Posted by Curt on 23 December, 2015 at 4:28 pm. 1 comment.


Mollie Hemingway:

This past weekend, Ted Cruz put out a political ad that was actually good and funny. The ad first aired in Iowa during a broadcast of “Saturday Night Live,” a fun take on their ad parodies. You can watch it here:


It features Cruz reading to his family such festive and timeless classics as “How Obamacare Stole Christmas” and “Rudolph the Underemployed Reindeer.” It’s well written and well produced, so of course some people got upset. But no one got quite as upset as Ann Telnaes, an editorial cartoonist whose work is frequently featured atThe Washington Post. So mad, in fact, that she inexplicably portrayed Cruz as an organ grinder whose children were monkeys on leashes. To make a long story short, TheWashington Post ended up pulling the cartoon, which was actually an animated GIF for the full “Ted Cruz’s children are monkeys!” effect.

There are so many things wrong with Telnaes’ cartoon and the subsequent defense of it that it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s just dig in.

1) All Politicians Put Their Families In Their Ads

Telnaes is a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist, so I’m surprised she didn’t know this, but something approaching 100 percent of all politicians feature family members in political ads. So unless Telnaes was born on Saturday, there is no excuse for being ignorant of this.

2) Children Are Off Limits

You don’t have to abide by these rules, of course, but one key rule governing civilized behavior by the media is that kids are off limits. Many hours before anyone had noticed Telnaes’ cartoons (her cartoons are boring and usually not worth paying attention to), she tweeted out a pre-emptive defense and pre-emptive justification for why she broke this rule.

Again, I believe this was many, many hours before the cartoon was noticed by anyone — perhaps before it was even published — so the defensiveness on display was probably some vestigial conscience showing up. She was also quoted by CNN as saying she thought that the kids were, and I quote, “fair game” because of the ad that showed them being cute and funny. Since all politicians put their kids (and grandkids!) in ads, and this was just a particularly effective featuring of the same, this makes you wonder just how ideologically blinded Telnaes might be. Gabriel Malor had an interesting series of tweets on this matter that I will condense here:

The core problem here is that Ann Telnaes has no moral foundation. She knows there are rules, but she doesn’t know *why* there are rules. So Telnaes simply thought she could reason her way to an exception to the rule: kids are off limits. But her reasoning — Cruz did it, so they’re fair game — does not actually address the reason for the rule. The reason, in case you were wondering, why kids are off limits is because they lack culpability AND the capacity to respond. That Cruz cast his children in a good light does not mean that Telnaes is relieved of the rule protecting them from being cast negatively. Telnaes doesn’t understand this bc, again, she doesn’t know *why* we have the rule, only that there is one. She lacks a moral foundation.

Just because the Cruz kids are adorable and funny doesn’t mean you can go after them any more than you can go after Sasha and Malia for being adorable when pulled out on stage at political events either.

3) Monkeys? Really?

As if going after children weren’t enough, Telnaes thought it would be a grand idea to portray the daughters of the first Hispanic senator from Texas as monkeys. I’m not sure if the dehumanization was done because of that, because of their father’s politics or some other reason, but it compounds the error in ways that make you wonder how in the heck the cartoon received editorial approval from The Washington Post.

Just in general, journalists should avoid portraying and mocking the kids of politicians, including the kids of Hispanic politicians, as dancing monkeys. Does this really need to be said to Pulitzer Prize-winning elites? I guess so.

4) It’s Not Funny

This is actually quite important. The Washington Post has always been a bad page for editorial cartooning. For something like 60 years they featured the ghastly work of HERBLOCK, whose distinctions were drawing like a particularly uncreative five-year-old and labeling literally everything in said drawings. Partly he needed to label because he lacked any imagination at all and kept pushing out the same clichéd metaphor for…everything. Partly, some suspected, it was because he was huffing airplane glue. If you’d like some delicious take-downs of HERBLOCK (his name was Herbert Block, so this all-block-letter-combo-name thing gives you an indication of his dazzling intellect), I’d recommend “Cartoons Without Humor: The underwhelming oeuvre of Herblock, America’s worst political cartoonist” and “Washington’s Blockheads: The perpetual adulation of Herblock.” From the latter, by the great Andy Ferguson:

Vampire bats sweep across a skyline, their bellies covered in writing: “takeover tactics,” “raiders,” “greenmail specialists,” “junk bond finances,” and “stock manipulations.” (This must be Wall Street!) And there’s always a caption, too, another 15 or 20 words. “If you don’t get my meaning,” Block seems to be saying to his reader, “I’m going to make you sit here until you do.” It was his politics, mostly, that lifted Herblock above his lack of technical skill to the Pulitzers and the medals and the honorary degrees. His ideas were as simple as his draftsmanship, and perfectly matched to the prejudices of the powerful journalists he hoped to please.

All of which to say, Telnaes reminds me a lot of HERBLOCK. She can draw better than he could (all humans can), but her ideas are just as predictably progressive, clichéd, hyper-partisan, and so on. She obsesses over the same, few causes (supporting abortion is her favorite and disdaining Christians is right up there, too). In fact, herattacks on pro-lifers are so hackneyed that nobody will be surprised that she’s been given awards by the country’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. (Interestingly, this pro-abortion cartoon, which passes for perceptive atThe Washington Post, also features children on strings, which says nothing about pro-lifers but a great deal about Telnaes.)

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