Editorial cartoon lands local L.A. paper in hot water

An editorial cartoon depicting a U.S. congressional candidate Nick
Popaditch, who wears an eyepatch because of a battle wound, has
caused trouble for a local California paper.

By The Valley Press
Editorial cartoon in El Centro, California’s The Valley Press

The cartoon shows a teenager asking “Who does that remind you of?” while looking at a Popaditch campaign poster. The other teen responds: “A James Bond super-villain? A bald pirate? Uncle Fester with an eye-patch?”

Editors Weblog reports that “Popaditch’s opponent, Rep. Bob Filner has joined readers in criticizing a newspaper cartoon showing his GOP opponent, a wounded Iraq veteran, calling it inappropriate.”

Popaditch was a Marine gunnery sergeant, and lost the sight in his right eye during 2004’s battle for Fallouja in Iraq. Editors Weblog writes “Now he’s running for Congress as a Republican in California’s 51st District, but much of his media coverage in the region seems to have been more interested in his eyepatch than his platform.”

In response, Vally Press editor-in-chief Brad Jennings wrote a lengthy apology letter. Here is an excerpt:

“We ran a political cartoon from our local cartoonist which depicted a couple of kids looking at a poster of congressional candidate and veteran Nick Popaditch and trying to decide what he looked like because of his eye patch. Frankly, I interpreted the cartoon as making a comment on how misinformed people are — especially young people.

“Many others, apparently, did not take it that way.

“Popaditch lost his eye serving his country, which is a well-known part of his story. I must be one of the only people who looked at this not as a comment on Popaditch but on the misinformed youth of our society.

“So let me apologize to not only Mr. Popaditch but also anyone who was offended by the cartoon. In hindsight, it was a bad decision to run it and I certainly had no intention of offending him or besmirching his honorable service in any way.

“I got plenty of e-mails and calls from people — most that were not from locals — upset about the political cartoon. Many were angry but reasoned, while some were pretty vulgar and threatening.

“But that is not why I am apologizing today. Newspapers are not meant to coddle public officials or public figures — and as a candidate for Congress, Popaditch is a public figure. He is fair game for public comment, even public comment that makes some people uncomfortable. We poke and prod and question. If he gets elected, that will continue to be the case.

“I am apologizing because I simply made the wrong call. I support our cartoonist’s right to portray public figures in any way he chooses to do so. He has the First Amendment right to do so, and we have the right to publish it or not. People have the right to then react to it as they see fit.”

At the end of the letter, he signs off saying:

“I do appreciate those who called and wrote to express their displeasure over the cartoon. I do listen and take your comments to heart — well, except from those who told me to do things that are physically impossible or physically threatened me.

“Ultimately, the only free press worth having is one that at times makes people uncomfortable or angry or leads them to question authority. We do serve an important role in this community and this country that I take very seriously.”