Post 9/11, Iraq Backlash for Cartoonists?

Sometimes freedom of expression is not very popular — just ask some cartoonists who have criticized the war on terrorism and U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The mainstream media — including comic strip and editorial cartoonists — have often been accused of having a liberal bias. However, it seems that not even conservative supporters of President Bush can escape the wrath of some critics.

Last month, Pulitzer Prize-winning, conservative editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez of The Los Angeles Times drew a cartoon reminiscent of a famous 1968 photograph showing a Vietnamese police officer shooting an alleged Viet Cong member in the head. Ramirez's cartoon featured a man pointing a gun at the head of Bush. The gun was labeled "Politics" while the buildings in the background were labeled "Iraq."

Ramirez said he meant to convey that Bush was about to become a victim of a political assassination because of the flap over the 16 words in his State of the Union speech that erroneously linked Iraq to uranium purchases from Africa.

However, the Secret Service saw the image of a man pointing a gun at Bush as a threat, not sympathetic. An agent contacted Ramirez, who initially thought he was the victim of a prank call.

Later that day, the Secret Service agent came to The Los Angeles Times office, and lawyers for the newspaper turned him away. Secret Service officials have said they must investigate anything that could be perceived as a threat to the president and that they were only doing their job.

Ramirez was neither detained nor did he suffer any other repercussions. But the attention his cartoon attracted from the government he fully supports amused — and scared — some of his colleagues.

"That's crazy. … I e-mailed him [Ramirez] and teased him and told him he better give up on his beloved Bush government and change his name to mine and give them my address," said Lalo Alcaraz, author of La Cucaracha, a comic strip that focuses on racial politics. "Some people should not be allowed to read cartoons because they just don't get it."

"Ramirez is the polar opposite of me in this business. I'm the liberal and he's the right-wing defender of all that's wrong to me," said Joel Pett, editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader of Kentucky.

"It [the incident] was seen as a comedy of errors to me. The response was off-the-chart ridiculous. It seems funny that this happened given that we just got the 9/11 report that said the various agencies don't talk to each other very well and don't communicate with each other. And here comes the CIA with their Keystone Kops brigade routine."

Post-9/11 Backlash

Ramirez probably would not have attracted the Secret Service's attention if he had used another, less graphic, image to make his point. But has the general public become hypersensitive to — or intolerant of — any opinion and image critical of the White House, especially in this post-Sept. 11 world consumed with terrorism and U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

"I have always gotten [hate] mail because I deal with racial politics, but there was a big spike after Sept. 11 because I continued to be myself and speak out against the government," said Alcaraz.

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