A political cartoon we published on Wednesday that lampooned Joe Biden’s scatter-brained speeches has apparently been taken by some readers as an unfair mockery of stuttering.
I did not take it that way. But one of our regular readers did. Anyone who stands up for someone with a disability is good people in my book. But I have to respectfully disagree with the caller, although she apparently knows more about the issue than I do.
I did not know Joe Biden stuttered when he was growing up, or else we would likely not have published the political cartoon out of fear of just this kind of thing happening. The cartoon didn’t tell me he had a stutter. It told me he jumps from one subject to the next without transition. I call that random speech pattern, not stuttering. I know what stuttering sounds like.
The caller didn’t inform me either of Biden having a stutter when he was growing up. I found out by doing a search for "Joe Biden stutter." Guess what came up: A December 2019 Axios article headlined "Biden: Stuttering not to blame for verbal screwups."
"I don't think of myself as continuing to stutter. ... That doesn't cross my mind that I'm stuttering," Biden said in the Axios on HBO interview. "Look, the mistakes I make are mistakes. And some people think I still stutter. I don't think of myself that way."
In an October 2019 New York Times article headlined "The Many Ways That Joe Biden Trips Over His Own Tongue," reporter Katie Glueck surmised Biden "takes circuitous routes to the ends of sentences, if he finishes them at all" and he sometimes says the opposite of what he means.
"I would eliminate the capital gains tax — I would raise the capital gains tax," he said in that November’s Democratic debate.
"He has mixed up countries, cities and dates, embarked on off-message asides and sometimes he simply cuts himself off," Glueck continued. "That choppy speaking style puts Mr. Biden at a disadvantage as his front-runner status erodes and he confronts growing pressure to expand his appeal with voters and donors."
So, if you took the political cartoon we ran Wednesday as a slight at stuttering, we are sorry but it was not about that. At least we didn’t think it was.
Political cartoons by nature, however, are likely going to be offensive to one side or the other. And they are increasingly partisan.
It is very difficult to find a political cartoon that would not be considered offensive to Trump supporters. Those are a dime a dozen these days, and we do our best to hold the more offensive of those because of our readership. I do not have enough hours in the work day to handle the complaints that we would get if we ran a majority of the political cartoons available.
For those who are offended by the political cartoons, you’re not alone. Many of them offend me, too. For example: This week from Robert Ariail at Universal is a political cartoon with Trump walking by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He’s carrying a can of spray paint. The cartoonist depicts Trump painting "Sucker" over "Soldier."
We can usually rely on Joseph Heller out of Green Bay, Wisc., to provide us with a clever toon that is both timely and unoffensive.
Political cartoonists are known to push buttons to get people riled up in one way or another. Sometimes it gets them killed, and the editors who print them. In 2015, the French magazine Charlie Hebdo printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. On Jan. 7 of that year, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the magazine’s offices and killed the editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, four other cartoonists, two columnists, a copy editor, a guest at the meeting and the caretaker. The editor's bodyguard and a police officer were also killed.
Charbonnier, known as "Charb," defended the cartoons as symbolic of freedom of speech. "I don't blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings," he told the Associated Press in 2012. "I live under French law. I don't live under Koranic law."
While I live neither under French nor Koranic law, I do support freedom of speech. I support those expressions more, however, if they are decent and civil.
’Racist’ Non Sequitor
A reader wrote in to complain Friday about the "Non Sequitor" cartoon on the comics page as "racist." The comic stepped into social commentary territory on the concept of white male privilege. The editorial department does not monitor comics page cartoons, so that was out of my hands. The man calling it "racist" said he has worked very hard for what he has. He should be proud of his accomplishments. A hard-day’s work is fulfilling and creates self worth. I’m sure many could learn from his work ethic.
Addressing the concept of white privilege makes many people uncomfortable, especially in places that are mostly white and where many grew up poor.
"This cartoon does not do anything but promote more racial division," the man wrote. "Is that the position the paper is taking, a position of adding to the racial division of the country? Very bad taste and opinion Times Record, very bad."
Jokes have a nugget of truth in them, or they wouldn’t be a joke. The person who says it was a racist cartoon likely feels he is being marginalized. I would wager the cartoonist was doing that on purpose as a statement to force a feeling others have felt for centuries. With all jokes, I can only offer these words of advice: Don’t take it personal.
John Lovett is the regional editor for Gannett newspapers in west Arkansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.