks ago, and has published perhaps five or 10 since then. Some submissions are rejected for reasons such as being poorly drawn or not local, but Davy said the paper doesn’t turn down cartoons containing opinions with which it might disagree.

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