By The Progressive on March 15, 2004
New York Times Digital Spikes Ted Rall
By Matthew Rothschild

March 15, 2004

The work of political cartoonist Ted Rall will no longer be seen on The New York Times Digital site. Even his archived work is no longer there.

"After two years of monitoring cartoons by Ted Rall, we have decided that, while he often does good work, we found some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone we try to set for our website," said Len Apcar, the editor of NYTimes.com. "While NYTimes.com and its parent company support the right of free expression, we also recognize an obligation to assure our users that what we publish, no matter what its origin, does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience."

Rall says he is a victim of what he calls "the New McCarthyism."

"My work drew a disproportionate number of e-mails from annoyed Republicans," he wrote on his blog, and he said that the Times was tired of dealing with the criticism.

"An independent press must be responsive to its readers, but that doesn't mean running scared of a creator some thirteen years after you started running his work because some people oppose his politics," Rall wrote. "If opinion mongers have to worry about getting fired every time they venture off the political mean, the next thing you know, the entire op-ed page will be covered with nothing but bland, middle-of-the-road moderates."

Christine Mohan, a spokesperson for Times Digital, would not comment about Rall's charge of political censorship.

"His humor was not in keeping with our website," she told The Progressive, adding that Times Digital began "monitoring Ted Rall's work" ever since his March 2003 cartoon "about the 9/11 widows."

That cartoon, "Terror Widows," depicted some of the relatives of September 11 being crass. In one panel, Rall has Larry King ask: "So, when your husband called you from the 104th floor, he knew he was going to die?" And in the next panel, the widow says: "Oh, yes-He was on fire! By the way, Larry, that's a bitchin' tie!" Another panel has a widow saying on TV, "the $3.2 million I collected from the Red Cross keeps me warm at night."

Rall, who sometimes draws cartoons for The Progressive, told me: "It's a send-up of the commodification of grief. It's an absolutely tasteless cartoon, and it needed to be to talk about an absolutely tasteless thing."

Daniel Okrent, the Times's public editor, said Times Digital also found three other cartoons objectionable. Two of those were explicitly political.

One was entitled "Visit Ninelevenland!" Ridiculing the marketing of September 11, Rall has a character holding a sign: "Victim Dust Makes the Perfect Souvenir." Another says: "You must be as tall as me to ride the tower jump." A sign reads: "Site of Mohammed Atta Eye Socket." And a person wears a hat that says, "United We Bland," and a T-shirt saying: "Osama took Manhattan but all I got was two stupid wars."

The other political cartoon is entitled "Bush Kreminology," and spoofs those who claim to know what's going on in the highest reaches of the Administration. Using a photo of Rumsfeld, Powell, Bush, and Cheney all sitting in a row, Rall writes: "To the untrained eye, it's impossible to tell anything from the image of top officials planning the invasion of wherever. A trained Bush Kreminologist, however, can read the fate of the Homeland as accurately as a tea leaf." And then Rall's characters make derogatory comments about the four, including: "Bush's ruddy nose: back on the sauce."

Ombudsman Okrent, by the way, gave a mixed verdict on the decision by Times Digital. "On principle, I hold with Apcar," Okrent said in his March 4 web dispatch. "Although I happen to think that Rall, while ferociously partisan, can be absolutely brilliant, a lot of his work doesn't fit in The Times's self-defined environment. . . . They are clearly at odds with the tone of the paper that wouldn't bring a blush to the face of most ten-year-olds I know."

But then he added, "I'm tempted to differ with Apcar's solution. Why not just continue what he and his colleagues have been doing, rejecting the cartoons that don't meet Times standards? It's worked up until now. Then again, I'm not the one who would have to make the choice every day, and sometimes things like this can just make your head hurt."

That's equivocal enough.

Rall calls the editors of Times Digital "cowards." They were reacting, he says, to "rank partisanship" from rightwing bloggers, not the tone of his cartoons. "There are Republicans who are doing political cartoons that are absolutely vulgar, and that's how it should be," Rall says. But they aren't the ones the editors are yanking.

The effort by the right to silence him, says Rall, can be traced back to the Bush Administration, which he accuses of "gangsterism."

"This Administration has emboldened the would-be censors," Rall says. "It is tacitly pointing out the direction. It's saying, 'Hey, that's a nice house, it'd be a pity if it burned down.' "

The Bush folks, he says, have a strategy: "Shut up your opponents. That's what they're doing across the board."

But Rall says he's not going to "just shut up and take it. That's not who I am."

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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