By: Dave Astor
A Secret Service agent tried to visit Michael Ramirez July 21 — the day after the Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist did a drawing showing a gun being aimed at President Bush.
“I thought it was a little bit of an overreaction,” Ramirez told E&P Online.
Ironically, the conservative creator was trying to be supportive of Bush. “It makes you wonder about our so-called ‘intelligence’ services,” Ramirez said with a laugh. “You have to be a little bit intelligent to ‘get’ the cartoon. The majority of readers ‘got’ it.”
The cartoon, a takeoff on the famous photo of a Viet Cong member being shot at point-blank range, showed a man labeled “politics” aiming the weapon at a caricatured version of Bush.
“It was obviously not meant to encourage violence,” said the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ramirez, explaining he was showing that, “metaphorically, there are people currently engaged in the political assassination of our president.”
Ramirez said the Secret Service agent, Peter Damos, first called him to ask if he could visit. The cartoonist jokingly agreed, because “I just assumed it was a hoax.” When Damos showed up at the Times, he was turned away after speaking with an attorney for the paper.
Ramirez has received “hundreds” of responses to the cartoon, with reaction split about 50/50.
One person supporting Ramirez is Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who said July 22 that the Secret Service used “profoundly bad judgment” and owed Ramirez an apology.
Copley News Service syndicates Ramirez’s work to 400 newspapers. About a dozen of these clients e-mailed Copley about the cartoon, with the majority criticizing it. But none canceled, said Copley Editorial Director Glenda Winders on July 23.
She told E&P Online that some of the e-mailers didn’t realize Ramirez’s drawing was a takeoff on the Vietnam-era photo. “They misunderstood the cartoon,” Winders said. “They thought it was calling for the assassination of President Bush, which it is not. I thought it was a very intelligent cartoon.”
‘Courant’ Cartoon Controversy
Reader Rep and Artist Differ Over Drawing
After The Hartford (Conn.) Courant‘s reader representative criticized a staff cartoon, the artist criticized her comments.
Bob Englehart’s cartoon showed two African-American residents of Hartford talking to a police officer as bullets whizzed by. One resident says: “Sure, we could give up the names of known criminals and make the neighborhoods safe for children but then we’d be ‘acting white.'”
Karen Hunter, the Courant‘s reader representative, responded to the July 13 cartoon in her July 20 column. She noted that Englehart “is more than entitled to his opinions, he is paid for them.” But Hunter added that the cartoon “insult(ed) a community.” She wrote: “Beyond the complete disregard for the reality of fear of retaliation was the outrageous implication that black people in Hartford don’t value the safety of their children and their neighborhoods as much as white people do.”
Englehart, contacted for his reaction to Hunter’s column, told E&P Online: “I thought it was out of line and wrong.” He said crime in Hartford — and what he feels is the inadequate response to this crime by residents and those in authority — is an “embarrassment.” Englehart added that if residents don’t report criminals because of fear of retaliation, “it’s not going to help their neighborhoods.”
The cartoonist also questioned whether a reader representative should be criticizing editorial-page material.
“I usually don’t challenge people about their opinions,” Hunter told E&P Online. “But I truly felt the cartoon did a disservice to the paper.”
As for Englehart’s statement that she was “out of line and wrong,” Hunter said: “He has every right to his opinion.”
Hunter said July 21 she knows of about 20 reader responses to the cartoon and her column, with most people troubled by Englehart’s drawing. Englehart said he thinks reaction has been split more 50/50, and that there hasn’t been much reaction overall.
“It’s a tempest in a teapot. There were more letters after the rock critic wrote about the American Idol tour coming to Hartford,” said Englehart, the Courant cartoonist for 22-plus years.
“He’s definitely had more response in the past to other cartoons,” said Hunter.
The reader representative said she “did not take a scientific poll” of internal Courant reaction to the cartoon, but that some newsroom people stopped by her office last week to say they were bothered by it.
Courant Editorial Page Editor John Zakarian could not be reached for comment. But he was quoted in Hunter’s column as saying: “Bob is a cartoonist, and cartoonists frequently aren’t subtle in their graphic pronouncements. If they are any good at all, they are on the edge. Sometimes they are over the edge. Sometimes the cartoons are edited. This one was somewhat.”
Hunter, when interviewed, concluded: “This isn’t anything personal between Bob Englehart and me. I still respect him for what he does.”
Matthews Moving to Universal
Sales Executive Will Be Leaving United
Longtime syndicate sales executive John Matthews is leaving United Media to become vice president/special sales at Universal Press Syndicate effective Aug. 26.
Matthews was national sales director of United, which he joined in 1991. Prior to that, he spent 17 years with Tribune Media Services.
Why is Matthews moving to Universal? “They’ve been after me for a long time,” he replied. “They put an offer on the table that was too good to pass up.”
Matthews, 58, also told E&P Online that he admires Universal’s “commitment to the newspaper industry,” its staffers, and its lineup of columnists and cartoonists. Among the syndicate’s best-known features are “The Boondocks,” “Cathy,” “Dear Abby,” “Doonesbury,” Roger Ebert’s column, “Garfield,” “FoxTrot,” “Non Sequitur,” and Pat Oliphant’s editorial cartoons.
The vice president/special sales position is new. Matthews’ duties haven’t been totally specified yet, but he’ll handle special features, continue selling features on the road, help Universal plan strategy, help train people, and more. He’ll continue to live in the Seattle area, traveling to Universal’s Kansas City headquarters five or six times a year.
Matthews said his youngest son, Andrew, was worried that he might have to move to Kansas City. Then the 9 year old learned he was on a University of Washington baseball-camp team called the Royals, and suddenly wanted to live in K.C. — home of Major League Baseball’s Royals.
In a statement, Universal President Bob Duffy said: “This is a case where you learn about a person by competing with him. We learned that John Matthews is not only a talented salesman, but an executive who has the respect of both newspapers and the creative community. His endless good humor will be welcomed at Universal … .”
O’Sullivan Resigns as UPI Editor
Interim Successor Said to Be Named Soon
John O’Sullivan is resigning as editor in chief of United Press International effective in mid-August. He’ll become editor of National Interest, an international-affairs journal.
An interim successor will be named soon, according to UPI.
O’Sullivan joined UPI in 2000 after holding positions at the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Post, and other publications.
The 1907-founded UPI has 100-plus clients, including a handful of newspapers in the United States. It recently announced a restructuring that includes layoffs, hirings, and changes in the content it distributes (Syndicate World, May 29).
AP’s Mears Looks Back in New Book
He Covered Many Presidential Campaigns
Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Walter Mears has written Deadlines Past, in which he focuses on the presidential campaigns he covered between 1960 and 2000.
The book will be released this October by Andrews McMeel Publishing, a sibling company to Universal Press Syndicate.
Editor’s note: This fall, E&P is scheduled to run its third annual “Features of the Year” spread. If you have any syndicated creators you’d like to nominate, please e-mail Dave Astor (at the address below) their names and a brief explanation of why you feel they’re doing a particularly good job in 2003. The four categories include best comic creator, best editorial cartoonist, best columnist, and best feature. The last category can include non-Op-Ed columns, puzzles, children’s features, paginated pages, etc.