Hey, cartoonists, leave them kids alone!

And for that matter, everyone else should leave them alone, too. Earlier, Taylor offered his thoughts on the despicable attack from Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes on Ted Cruz by using his kids as targets — and depicting them as monkeys to boot. Nick Gillespie at Reason agrees that the Telnaes cartoon exhibits plenty of media bias, as well as a lack of talent and insight. But Gillespie has another bone to pick with the Post:


Let’s be honest. This cartoon, like virtually all editorial cartoons, is so failed on so many levels that only a Pulitzer-Prize winner could have drawn it. As Roger Williams said of forced prayers, it stinks in god’s nostrils. And that’s long before we even get to whether it’s wrong to include children in such situations. Cruz is Santa but also an organ grinder? I thought only Eyetalians were organ grinders and isn’t Cruz Canadian or something? And why Santa Claus—just because it’s Christmas week? Why not Krampus, who takes things from people? Because Cruz wants to steal old people’s Medicare and underwear and shut down the government, doesn’t he, according to the liberal consensus…? …

Here’s something more disturbing the Post did on the day before the Cruz cartoon got its 15 minutes in the sun. It ran this headline:

The war in Afghanistan follows Obama to his vacation in Hawaii

HONOLULU — A deeply conflicted President Obama warned earlier this year when he extended the American troop presence in Afghanistan that he did not support “the idea of endless war.”

For Obama, the deaths Monday of six U.S. soldiers near Bagram air base underscore the perils of his decision to keep as many as 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through much of next year.

A war that Obama had pledged to end before he left office is now increasingly looking endless. That war followed him here to his native Hawaii, where he is on a two-week vacation with his wife and daughters….

To be honest, I find this sort of headline and lede more indicative of media bias than anything any cartoonist can ever did. This is how you write a story about six dead Americans in a war that is supposed to be over already? No, this is more like reporting as ideological Vulcan mind-meld: How did the biggest single day of KIAs ruin Obama’s vacation?


However, there is plenty more about the cartoon, and the Post’s shifting standards of when kids should be targets for criticism, to discuss as well. In my column for The Fiscal Times, I remind readers of a certain double standard that goes back more than a decade:

The Washington Post’s fashion editor Robin Givhan once notoriously criticized the wardrobe of the children of then-Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in order to paint the jurist as out of touch with everyday Americans. …

It was nothing that the Obama’s hadn’t done with their own daughters. The Postcovered that effort in February 2012, dutifully noting without a hint of disapproval that Sasha and Malia would soon be part of their father’s re-election campaign. “They’re ready to go,” First Lady Michelle Obama declared to reporters traveling with the First Family. Reporter Krissah Thompson quoted a former Democratic polling analyst offering a glowing recommendation for that choice. “It’s a way to humanize them, and it’s also a way to signal youth and vitality,” [Andra] Gillespie said. “It helps when you have an attractive family to use as a backdrop.”

Three years later, suddenly Telnaes and the Post believe it’s perfectly all right to shred children to get to their parents. Or at least the Post thought it would be perfectly all right when the parents are Republican. It didn’t take long to realize that someone made a mistake — a year after the same newspaper pilloried someone for daring to criticize the Obama girls:


After a deluge of criticism in social media, Post editor Fred Hiatt removed both the cartoon and Telnaes’ defense of it. In its place, Hiatt noted that he had not approved the cartoon for publication, and left a terse conclusion. “I understand why Ann thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.”

Actually, it might be interesting to see why the Post’s editors “understand” that position. After all, the same newspaper published a dozen or more articles about an obscure Capitol Hill staffer’s social-media complaints a year ago about the Obama daughters’ taste in clothes. The coverage heavily featured criticism of Elizabeth Lauten and contained nearly no references to a defense of her actions, “understandable” or not. Lauten resigned shortly afterward. One has to wonder whether the Post will harangue Telnaes into a similar decision. So far, though, consistency has not been the Post’s strong suit.

Lots of people have already pointed this out, but it’s worth saying again. Had any cartoonist portrayed the Obama daughters as monkeys tied to Barack Obama as an organ grinder because they appeared in a political ad for their father, their careers would have come to an end. Period.

Americans expect politicians to feature their families for the exact reasons stated by Andra Gillespie in 2012. Politicians feature them in advertisements to meet those expectations. That does not make them legitimate targets for pundits and cartoonists, and in fact using children as surrogates to attack parents is particularly loathsome because of the dishonest method of making that attack in the first place. Telnaes’ is even worse than most, because she’s depicting Cruz’ daughters as monkeys just because they made a routine appearance in their father’s commercial.


The media rule that usually gets hammered into the social consensus when it applies to Democrats is this: The kids are off limits. And … it’s a good rule. Politicians can put their children in ads, and they’re still off limits. If you have a problem with the politician, be honest enough to attack the politician and not their families.

Where I disagree with Taylor is in whether the Post should have pulled the content. I see no constitutional or free speech implications in that move. What I do see is a free-market response from the intended audience and a market provider responding to it. No one is proposing a law to bar cartoonists (or pundits, etc) from criticizing little kids in order to score points off of their dads or moms. This is using free speech to transmit a market and social cost for offensive speech — countering bad speech with more speech. And at least in this case, the exposure of a double-standard at the Post has embarrassed them into acknowledging the cost.

But while we are at it, let’s stop using kids as political surrogates in other contexts, too:

At the same time, it’s also time to stop using children as surrogates for political movements, too. We regularly see adolescents and teens express some political thought that is then used to rally a faction, and then get exploited by that faction as a way to keep those thoughts from being debated.

When those adolescents and teens change their minds, it gets even more embarrassing. Suddenly, their former allies accuse them of treachery, and their former opponents then get their turn exploiting them. We have enough adults around to debate issues; let the kids be kids and find their own way in politics and life.


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