Tuesday, September 20, 2005

UH Daily Cougar: Katrina Victims are comically greedy stereotypes!

This one made the local TV news last night. On Monday The University of Houston Daily Cougar ran what is likely the most offensive editorial cartoon in that paper's history. Not surprisingly, they quickly pulled it from the paper's website. The cartoon by (talentless.. and I'm not just saying that out of spite) Arturo Gonzalez depicted a jewelry-bedecked "gangsta" NO refugee flashing FEMA debit cards in an attempt to seduce a nurse at the Memorial-Hermann Emergency Room. The dialogue included such gems as:
"What's the deal baby mama! You look'n PHAT ... I'm a survivor of Katrina ... straight from the middle of the dirty dirty ... still pimpin ... Girl gimme dat! ... gettin off soon huh? We could chill on my cot ... I got mad cases of MRE's ... we could grub after we blaze ... "
Aside from writing Albert and The Daily Grind for the Cougar, I split editorial toon duty for two years with cartoonists Ed de la Garza and John Palamidy and believe you me, if the editor has a problem with your work it has to be revised or it just doesn't get published. Period. It may piss the living hell out of you but that's the job of the editor. In this case the editor is one Matt Dulin who last night trotted out the tired and utterly inadequate excuse that the offensive cartoon represented only the opinion of the cartoonist. In his half-assed apology today, he even claims that the cartoon is open to multiple interpretations (such as?). Likewise, today's staff editorial features an attempt to cloud the problem by raising the dread specter of censorship:

The most important thing to remember is the cartoon in no way, shape or form represents the views of the editorial staff, our writers or the University. An editorial cartoon is like an opinion column -- it represents one person's viewpoint, not those of the staff.

That's not always clear given the nature of cartoons, which are often less formal and can be more anonymous than columns. Nevertheless, the same principle applies.

That principle, however, doesn't prevent The Daily Cougar from refusing to run something that could be considered offensive for the sake of being offensive. Censorship shouldn't be taken lightly by the press. College papers don't have wealthy investors or corporate bosses to answer to, just the students they serve. But if an item's offensiveness outweighs the merit of the idea behind it, then it may be appropriate to employ the "c" word.

Let's get one thing straight: this isn't a First Amendment issue. They let you know up front when you're hired; everything they run is subject to review and editing (on one occasion, an Albert strip was edited for language and nobody told me until it had gone to press) on grounds far more complicated and nuanced than merely screening out material that's "offensive for the sake of being offensive" (and in this case, I highly doubt Gonzalez was actively engaging in deliberately offensive outsized Swiftian satire). Moreover, the Cougar is largely funded by tuition money. If I were still a student at UH, I'd hate to think that one penny of my tuition went into the publication of Gonzalez's cartoon (or into his pocket.. the Cougar is not a volunteer operation). Speaking as someone who spent years at the Cougar as one of a group of students who worked hard to maintain the paper's integrity and quality, Gonzalez and Dulin should be canned immediately, if only for the paper's sake.


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