“This is not who we are.” Americans are saying this about the forced separation of children from their migrant parents at the border with Mexico. They said it about torture. Yet we keep doing these horrible things over and over again. So it isn’t really true. These horrible acts are exactly who we are.
The Clash sang-advised: “know your rights.” But few people do.
President Donald Trump is hell-bent on deporting millions of people, including kids who came to the U.S. so young that they’re Americans in every way but their immigration status. He even signed an executive order that would allow the arrest and deportation of fully-vetted green card holders the authorities say are suspected of any offense — including a traffic ticket.
I don’t believe in open borders. A country that doesn’t control who enters its territory hardly qualifies as a nation-state. But let’s get real about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. They’re not criminals. They’re victims.
Corporations strive to keep the wages and negotiating leverage of American workers low. They’ve pressured their pet politicians — both Democrats and Republicans — to increase the labor supply with immigrants both legal (e.g. the much-abused H1B visa program) and undocumented. Illegals are powerless and scared. Business can’t get enough of them.
If you’re un- or underemployed, illegal immigrants are your comrades. Your joint struggle should be fought against your mutual enemy, the cheap and greedy employers who deploy divide-and-conquer propaganda like Trump’s.
Like the people of Nazi-occupied Europe, we will someday be judged for our actions (and inactions) in response to the Republicans’ inhumane mass deportations. But what should we do? Unlike Europeans, white Americans never developed a culture of resistance or a system of ethical standards to which decent people are expected to adhere.
First, know your rights. Even if you’re here illegally, you have rights under the Constitution. However, the police and their colleagues in Immigration and Customs Enforcement don’t want you to know that — and they’ll lie straight to your face. So get educated about the basics.
If an ICE agent comes to your door, don’t answer. They can’t come in without an arrest warrant signed by a judge. If you talk to them, the ACLU advises, don’t open the door. If you do open the door, they may ask if they can come in. Say no. If they present a warrant for your arrest, don’t physically resist. Go with them. Simply demand to speak with an attorney and declare that you will remain silent. Then shut up. Always carry contact information for an attorney with you, and memorize his or her name and phone number since a card or phone will be taken away from you in jail.
If you are here legally, spread this information to people you know who are not.
Second, don’t snitch. If you know or suspect that someone is here illegally, do not tell the authorities or anyone in contact with them. At the bare minimum, discretion requires limiting your contact with members of law enforcement and, of course, ICE agents. Talking to cops or ICE agents is always fraught but never more so than now — so ethics-minded American citizens should break off contact with anyone they suspect of working for the deportation squads.
Morality dictates that you lie to police or ICE agents if they ask you for information about an undocumented neighbor. But be aware of the risks: Trump’s mass deportation order provides for criminal penalties for Good Samaritans “who facilitate [illegals’] presence in the United States.”
Finally, if you’re a deportation thug you must quit your job. Needing to earn a living does not absolve you from accountability for wrongdoing. Death camp guards and slave catchers had bills to pay too. They could tell themselves that what they were doing to get by was lawful. But it wasn’t right — and a lot of people knew that at the time.
Consider, for example, the case of Guadalupe García de Rayos. After 22 years in the U.S. — her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 14 — she was arrested by ICE agents in Phoenix, who deported her in 24 hours. She left behind two U.S.-born children, both citizens. How can those ICE idiots live with themselves?
It is better to sleep under a bridge and starve to death than to participate in a mass-scale deportation program targeted at the most vulnerable members of society — and the most law-abiding (except for their presence in the U.S.). On the other hand, there is incredible power in refusing to obey an immoral order. How long would Trump’s mass deportations — or his presidency — last if thousands of police officers and ICE agents were to call press conferences and resign rather than deport an innocent family?
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
To the French, it felt like the end of the world. 1940: defeated in six weeks, surrender, subjugation, overrun by German soldiers whose power of life or death were absolute and absolutely capricious. Fascism triumphant; organized resistance as yet unimaginable.
Simone de Beauvoir, who dedicated herself to the study of ethics, struggled to adjust to everyday life in Nazi-occupied Paris. On the Metro, a German soldier — Wehrmacht, low-ranking and therefore a conscript? — asked for directions. Seemed like a nice kid. Besides, refusal was dangerous. But he was an invader. What was the right thing to do: a little treasonous help, or send him to some dangerous neighborhood?
On a macro level, the French had to decide to what extent to cooperate with the terrifying new regime.
On one extreme were the collaborators and war profiteers who exploited their fellow citizens, welcomed every chance to advance their personal fortunes and thereby legitimized the Nazis and the Vichy-based puppet regime led by Philippe Pétain. Many were executed by extrajudicial tribunals after liberation in 1944.
At the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum were the Communist résistants de la première heure and the men and women of the maquis. Abandoning jobs and families, these people of principle lived rough lives underground, risking everything to terrorize the Germans and their French fascist allies. Many were tortured and murdered.
Though it’s premature to draw a direct comparison between Nazi Europe and Trump’s America, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ethics of resistance in a United States whose government whose repressiveness is likely to feel unacceptably severe to a significant portion of the population.
What is the correct way to behave after January 20th? Should one Keep Calm and Carry On? (Given that those now-clichéed posters were supposed to have been plastered on walls by a retreating British government in the face of a Nazi occupation of the UK, my inclination is to say no.) Ought one take to the hills and practice shooting down drones?
Like the French during World War II, most Americans opposed to/afraid of Trump will muddle through some murky middle ground. In times that try souls, ambiguity abounds.
We Americans may not be familiar with them, but there are standards. Everything does not go. There are clear rights and wrongs. Now, as we plunge into the moral abyss, it is important to learn, spread and enforce the Rules of Resistance for people who want to be able to hold their heads high when their children ask “what did you do during the war, daddy/mommy?”
Rule 1: Anything for survival.
As a teacher, Beauvoir would have lost her food rations, ID papers and livelihood if she hadn’t signed an odious Vichy-required certificate swearing that she wasn’t a Jew. Though she was appalled, she signed. You’re not required to starve to death over a principle.
Rule 2: Nothing for Trump.
Even though Jewish writers were banned from publication, Beauvoir submitted her novel for a literary prize. “If I had been awarded the Prix Goncourt that year I should have accepted it with wholehearted jubilation,” she recalled. Disgusting. Her participation legitimized the regime’s anti-Semitism.
The Rockettees and the singer Jackie Evancho will perform at Trump’s inaugural. “I just kind of thought that this is for my country,” Evancho said. Jennifer Holliday initially said she’d do the gig as well: “I’m singing on the mall for the people,” said Holliday. “I don’t have a dog in this fight.” They are wrong: it is precisely for their country that they ought to have opted out, as Ice-T and Elton John did. The one thing Trumpism offers is ideological clarity; at times like this, everyone has a dog in the fight, ostriching not allowed.
When you’re considering whether or not to participate in something Trump-y or government-y during the next few years, get educated. Then ask yourself: what would I think if I were one of the people being targeted by Trump and the Republicans? How would an immigrant awaiting deportation feel about Jennifer Holliday while watching Jennifer Holliday croon on TV in a nasty ICE prison? How will someone dying of a disease because she can’t afford treatment after losing Obamacare feel about the Rockettes?
Normally, when your president calls, a patriot heeds his call. But Trump isn’t normal and these aren’t normal times.
Rule 3: Ignorance is no excuse.
Whether you live under Nazi occupation or Trumpian oppression, refusing to keep informed is no longer acceptable.
To her credit, Jennifer Holliday backed out of her scheduled inaugural performance in response to a social media firestorm, explaining that she had been “uneducated on the issues.” She continued: “Regretfully, I did not take into consideration that my performing for the concert would actually instead be taken as a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence…I HEAR YOU.”
Everything is always a political act. Now the stakes are even higher.
If you’re a member of the armed forces or the police, you are morally required to resign and find another job.
If you work in a political post within the federal government — the diplomatic corps, for example — or a post that has policy implications, like the NSA or CIA, a morally upright person has no choice but to quit in protest.
If you have the opportunity to expose wrongdoing from within, you must act as a whistleblower.
If you have the chance to resist Trump’s protofascist policies, you must do so. You must hide the undocumented immigrant on the run. You cannot submit a bid to construct the Wall. You must, if you work for an insurance company, try to avoid enforcing rules that deny healthcare.
One of the things people overseas tell me they like about Americans is that we’re happy-go-lucky. That has to change.
It’s time to get serious.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
More than half of the people who managed to score a personal one on one meeting with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State donated money to the Clinton Foundation, either as an individual or through a company where they worked. “Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156 million. At least 40 donated more than $100,000 each, and 20 gave more than $1 million,” the Associated Press reported.
Does that make Hillary corrupt?
At this writing, there is no evidence that anyone received any special favors as a result of their special access to Clinton. Not that treats were not requested. They were. (The most amusing was Bono’s request to stream his band’s music into the international space station, which was mercifully rejected.)
That’s irrelevant. She’s still corrupt.
Clinton’s defenders like to point out that neither she nor her husband draw a salary from their foundation. But that’s a technicality.
The Clintons extract millions of dollars in travel expenditures, including luxurious airplane accommodations and hotel suites, from their purported do-gooder outfit. They exploit the foundation as a patronage mill, arranging for it to hire their loyalists at extravagant six-figure salaries. Only a low portion of money ($9 million out of $140 million in 2013) makes its way to someone who needs it.
“It seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons,” says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group.
As a measure of how institutionally bankrupt American politics is, all this crap is technically legal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not corrupt.
Public relations experts caution politicians like the Clintons that the appearance of impropriety is almost as bad as its actuality. If it looks bad, it will hurt you with the polls. True, but that’s not really the point.
The point is: access is corruption.
It doesn’t matter that the lead singer of U2 didn’t get to live out his rocker astronaut fantasy. It’s disgusting that he was ever in a position to have it considered. To put a finer point on it, ethics require that someone in Hillary Clinton’s position never, ever take a meeting or correspond by email or offer a job to someone who donated money to her and her husband’s foundation. Failure to build an unscalable wall between government and money necessarily creates a corrupt quid pro quo:
“Just got a call from the Clinton Foundation. They’re shaking us down for a donation. Should we cough up a few bucks?”
“Hillary could be president someday. Chelsea could end up in the Senate. It couldn’t hurt to be remembered as someone who threw them some money when they asked.”
This, I 100% guarantee you, was the calculus when Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hillary for a one- or two-hour speech. She doesn’t have anything new to say that everyone hasn’t already heard a million times before. It’s not like she shared any valuable stock tips during those talks. Wealthy individuals and corporations pay politicians for one thing: access.
“It’s not pay to play, unless somebody actually gave someone 50 cents to say I need a meeting,” counters DNC interim chair Donna Brazile. “No. In this great country, when you meet with constituents, when you meet with heads of states, when you meet like Bono, who I love, you meet with them because they want to bring a matter to your attention. That’s not pay to play.”
It ain’t 50 cents.
But it is pay to play. Absolutely.
Access is a zero-sum game. If I get a meeting with a senator, that’s a meeting someone else doesn’t get. I shouldn’t get a leg up over you because I donated to a politically connected, nominally charitable foundation. For that matter, I shouldn’t get a meeting you can’t get because I know someone, or because I’m famous, or whatever. Access should be, has to be in a democracy, determined solely by meritocratic criteria. Political leaders like Hillary Clinton need to be meeting with people who can offer them the best advice and who need the most help — not those who bought their way in.
Anyone who doesn’t understand that access always equals corruption, even when access doesn’t result in favors, doesn’t deserve to hold political office.
(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee.)
REVISED 9/13/16: In last week’s column,”At the Clinton Foundation, Access Equals Corruption,” I wrote that the charity rating agency Charity Navigator did not rate the Clinton Foundation due to its poor performance. While that was true in the past, and I relied on that previous information while researching my piece, at present the Clinton Foundation actually receives a fairly respectable rating from Charity Navigator. This essay has been revised to reflect this changed information.
The email was from someone who generally supports me. And it was generally supportive: “I’m glad you still have a platform.”
Me too! But the generally nice email contained a qualifier.
“I do find a lot of your opinions repugnant.”
Whoa. Repugnant? Such a strong word. The Holocaust was repugnant. What did I write or draw that was so disgusting?
“[Your] most repugnant stuff is portraying powerful people as unmitigated evil,” my otherwise supportive correspondent elaborated. “Everyone is human, and some of them are even nice humans, which is actually a greater hazard since there’s no question that some of what they do is evil. But someone has to navigate these insane political terrains and actually lead/serve, even if they wind up being completely alien from who they started to be.”
I shan’t identify the letter writer. Partly, this is because I like him/her. (Generally supportive, you know.) Mainly, though, I suspect that many people — particularly liberal Democrats — feel the same way as she/he does about my cartoons and writing. If people are turned off, I want to know why. I appreciate feedback. Seeing such criticism spelled out forces me to take a step back, reconsider whether I’m being unfair or wrongheaded — in this case to the “powerful people” whom I portray as “unmitigated evil” — and either change my act…or double down.
This “I support you, but” writer is right about my work. Especially in my cartoons, I often portray powerful politicians and business executives as bad people. I drew George W. Bush, first as a deranged dictator complete with Augusto Pinochet-like epaulettes, sash and silly tyrant hat out of a Terry Gilliam movie, and then, after 9/11 and the beginning of the war on terror, as a hideous monster drooling coke snot over his fangs.
I’m so subtle.
I’ve been graphically kinder to Barack Obama — though some disagree — but in content I’ve been as mean to him as to Bush. I undermine his image as calm and reasonable with cartoons that show the cold-blooded automaton rubbing his hands with glee as he presides over one assassination-by-drone after another, and surrounds himself with luxury (golfing, hanging out at his multimillion-dollar summer vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard) while ordinary Americans lose their jobs and their homes. Obama, in Rallworld, is a murderous bastard who doesn’t care about you. As were Bush and Clinton.
The titans of capitalism come under heavy fire too. If you’re the CEO of a major company, pretty much the only feedback I’m going to give you is that you’re a greedy employee-firing price-gouging turd who exports American jobs to foreign hellholes because you don’t care about anyone else.
Guilty as charged: I do depict the rich and powerful as pure evil.
I don’t care about your intent. I don’t buy “gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet” justifications. If you have a hand in starting and/or continuing a war, an optional war of aggression, you’re a mass murderer. If you order killer robot planes to blow up people who haven’t been convicted of a crime in any court, and those killer robot planes blow up those people and other people who just happen to be nearby when the missile hits, you’re an evil person who did an evil thing, and it doesn’t matter one little bit that you have a winning smile, that you say you’re trying to keep America safe and strong, that you’re fighting “them” “there” so we don’t have to do it here, that you’re funny at the White House Press Correspondents Dinner, that you look adorable alongside your two beautiful daughters, or that you’re the first black president.
Save the qualifiers. You’re evil and I’ll draw you evil.
“We are condemned to be free,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre — free to choose between good and evil or, as in much of his literary work, between less evil and more evil. As such, he elaborated, we are defined by our worst act: a man who acts cruelly is, by definition a cruel man.
Sartre’s existentialism works for me better than any other codified system of philosophical or religious belief. I agree with him on most ethical issues. Killing thousands of people is evil, so people who order thousands of people killed are evil. Osama bin Laden is morally indistinguishable from Barack Obama.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be defined by the worst things we’ve ever done. Yet we are. As you read this, well over two million Americans are behind bars because they stand accused or convicted of a crime. Many of those inmates — probably most of them — have donated to charity, helped a stranger in need or donated blood. Very few people who have done bad things have mostly done bad things. Nearly 200,000 are military veterans, yet their service didn’t mitigate their fate. Their judges didn’t care because, as Sartre said, we are all defined by our worst act.
The lower your status in society, the more harshly you will be treated by the justice system. The darker your skin, the longer your prison sentence. The poorer you are, the higher the fine. The fewer resources you have to get through life — like, if you suffer from mental illness — the more brutality you will experience at the hands and fists of police and prison guards.
This, I believe, is the exact opposite of how it ought to be.
I’m with Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: with great power comes great responsibility. (The corollary, which also serves as a handy definition of what it means to belong to the political left, is that with little power comes little responsibility.) If you’re privileged — rich and/or white and/or male and/or blessed with resources — you should be judged more harshly.
Which brings us back to my portrayals of the rich and powerful.
It is not actually true that “someone has to navigate these insane political terrains and actually lead/serve,” i.e., join and work inside and for the system — at least not as the point of the spear.
No one has to “actually lead/serve.”
True, opting out of the system entirely — refusing to pay taxes, for example — is so hard and carries such harsh penalties that it isn’t reasonable to expect of the average citizen. But it not asking much to suggest that we boycott the really horrible crimes the system commits. After all, most Americans do opt out.
Most Americans do not enlist in the armed forces. Yay, non-servicemembers! Most Americans do not harbor political ambitions. Good for you! Few Americans are corporate executives or in a position to ever become one. Your hands are relativelt clean!
Most Americans are, therefore, not evil.
By their nature, the biggest evils are those carried out on a grand scale: genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass poisoning by pollution, destroying the environment, huge frauds, systematic theft, racism, gender discrimination and so on. The only people capable of executing these humongous evils are those who possess wealth and/or power. If we don’t/can’t/shouldn’t call out the rich and powerful people who commit these terrible crimes because, hey, someone has to lead/serve, we are effectively saying that no one is responsible. That these crimes are authorless.
Depersonalization of crimes, absolving everyone of responsibility, is a historical whitewash and an insult to the victims. If there’s no criminal, did a crime occur? Logic says no. The fact that no one has ever been charged with a crime in connection with torturing Muslim detainees at Guantánamo concentration camp signals to the world that the torture either never really happened, that we can’t be sure whether it happened, or that if it did it doesn’t matter.
What about mercy? Don’t people, even powerful people, deserve a pass when they make mistakes? As I say above, more is expected of the rich and powerful. The ethical bar is higher. But yes, mercy is an important societal value, one that should be extended to the rich and powerful — when appropriate.
To me, you’re more deserving of soft treatment if you’ve learned from your mistakes. One of the reasons that I despise Hillary Clinton is that she has never met a war she didn’t like: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and then Syria and Libya under her direct watch. She supported them all. None were morally or legally justifiable. With the possible exception of Bosnia, they spread misery and chaos, and hurt American interests. She’s stupid and mean. If anyone deserves a pass for warmongering, it isn’t her.
Like the former community organizer Barack Obama, former children’s rights advocate Hillary Clinton has become “completely alien from who they started to be”: a member of the board of the hideously anti-worker megacorporation Wal-Mart, a corrupted politico who sells influence to the highest bidder, an assassin.
She’s repugnant. I’m merely calling her out.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
As his colleagues shifted in their seats in awkward disgust, disgraced former Memphis Commercial Appeal editorial cartoonist Bill Day delivered a smarmy, tacky 15-minute filibuster masquerading as a defense of plagiarism.
The arena-like setting was a conference room at this year’s Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention, held in Salt Lake City. Earlier this year, Day, a 60-year-old artist whose career spans three decades at several papers, including the Detroit News, was accused of one count of plagiarism – scraping an illustrator’s rendition of an automatic weapon from the Internet, removing his signature and copyright information, adding words and additional artwork, and presenting it as his own without the customary attribution or permission from the original artist. (He claimed that he pulled the cartoon after being made aware that there was a problem, and that no newspapers ran it. In fact, it went out to hundreds of papers.) Even more serious in the jaundiced eyes of cartoonists attending the convention this year, a Tumblr blog collected at least 160 discrete sets of repurposed cartoons drawn by Day himself, totaling nearly 1000 pieces. In these recycled, or “self-plagiarized” cases, Day created a “new” cartoon by altering a few details of a previous work and issuing it as new.
Barely behind the scenes in all this was Daryl Cagle, formerly a cartoonist for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, and now sort of an Arianna Huffington of comics aggregation and syndication. Cagle distributes Day’s work. When the scandal broke, rather than fire Day – something that I had to do to two of my colleagues when I was a syndicate executive – Cagle vigorously defended his actions, bragging that he was “amused” and did the same thing himself, and encouraged other cartoonists to follow their example as a way to cut corners and meet deadlines. Said encouragement took the form of posts to Cagle’s influential blog, keeping Day on board the syndicate, dissembling on his behalf, doing even more outrageous things himself, and organizing an Indiegogo fundraising campaign on Day’s behalf – the only such campaign conducted on behalf of any editorial cartoonist on Cagle’s roster – that raised $42,000 from fans and sympathetic readers who believed Cagle’s videotaped plea that one of America’s best editorial cartoonists was in danger of becoming homeless. (I was one of them. I contributed $100.)
Despite Cagle’s best efforts to muddy the waters and rally his own cartoonists, many cartoonists disapproved of what Day had done, and more so of his brazen, unrepentant attitude. Two days before the convention, in fact, he sent out yet another cartoon – an obit cartoon of the not-dead-yet Nelson Mandela – that appears to have been repurposed.
Plagiarism, conflict of interest, cartoon repurposing and other ethical violations have been a long-standing problem in the field. When I was president of the Association between 2008 and 2009, I managed to push through the first ethics-related bylaw in the 50-year history of the Association: a proviso that permits the Board of Directors to expel a member it determines to have committed plagiarism. This didn’t go far enough: it didn’t cover nonmembers like Day, for example. But it was a start.
Many cartoonists seemed to believe that calling out fellow artists for ethical lapses would turn us into a sort of “cartoon police,” ultimately resulting in internecine conflict that would terror us apart. Some of us, mainly me and my friend Matt Bors, replied that bad behavior by a few members of a profession is a bigger threat, since it tarnishes the entire field by association, especially when the main professional Association of that field remain silent, and thus guilty of tacit consent.
This year’s convention organizers decided to address the issue by holding a town hall forum on plagiarism, recycling, etc. with the centerpiece being a proposed AAEC Code of Ethics drafted by myself and Bors. Our proposal spans a full range of lapses, from brazen plagiarism – tracing and Photoshopping other people’s work, through the kind of thing that Bill Day does, all the way to stealing other people’s ideas and jokes.
A few weeks before the convention, Bill Day expressed an interest in attending in order to defend himself. He believed himself completely guiltless and thought that most of us would come around to his way of thinking if we heard from him in person. It should be noted that he had already published at least two blog entries in which he accused the Association of being composed of a pit of snakes – he literally drew this – and attributed his actions to a busy schedule holding down multiple jobs while trying to support his family. Oh, and not to be forgotten: he also blamed the death of his brother and even his – I swear this is true – his cat. He didn’t make a direct link saying that he had plagiarized and recycled due to these events, or even because he was simply too busy to do good original work, but the line of argument was clear to all.
I didn’t think it was a good idea for him to come to the convention. And I will also confess to being more than a little frightened. He lives in Tennessee, a state with liberal gun laws. And I was by far his most strident critic.
In the event, he requested time to speak on the first day of the convention, Thursday. But when the scheduled time rolled around, he was nowhere to be found. He told the incoming president that the crowd wasn’t big enough. However, everyone was there. What did he want us to do, get people off the street? He rescheduled for Friday. It was supposed to take place over breakfast, but instead of Day pleading his case, there he was, chowing down on our food – food he didn’t even pay for, since he wasn’t registered for the convention and isn’t a member anymore. Again, he wimped out.
Annoyed, I hit the social networks, letting the world know that this manipulative plagiarist had wussed out not once, but twice, distracting us from important business and wasting everyone’s time. I heard from several colleagues, urging me to take down my posts lest the supposedly emotionally unstable Day finally be pushed over the edge and commit suicide. Apparently, the night before at a local bar, he had been talking about offing himself. I replied that, since it is evident that he doesn’t usually do what he says, there was nothing to worry about.
At this writing, he is still alive and still spending his $42,000.
Finally, on Saturday morning, Bill decided to grace the microphone with his presence. Following an engaging presentation on the history of editorial cartoon plagiarism in the United States by Joe Wos – did you know that the famous Paul Revere cartoon of the Boston massacre was brazenly plagiarized, and that he was called out and pretty much threatened with a duel over it? – and an overview of the proposed code of ethics, Bill took the stage. Incoming president Mark Fiore warned him that he would be limited to a strict 15 minutes, as we were getting started late and we had not planned for him to speak at this time. Everyone was quiet and respectful. No rolling eyes. We just sat and watched.
It was an epic act of self-immolation.
For 13 minutes, Bill Day revisited how he first got into cartooning. About his childhood in the segregated Deep South, how a friend was murdered in a racial bias incident. Then he seemed to get obsessed over accusations that his plagiarism stemmed from laziness. “They call me the lazy cartoonist,” he kept saying. He talked about how he waited until the age of 34 to land his first staff cartooning job, apparently something he still feels bitter about. (I turn 50 this year, and have never gotten one.) He held up a photograph of a box-sorting facility where he had worked in Memphis, for FedEx, and bitterly complained about here he was, at age 60, sorting boxes rather than drawing cartoons. (Many of the cartoonists in the room have performed manual labor, including yours truly.) He pointed out that he volunteers, reading to children in underprivileged areas, and held up a photograph of himself with African-American children. You could almost hear an audible gasp of disgust from the audience at this I-have-black-friends gambit. Not to mention, if he’s too busy to draw original work, why does he have time to volunteer anywhere? He didn’t say it, but the implication was clear – struggling to make ends meet after getting laid off by the Commercial Appeal prompted him to cut corners as a cartoonist. But if that was the case, why not just apologize and promise not to do it again? Especially now that he has a cool $42,000 to live off of for at least the next year?
As I watched Day ramble, I kept thinking that I could have gotten him off the hook in three minutes flat. All he needed to say was that other cartoonists, like John Sherffius, have used copyrighted and trademarked material as important components of their cartoons, and that he didn’t know it was wrong to do so. That he only did it once. That he wouldn’t do it again. And that if any royalties came in, if the cartoon ran anywhere, he would send them to the original copyright holder. As for the repurposed cartoons, he could have said – quite credibly – that he wasn’t the only guy who did this sort of thing. (Mike Ramirez comes to mind.) That it’s his work to recopy, he owns the copyrights. That you can’t punish someone retroactively. If the association decides to enact a rule against this sort of behavior going forward, he would abide by it, but until then, he was guilty of nothing more than cutting corners. Frankly, that would have done the job. But he couldn’t. Like the telltale heart in the Edgar Allen Poe story, his guilty conscience wouldn’t let him. He knew he was corrupt. So he had to make lame excuses.
He brought up his dead brother. And his dead cat. Again.
By the way, it turns out that it wasn’t a dead brother at all. I found out that afternoon that it was really a cousin. I bet he didn’t have a cat either.
Finally, at Minute 13, he began to address the issue of the plagiarized cartoon. But he talked so slowly that, even though Mark Fiore let him run on an extra five minutes, he didn’t get anywhere. The issue remained as opaque, and undefended, as ever. It was hard to watch: sad, infuriating, and ultimately the very definition of pathetic.
Bill left the room so that we could consider the code of ethics.
Mostly, cartoonists expressed the usual doubts. In particular, they were concerned about the strong enforcement provisions that I had included, directing the Association, when it becomes aware of ethical misbehavior, to issue public statements about them and to notify employers. Paul Fell said that we were in danger of fighting while we were rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and in the end there might only be three of us left. Patrick Henry-like, I exclaimed, “Better three with integrity than 300 without!”
Some anti-Code cartoonists pointed out that there’s a gray area when it comes to defining plagiarism. Bors countered this by saying that that shouldn’t be an excuse to throw up our hands and not take any action at all.
Steve Kelley, until recently the cartoonist for the New Orleans Times Picayune and now the co-creator of “Dustin,” conceded that ethics has become a serious issue yet characteristically called for a free market solution: with the Internet, he said, you can always count on a blogger to reveal these things, and then the cartoonist in question is shamed and loses his job. I think that this is when the vibe in the room started to shift. “Look at Bill Day!” I said. “He’s a plagiarist. His employer enables him. In fact, thanks to his employer, who also recycles cartoons without letting editors know, he got a $42,000 raise – the biggest raise in American editorial cartooning! No one else in this room got a raise like that. Hell, many people in this room don’t even make that much.”
One of the big problems has been that cartoonists guilty of plagiarism have worked for years for newspapers and syndicates that remained unaware of their actions. So In extreme cases, I think it’s important for the Association to inform them. We can’t fire anyone, nor should we want to, but if an employer wants to keep a plagiarist on board – like Daryl Cagle is currently doing – they should make that decision with their eyes open. I drew an analogy with the American Medical Association, that if the AMA became aware that one of their members, or any doctor, is a quack, his patients and employers have the right to know. Otherwise, we would be complicit. This is not without precedent. Past presidents of the Association have notified cartoonists’ employers.
It would be no small stretch to say that Matt Bors and I were the only two people in the room arguing in favor of putting the Code of Ethics on a ballot for consideration by the membership. And yet we carried the argument. Although it felt lonely at the time, I have to say that there is no better place to be than in a group of friends and colleagues who respect you enough to change their minds if you are able to make a strong argument against their previously long-held convictions. I am grateful for their open-mindedness and willingness to listen.
As we prepared for this vote, Daryl Cagle moved that all discussion cease. That we never discuss the topic of ethics at all. That we not vote on whether or not to have such a code. That we not vote on whether or not to put a code on the ballot for the membership to consider. That we just simply stop talking about it. “This will destroy the Association. All this backstabbing,” he said, visibly furious. If English has any meaning, of course, this is the very opposite of backstabbing. This is all out in the open. Outgoing president Matt Wuerker, presiding over the business meeting, asked if there was a second to Daryl’s motion. There wasn’t. Crickets. Not even his syndicate cartoonists were willing to contribute to such a brazenly anti-democratic attempt to squash the discussion. And so, the ballot goes out to the nation’s editorial cartoonists later this year. They will get to decide whether plagiarism, recycling, conflicts of interest and the like should be something that the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists take a public stance against.
Every other journalistic organization does.
Alan Gardner produces a cartooning-news blog called The Daily Cartoonist. It’s painfully boosterish and unprofessionally written, which is why most professionals have stopped posting, or reading, it. Today, in an incredibly tacky move – even for a guy widely known throughout cartooning as a miserable hack – he runs interference for Daryl Cagle.
I’ll let you be the judge of whatever sins Daryl is guilty of.
Well, not really. Gardner has barely scratched the surface of the allegations.
He certainly has critics and detractors in the business, but in this case I find no evidence that this was a premeditated effort to capture more market space or syndicate dollars. For those cartoonists who profess to be journalists, whatever happened to asking questions, and getting context before rushing judgement to the presses?
Well, Alan, those of us who profess to be real journalists might start by seeking comment from people like me and Matt Bors, who have been at the forefront of the movement to restore professional ethics to editorial cartooning – you know, instead of childishly denying me the “privilege” of a link (it hurts, it hurts!).
Cagle has zero credibility. And now, neither does Gardner.
An Art Form in Crisis Ignores the Rot Within
“Ted Rall, mop-headed antiestablishment political cartoonist, has abundant talent, a 1,400-drawing portfolio, seven years’ experience, the acclaim of peers and the approval of newspaper editors who, every so often, print his work. What he lacks is someone who will hire him full-time.”
That’s from The New York Times.
Editorial cartooning, a unique art form whose modern version originated in 18th century France and has become more pointed, sophisticated and effective in the United States than any other country, was in big trouble back then. Newspapers, the main employers of political cartoonists, were closing and slashing budgets. Those that survived were timid; cowardly editors rarely hire, much less retain, the controversial artists who produce the best cartoons, those that stimulate discussion.
Things are worse now.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by but the number of full-time professional political cartoonists now hovers around 30. In 1980 there were about 300. A century ago, there were thousands.
Cartoonists blame tightfisted publishers and shortsighted editors for their woes. Many decry news syndicates for charging low rates for reprinted material. “If an editor can get Walt Handelsman and Steve Kelley for ten bucks a week, why would he pay $70,000 a year for a guy in his hometown?” asked Handelsman, then the cartoonist for The New Orleans Times-Pacayune, in the 1995 Times piece cited above.
There’s also the Internet. As happened across the world of print media, the Web created more disruption than opportunity. Dozens of cartoonists tried to sell animated editorial cartoons to websites. Two succeeded.
Digitalization decimated the music business, savaged movies and is washing away book publishing. If the titans of multinational media conglomerates can’t figure out how to stem the tide, individual cartoonists who make fun of the president don’t stand a chance.
We can only control one thing: the quality of our work. It pains me to admit it, but to say we’ve fallen down on the job would be to give us too much credit.
Day after day, year after year, editorial cartoonists have been churning out a blizzard of hackwork. Generic pabulum relying on outdated metaphors—Democratic donkeys, Republican elephants, tortured labels, ships of state labeled “U.S.” sinking in oceans marked “debt,” cars driving off cliffs, one hurricane after another, each labeled after some crisis new or imagined. Cut-and-paste art styles slavishly lifted from older cartoonists down to the last crosshatch. Work so bland and devoid of insight or opinion that readers can’t tell if the artist is liberal or conservative. Cartoons that make no point whatsoever, such as those that mark anniversaries of news events, the deaths of corporate executives like Steve Jobs, and even holidays (for Veterans Day: “freedom isn’t free”).
To be sure, editors and publishers have hired and promoted the very worst of the worst. Prize committees snub brilliance and innovation in favor of safe and cheesy.
In the end, however, it’s up to the members of any profession to police themselves individually and collectively. I often say, no one can publish your crappy cartoon if you don’t draw it in the first place. Amazingly my colleagues have chosen to ignore the existential crisis that faces American political cartooning. Rather than rise to the challenge, their work is becoming even safer and blander.
Moreover, we cartoonists are failing to hold one another to basic journalistic standards. This year political cartooning has been hit by two plagiarism scandals. David Simpson, a long-time Tulsa political cartoonist with a history of this sort of thing, was fired by the weekly paper there after he got caught tracing old cartoons by the late Jeff MacNelly on a lightbox. Jeff Stahler, a cartoonist familiar to readers of USA Today, was recently forced to resign by The Columbus Dispatch after long-standing rumors of stealing ideas exploded into a series of too-close-for-comfort pairings of his work and classic material from The New Yorker.
They’re only the tip of the iceberg.
There are plagiarists who have Pulitzer Prizes sitting on their shelves. There are even more “self-plagiarists”—people who shamelessly recycle the same exact cartoon, changing labels on the same image in order to meet a deadline. They shortchange their readers and their clients—and collect the biggest salaries in the business.
Meanwhile, it is impossible for the “young” generation of talented cartoonists who came out of the alt weekly newspapers—those under 50—to find work at all.
Within the mainstream of the profession the general consensus is that we should keep quiet and wait for the storm to pass. They make excuses for serial plagiarists, self-plagiarists, and hacks. At this writing the professional association for political cartoonists, which in 2009 imposed its first penalty for plagiarism in its 50-year history under my presidency, has still failed to act to enforce that rule or issue a code of ethics.
“This is bad for the profession,” I heard from more than one colleague after the Stahler story broke. “Let’s be quiet.”
What’s bad for the profession is bad work. How can we expect editors and publishers to respect us unless we respect ourselves?
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL