Daily Wildcat cartoon on homosexuality stirs up KGUN9 viewers
Notes and commentary by Forrest Carr, News Director
If the purpose of an editorial cartoon is to get people talking, former Arizona Daily Wildcat cartoonist D.C. Parsons is flush with success. The downside for him is that the backlash has flushed him from his job.
Parsons is a student. This week he drew a cartoon on the issue of homosexuality. The cartoon featured a son and his father yukking it up about the prospect of a violent end for the boy should he turn out to be gay. Parsons told KGUN9's Marcelino Benito that he is no homophobe and just wanted to get people talking about the issue.
Mission accomplished. People aren't just talking, they're taking action -- against Parsons. Thousands signed an on-line petition demanding, among other things, Parsons' head. They got it. Critics want the paper's editor to step down as well.
The issue came to KGUN9's attention when viewers asked us to investigate. Commentary about the issue began to flood our Facebook page even before Marcelino's initial story aired on our 6pm news.
Parsons is by no means the first student cartoonist to foolishly fly a kite in stormy skies and draw down the lightning bolt of public outrage. Earlier this year an editorial cartoonist with University of Texas newspaper ran into similar trouble with a cartoon that many found to be racially offensive. Initially The Daily Texan explained its actions, but offered no apology. But amid public pressure and outrage, finally it did apologize and announced that the paper and the cartoonist had parted ways.
Professional journalists know that we have to weigh the potential consequences of our reporting at all times, and be ready to explain and defend our actions publicly if called upon to do so. But we know these things only because we survived our educational programs and on-the-job training, and grew up to be professionals. In doing so we've racked up plenty of class time in the School of Hard knocks.
Students have not. They've only taken a few footsteps down their career paths.
Without a doubt, this cartoon was offensive. But the willingness of a journalist and his or her newsroom to explain and defend their actions also is a huge part of the ethical process. Parsons and his editor are doing that. Because of their willingness to face the music, we now know that this cartoon didn't get much in the way of pre-publication editorial review. The paper and its faculty advisers have to answer for that.
But on the other hand, we should remember that these are, after all, students. Classroom learning is only one part of the educational process. Mistakes are another part. As a society, is it in our best interests to end a young person's career before it has started over episodes like this? Or should their instructors hold them appropriately accountable, while using this as a learning experience?
Those are tough questions, with no easy answers.
As a professional news guy, I've mentored a lot of young journalists. I was even young myself once, back when computers were the size of cars and journalists captured moving pictures on 16 mm film. In fact, when I was in college, I helped write a comic strip myself -- and while I managed to avoid stepping in any big cow patties at the time, the strips were what they were, goofy and sophomoric, not something I'd be enthusiastic about defending today if I were to run for President or something.
So I know that mistakes are part of the game. I can't help but feel that even bad mistakes shouldn't necessarily be fatal for those who are learning.
The Arizona Daily Star's David Fitzimmons is a professional editorial cartoonist who certainly knows something about the power of the medium. KGUN9's Cory Marshall asked for his reaction to this incident. Fitzsimmons sent her a statement from his Facebook page. The statement refers to Parsons as a "nitwit" and went on to say, "This cartoon does little more than afflict the afflicted, comfort bigots and amuse bullies."
Now you know what two veteran journalists think. Here is a sample of what some of you are saying:
Mark Napolitano: "Please. Lighten up!"
Mahala Lewis: "Homophobic."
Sandy Duke: "Clever but inappropriate and hurtful."
Becky Haro- Morganelli: "Come on. It's funny. People need to STOP being so damn SENSITIVE!!!"
Laura Paxton-Deyoe: "I don't find this funny whatsoever! It definitely crosses the line!"
Debbie Sierra: "I think it crosses the line because a person shouldn't tell their child that."
Teri McGuire: "Wrong."
Jen Wagner: "It would be one thing if it were at least funny, but it's not, it's just bad AND homophobic."
Jeannette R Warren: "The cartoon is not funny. It is disgusting."
Rex Youmans: "It's a cartoon."
Richard Guethlein Jr. "Can't believe someone would take the time to write this crap."
Kolleen Hancock. "Completely crosses the line."
Jennifer Schmidt: "It's makes a joke out of murder and that's not okay. It's not funny when someone murders someone else for being gay or transgender or *insert minority here*. It's disgusting."
William Hohmann: "I can see both sides of the argument. I do believe though with what has happen here in the past few months, this should not have been published. Regardless a college paper or a widely publish paper."
Dion Toumey: "Doesn't anybody see the crap Fitz outs out in the AZ Red Star. C'mon.. Lighten up people. If this was some joke towards GW Bush it would be a Pulitzer prize winner. Give me a break!!"
Lane Aldridge: "Not one iota of humor in that strip."
Kimberly Lawrence-Haslett: "This is beyond ridiculous, don't they understand irony?"
Karianne Nicholson: "I'm sorry- what is 'ironic' about threatening to kill your child, roll him in a rug, and throw him off a bridge while laughing about 'fruit roll ups'??"
Ashley Lludwymaes: Though the cartoon was in bad taste there is a thing called freedom of speech."
Karianne Nicholson: "Free speech does not extend to threats, fighting words, and offensive speech."
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