TUESDAY’S LETTERS: The Ethics of Cartooning, Plus Opinions on Miller/Novak and Plamegate

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By: E&P Staff

Debate continues on editing cartoons and the ethics and journalism of Judy Miller and Robert Novak:

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In his letter (see below), Charles Reinken wrote:

“…I must question his core premise: that cartoons can’t legally be edited.

Sure they can, although doing so is a bad idea in nearly every instance. Pulling cartoons also is a bad idea. But if we accept the flawed notion that copyright material can’t be edited, then no editor can ever shorten a George Will or Ellen Goodman column to fit a page’s space requirements. The trick, of course, is to do it with a deft hand and respect for the material.”


Copyrighted material can, indeed, be legally edited. But one needs the permission from the copyright holder to do so. Otherwise, it is a violation of the copyright. After all, that’s the very purpose of having work copyrighted in the first place. In his example of editing syndicated columns, it should be pointed out that those columns come with cut lines for the express purpose of making it fit in a smaller space. So that permission has already been given. Sometimes a comic strip will be sent out with alternate wording just for that purpose. Otherwise, altering the copy is a violation of the copyright unless one has obtained permission from the author for further editing.

That was the entire point of Garry Trudeau in the original article. He was not complaining (or whining) about the strip being censored. Editors have every right to not run the strip if they think the material is inappropriate for their paper. He was only addressing the practice of some who altered the copy, thus, ruining the work.

Wiley Miller
Non Sequitur

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Re: CPJ & Judith Miller:

If Mr. Rove was the leak as so many in the media and the democratic party have concluded, who is Ms. Miller protecting and where is the media? Why aren’t you asking the question? Ms. Miller is sitting in jail because she will not reveal her source. Mr. Rove released anyone and everyone, in writing, to reveal their conversations with him to the special prosecutor. So it is my assumption that he was not her source. That’s a BIG story. Where are the stories? Was she the source, was Plame or Wilson the source? I have no idea, but I am not an investigative journalist with the time and resources to look into it. This may be a bigger coverup than anyone knows.

Where is the media?

Thomas Murphey
Austin, Texas

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I didn’t see the original letter (last item) to which Wiley Miller was responding (third item), but I must question his core premise: that cartoons can’t legally be edited.

Sure they can, although doing so is a bad idea in nearly every instance. Pulling cartoons also is a bad idea. But if we accept the flawed notion that copyright material can’t be edited, then no editor can ever shorten a George Will or Ellen Goodman column to fit a page’s space requirements. The trick, of course, is to do it with a deft hand and respect for the material.

During my many years in newspapering, I can point to a handful of times — probably 10 or fewer — when I edited Doonesbury’s dialogue for the purpose of taking out an extraneous, repeat, extraneous, “hell” or “damn.” I will assert that the strip was not harmed. I can also point to many more times when I left those words untouched, because they were clearly appropriate to the context. (If the call had been up to me, I would have printed “Turd Blossom.” You can’t fool with a shocker like that without doing violence to the creator’s intent.)

Any editor who alters a strip in a way that harms its core message or story line is an idiot. Any editor who doesn’t stay alert to the sensibilities of readers of a family newspaper is equally an idiot. Editing comics is an option — one to be used only in the most extreme circumstances.

Charles Reinken
Kansas City, Mo.
Houston Post, 1973-1992
Fayetteville (NC) Observer-Times, 1992-1999
Omaha World-Herald, 1999-2004

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Apparently Mr. Miller has very little of merit to argue his case so he is trying to change the crux of the argument. I am not an attorney but I get the idea of copyright and the concept of intellectual property. As there is only so much space for letters I did not enter the entire legal argument as it had no place in my opinion.

My point that has been missed Mr. Wiley thus far is Mr. Trudeau, whose strip I do find entertaining, sells a product. For years he has shown his bias in his cartoon. Years ago when newspapers first started putting his strip in the Op-Ed section of the paper he whined about that. Now however, some editors changed the copy in his strip. If this violates the contract which I do not have a copy of, nor probably does Mr. Wiley, he should sue them in court, and I guess he may. Instead he whines to the media where he has a soap box due to his celebrity status as opposed to the court system where he would need to stand on the strength of his argument.

If he is so offended he could probably cancel his contract with the papers and not allow them to publish his comic strip any longer. In addition, there is Mr. Wiley’s argument that Mr. Trudeau’s strip is purchased for it’s political insight. I fear that if that is indeed the case this does more than show the liberal bias in the media — it also explains the ignorance of the American voter if he/she gets their political views from a comic strip. Now I don’t feel too bad about the youth of today getting their political news from The Daily Show with John Stewart.

David J Horchak
Circulation Director
The Herald/The Herald Press (New Britain, Conn.)

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Here a reader responds to a recent article about jailed New York Times reporter Judy Miller:

Forget the Fitzgerald and the grand jury investigation!

Miller really belongs in jail for her role aiding and abetting the prewar WMD smokescreen instead of doing her job as an independent journalist. C’mon,
Chalabi as a source?

Come to think of it she shouldn’t be there by herself for that reason. Maybe history will make this right. Maybe some good journalism could also help!

Genaro Diaz

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Ed’s Note: The following reader, who is responding to a report about former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and a CPJ delegation visiting jailed reporter Judith Miller, seems to believe that Miller is a liberal, a label the New York Times reporter would most likely oppose:

Would Brokaw have visited Bob Novak if he were in jail and demanded his release? I think not.

In modern journalism, the rules are, there are no rules…if you’re a liberal. If you’re not a liberal, you deserve to be in prison on general principle.

The above attitude is why you and yours simply do not matter any more.

It’s also why Karl Rove’s job is so easy.

Ken Salem
Dickson, Tenn.

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