Volume 76, Number 42 | March 14 - 20, 2007

Copyright 2006 R.J. Matson

R.J. Matson’s statement on the Mohammed cartoon controversy was killed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2006.

Cartoons stripped from print

By Nicole Davis

Until cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten two years ago, most Americans probably underestimated the power of editorial art. The images, assigned by the paper’s culture editor Fleming Rose to unveil the widening self-censorship within the press, sparked riots in a number of Arab countries, led to the deaths of at least 50 people — and had the unintended consequence of making many papers even meeker. Though the three cartoons that provoked the most ire actually never appeared in Jyllands-Posten (they were circulated by a few incensed Islamists), many American editors were loathe to reprint the original illustrations for fear of upsetting readers or inviting more violent attacks, possibly on themselves.

Copyright Mikhaela Reid 2006
Mikhaela Reid’s satirical take on anti-abortion opposition to the morning-after pill as an over-the-counter contraceptive was killed last year by the Rochester Insider, an alt-weekly.

In truth, as a new book called “Killed Cartoons” (Norton; $15.95) makes plain, editors have always been wary of running incendiary images, often for unjustifiable reasons like kowtowing to advertisers. The book, which is edited by longtime Villager David Wallis, is like a peak inside the trash bins (and minds) of news editors who have rejected pointed, and sometimes perverted cartoons — particularly in the last decade or so, as tightening editorial budgets and a free-press-adverse administration has made editors shy away from controversy.

It follows Wallis’s other book, “Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print,” an anthology of squashed magazine and newspaper articles. Wallis says his fixation with reviving these rejected stories and illustrations stems from his respect for the public service component of journalism, and his belief in transparency. “By letting readers in on the sausage making — by letting them in not on what’s published, but what’s being suppressed — they can consume their media with a boatload of salt,” he says. In the process, “we can also learn a lot about the limits of a society.” And nothing pushes our buttons like cartoons.

Copyright 2003 Rainer Hachfeld
Rainer Hachfeld drew this in response to the 2003 U.S. missile strike on al-Jazeera’s Baghdad Bureau, which killed one of its correspondents, Tareq Ayyoub. It was cut by Neues Deutschland.

“Cartoons are unquestionably the most popular part of an editorial page because they hit us on a primal, gut level when very little else in society does. And because they hit us on a primal level, they get people angry, and when people get angry, they write letters, which editors don’t like dealing with,” particularly in an age where more and more publications are beholden to stockholders. To drive home the point that cartoonists are often seen as “hiccups to growth,” Wallis compares the 200 cartoonists working at papers across the country in the 1980s, to the less than 90 on staff today.

Following are three excerpts from “Killed Cartoons,” including one by Mikhaela Reid, a cartoonist for our sister paper Chelsea Now. Wallis will read from his book at the Astor Place Barnes & Noble on March 21 at 7 p.m.

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