Ten Years Ago in America: When the Censorship of the Left Began

Paul Krugman remembers the “strong current of fear” ten years ago when the U.S. invaded Iraq:

It’s hard now to recall the atmosphere of the time, but there was both an overpowering force of conventional wisdom — all the Very Serious People were for war, don’t you know, and if you were against you were by definition flaky — and a strong current of fear. To come out against the war, let alone to suggest that the Bush administration was deliberately misleading the nation into war, looked all too likely to be a career-ending stance. And there were all too few profiles in courage.

Even though most Americans – and the media – supported the war, I took a strong stance against it long before March 2003 and throughout the early years. Here is my cartoon from day one of the war. As you may remember, it caused outrage:


As Krugman describes, I (and other critics) paid a high price for my opposition not only of the Iraq War, but of the Afghanistan War, which was even more popular – broadly supported by Democrats as well. Opposing Bush was career suicide, but what was the choice? Pulling your punches – like so many of my peers did – meant I wouldn’t be doing the work that mattered anyway. Better to get fired for your opinions than to censor yourself.

The New York Times, where I had been the #1 most reprinted cartoonist during the 1990s, stopped running me.

The Washington Post canceled me.

MSNBC.com canceled me.

Men’s Health, which ran my “Testosterone Diaries” comic strip – which had nothing to do with politics – canceled me.

My income plunged. It’s been a hard ten years. As I write this, I have a stack of bills I have no idea how I’m going to pay.

Even though things are starting to turn around, I am nowhere close to the sound financial footing I had before neo-McCarthyism came to America.

In a week or so I am going to roll out my first-ever Ted Rall Fundraiser for people who can and want to support my work. That’s the new model – if you want good political cartoonists to survive, individuals have to support them. In the meantime, of course, please consider donating. (Everyone who donates now gets the same gimmes as those who donate during the official Fundraiser.)


  • Fundraising? Well, you can start by cancelling your print subscriptions. You don’t owe these people anything after the way they treated you.

  • Oh, and here’s an idea for your next column: title it, “I Want My Job Back” and send a copy to your former employers, including Krugman. You were right, and the war-pimps were wrong.

  • As I recall, Andrew Sullivan also turned against you, in a really nasty way, which to me looked like looked like a knife in the back. Thought he was better than that.

    Media peer pressure: It’s a killing thing.

    • Actually, Kit, it is forgotten now but Sullivan had an Adrianna-like conversion to the Left after he was outted as gay. He was a ferocious pro-war neo-con bastard. Just another case of ideological self-interest, and of transitioning without making penance for his past Right sins.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I love your integrity, I am glad you didn’t pull any punches, you were (and are) a much needed voice, I personally love the cartoon as is, and I agree that it is completely reprehensible neo-McCarthiasim what happened to you. That being said, while I like your cartoon exactly how it is, I think you could have made the same point in a way that didn’t really pull any punches but also wasn’t the equivalent to being a suicide bomber with your carrier just to make this one point on this one topic extremely well.

    To simplify, your analogy in the cartoon is that the jingoist pro-war attitude of America right before the Iraq war was very much like that of Nazi Germany. I agree entirely and I think this is an excellent point to make, and an especially important and brave point to have made at the time that you made it. But you probably could have made the same point without trying to cover absolutely as much of the page as possible with swastikas. Again, I love the cartoon exactly how it is, but even an establishment plant like Thomas Friedman would get in trouble for having that much swastika content on anything he did even if it was using them in a manner to tout and reinforce the status quo. Thus you took something that was guaranteed to get you in serious trouble and multiplied it by a stance that was extremely dangerous (though also very important). Now that you are liberated (or banned, its a matter of opinion) from the main stream media you are free to express yourself however you like, and so you can crank out cartoons like this for us all to enjoy without any repercussions. But if you ever get main streamed again I would strongly recommend keeping your strong stances, but finding ways to take them that won’t literally maximize your carrier risk.

    Again, I am not suggesting you deserved what happened, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am simply saying that when one locates a large beach ball sized hive of angry swarming killer bees and decides that it needs to be whacked down and then into little pieces with a stick, it is generally prudent to do so while wearing multiple layers of mosquito netting over heavy clothes instead of doing it buck-naked like you (metaphorically) did – literally daring them to sting you.

    Of course your relentless bravery and sheer audacity in speaking truth to power is why I love you. But precisely because I love and respect you so much is why I would prefer you take the little precautions that may continue to allow you to eat and possibly avoid being the first American citizen droned dead on US soil.

  • Ted,

    Is that cartoon, or a copy thereof, for sale?

    I think you have my email address to respond, correct?

  • Yah I would buy a copy of that as well, especially if signed.

  • Either offer some proof that the government was actually behind your firings, or choose a word other than “censorship”, please.

    When you claim censorship without proof of government involvement, you devalue the real meaning of the word.

  • For those of us who aren’t rightwing trolls, censorship, by definition, does not have to have any government authority immediately behind it. I would point out that twisting definitions devalues the weight of one’s viewpoint, but the right-wing perspective has been revealed to be such complete bullshit at this point that I don’t think that actually applies here.

  • alex_the_tired
    March 25, 2013 7:31 AM

    Someone, Whimsical,

    “But you probably could have made the same point without trying to cover absolutely as much of the page as possible with swastikas.”

    “Either offer some proof that the government was actually behind your firings, or choose a word other than ‘censorship’, please.

    When you claim censorship without proof of government involvement, you devalue the real meaning of the word.”

    Okay. First point. The whole “you could have done it this way instead.” You’re wrong. Sorry, I’m not saying that with any anger or hostility, but you’re wrong because you are missing a detail. Shortly after 9/11, American flags went up everywhere. Car bumpers, lapels, radio aerials, etc. The patriotic amplifier was turned up to eleven and the knob was ripped off. The flag was filed down to a point and rammed down all our throats. It became inescapable. (A similar effect was made light of a few years earlier in a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer wouldn’t wear an AIDS awareness ribbon during an AIDS walk — more on that in a minute.)

    One of the standard mechanisms of totalitarian regimes is an overabundance of simple symbols and easy ways to demonstrate party loyalty and cause unity: flags, salutes, posters. Look at the standard “Seig Heil.” Anyone with an arm can do it. It’s an easy way to belong. Take a look at the period from 1942 to 1945 in the United States. The entire country went onto a war footing. Almost every motion picture, cartoon, etc., of that period has a clearly identifiable “war message.” People planted Victory Gardens so “our boys” could be supplied. Women knitted socks. Children collected newspapers and metal. I’ve asked the question before: What, exactly, did the military need with old newspapers? These were all ways for everyone to feel involved. Buy Bonds! Give blood! Loose lips sink ships!

    The use of all those swastikas was (IMO) necessary for the point Ted was trying to make. Also, it was a realistic representation of what was going on. Everything I’ve ever seen in documentaries about Nazi Germany has Nazi symbolism ALL over the place. Remember the Forest Swastika? Try Google if you don’t. Because it segues beautifully into the second point.

    Now, second point. Yes, censorship is correctly defined as government control of methods of expression. The government censors, not people. But the government also conditions people and organizations toward self-censorship (or toward planting Nazi-themed forests). No one has to say anything to anyone. It’s simply understood.

    Newspapers don’t run certain stories, or soft-pedal them, because they would lose access to government sources if they didn’t. Case in point: the RNC arrests of bicyclists. Something like 600 people got arrested in New York City during the Republican National Convention. Police reports would describe some of the protesters as resisting violently. The usual sort of stuff. The police had videos. So did the bicyclists. But the bicyclists’ videos were unedited and showed that the police reports — official documents — were false. Something like 90% of the cases were dropped on the spot.

    For a journalist, this is about as good as it gets. These police reports were either deliberately falsified (a huge scandal) or the police, in large numbers, honestly reported facts incorrectly (also a huge scandal because it impugns the validity of every observation, and thus every case, each of those police officers worked on). And, it happened right in the New York Times’ backyard. This should have been an ongoing series of investigative articles that culminated in criminal prosecution of high-level police officers.

    But it wasn’t. The Times ran practically nothing on the issue. Why? Not because the government “censored” them. The Times ran nothing because the Times “censored” itself. “If we try to do this series,” they thought, “we will never get a thing from the NYPD ever again. Not a quote, not a lead, nothing. They’ll pull our press passes.” Not a word has been said by either side. It’s all simply understood.

  • I agree – “The patriotic amplifier was turned up to eleven and the knob was ripped off. The flag was filed down to a point and rammed down all our throats. It became inescapable”-Alex. – We’ve never really returned from this attitude much, except the people have gotten numb from the resulting rampage and violence that we unleashed in every direction – even upon ourselves. I do believe Ted got hit by this too. Then , to top it off, a major economic recession/depression/whatever. – And this is what recovery looks like now – the “DOW” (1%-ers) pretty well recovered and many of them doing real well now, with the middle class squashed down further and many millions in poverty. I avoid these subjects with my relatives, because most of them are fairly clueless, and I get angry rebukes if I raise my voice at all at them in this direction – most of them are just getting by now, and a few are 1% ers. The ones gettting by think that the US will eventually “recover its glory and security”, and the 1%ers are practicing what Ted’s cartoon suggests and laughing all the way to the bank. I think that the situation now is pretty much what will be for quite a long time now – the majority of the US will struggle along crippled, and unless someone yanks the plug on the military, we’ll keep on whacking the beehives and wondering why the bees won’t stop stinging us. Impassive to the death and destruction they participate in by their inaction, the US will focus on “issues” like gay marriage and misdirection ladled out by the media and orchestrated by those in powerful positions.The rich and powerful will continue to solidify their positions and insulate themselves from a crippled nation.That’s the recovery we can expect. Good jobs – very few of those left, and cheap service industry ones to replace a few of them. More manufacturing layoffs coming, I see in the news. I used to be employed in the aviation industry, but the jobs are gone now – more and more being offloaded to overseas – like Belushi (as a 1%er) might have said “Jobs? Good solid manufacturing industry jobs for the middle class? – We don’t need no stink’in good jobs – Got plenty of cheap labor overseas to do them jobs!!” Goodbye yelow brick road……..

  • alex_the_tired
    March 27, 2013 6:29 AM


    “[T]he ‘DOW’ (1%-ers) pretty well recovered and many of them doing real well now, with the middle class squashed down further and many millions in poverty.”

    It’s called eating your seed corn. You cannot have a society like ours — and that includes the wealthy people at the top — without a large, economically active middle class. Yes, the DJIA is soaring (artificially inflated by economic sleight of hand). A correction will come, and a lot of people — and their six- and seven-figure 401(k)s — are going to be in for one hell of a surprise. The few people who will retreat to their compounds will quickly turn on themselves.

    Also, Ted, I don’t think the censorship of the Left began ten years ago. I think it’s been going on for decades. But that’s just a quibble. It doesn’t detract from a thing you wrote.

  • Alex is correct, down to the use of the “seed corn” analogy which I’m prone to employ myself. You can’t have a consumer economy without fucking consumers.

    The problem is that the U.S. system of control is, like Howard Zinn said, probably the best in human history. I’ve spoken with veterans who have never heard of the drone program. I’ve met poor people convinced that the housing bubble was the fault of poor people and not rich people. And we’ve likely all met people who were convinced that the Iraq war was necessary because 9/11 was a thing and “all those guys over there are the same.”

    As such, when the wheels come off the bus, it will be poor people who take the brunt of it. Sure, plenty of well-heeled assholes go down with them, but that schadenfreude gives me little comfort. Without a consistent concept of tribe, revolt becomes a clusterfuck of would-be allies tearing into each other. The only way to fix that is to have a demogogue or two rally the poor. And if you are middle-class: you’re poor.


    The “left” — e.g., everyone who isn’t a rightwinger, no matter that their political philosophies are violently in disagreement — is always censored to a degree. Hence, oppression of black people and the resulting strife is called the “Negro Problem,” as if black people woke up one day and decided to piss off whites by getting exploited. Language is always sanatized. But the runup to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — the Bush Wars, as I liked to call them before Obama made them his own — that was actually a diminishment of the U.S. control system, even as the propaganda and penalties for dissent increased.

    Those swastikas on Ted’s cartoon are fucking necessary. It’s essential to understand that unlike the oppressive “none dare speak its name” political censorship of the ’90s and before where you just didn’t see non-Beltway ideas on television, the ’00s made it very clear that You Are Being Censored. Everyone with power wanted you to know it. Even rightwing shits telling you “there is no censorship, stop lying!” on television and the web — even on this site! — were part of the swaggering, my-genitals-are-bigger-than-yours conceit. This was tactically stupid, but it’s excellent for short-term gains, like a trillion-dollar military boondogle and an economic crash that manages to actually enrich the winners of this game.

    Our aristocracy is not just rolling up the middle class, they’re ripping the copper wiring out of their own system of control just to turn a fast buck or score a quick high. Now, that’s great insofar as it is more obvious to poor people than ever that the fix is in — compare political awareness now to the Clinton era — but, as mentioned above, your average American, tribalistically/politically speaking, doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. They won’t know what to firebomb when the revolution comes. Like Ivins said, we’re going to need some old-fashion demagogues, and good ones.

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