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Not just monkey business


Does this ad make monkeys out of Ted Cruz's daughters? Most assuredly not

Let me start by saying Ted Cruz is just as treacherous as Richard Nixon.

Even so, I think the Washington Post cartoon depicting him as an organ grinder and his daughters as monkeys was out of line—even in our age of sludge-slinging sound bites. Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial page editor, tried to dampen the hubbub the cartoon caused by releasing a statement that read, in part: “It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it. I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.” (Note: I've got no problem with the Cruz-as-organ-grinder part of the cartoon.)

As might be expected, the cartoon elicited fulsome self-righteousness from the right: http://www.aim.org/on-target-blog/no-liberal-media-the-right-wouldnt-draw-obamas-kids-in-a-tasteless-political-cartoon/.

Back the the Post: Hiatt's "I understand why Ann" sentence should not have been part of his statement. As someone who spent 23 years in the newspaper business, I think the best policy is to be contrite, period, and not say something to the effect that "we thought it was OK and could still make a case that it's OK, but I guess we were wrong." No: Admit the error. Reflect on the situation, consider how it might inform future decisions, and move on.

The Post took its lapse of judgment an erroneous step further, though. Here's a headline from a story it published yesterday: The Post just pulled a Ted Cruz cartoon. Would you have published it?—as if the vox populi could somehow justify the decision.

The story begins: "In April, when Post political cartoonist Ann Telnaes was speaking at the Library of Congress, she told a packed room that she objected to red lines being imposed on her work. As a satirist, she said, 'I don’t want the tools limited to me.' To surrender your weapons of artistic engagement, she underscored, was 'a slippery slope.'"

That's a fair observation on her part. As someone who believes free speech is just that—free—I agree that no one who is not her boss should tell Telnaes (who drew the cartoon) what is or isn't acceptable for publication. And if she were to dispute the judgment of her boss, well, it would only be about the billionth time that happened in the history of journalism.

Certainly, some will object to criticism of the ad because what passes for political discourse these days is so corrosive that everybody gets slimed. But (forgive the bromide) two wrongs still don't make a right.

And free speech doesn't mean you have to exercise it to the max all of the time. Sure, Cruz used his daughters in a campaign ad—and it would be fair to say he used them as props. Does that make the girls nefarious right-wing politickers? No. Does that put them in the bull's-eye of a political satirist? It shouldn't. And it certainly doesn't make them monkeys.

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• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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