Censored by the New York Times: The Story Behind a Political Cartoon the Publisher didn’t want you to see

by Kitchen Table Cartoons

Last January’s devastation of Gaza compelled me to publish the backstory to my cartoon below. My news source for the Israeli attacks was not the U.S. media (who stayed conveniently on the sidelines), but disturbing reports from Doctors Without Borders, who remained in Gaza trying to help the Palestinian people.

Cartoon: Serving the American People

Here is the backstory to the political cartoon above:

In the summer of 2003, the world watched as land, water, and dignity were stolen from the Palestinian people — all with the silent complicity of the US media. To express my growing outrage, I drew this cartoon at my kitchen table in Maine.

After realizing that no newspaper would accept it, I decided to publish the cartoon as an advertisement in the NY Times. I focused on the quarter-page space in the Op-Ed section reserved for opinion ads. Contacting the Times, I learned that pro-Israel organizations had reserved the space for 30 of the next 52 Sundays. I took the first available date.

My cartoon was scheduled to appear on September 21.

The Times required several changes to the cartoon so that it conformed to the acceptability standards of the newspaper. These changes were made. The Times production staff then asked for and was sent the camera-ready copy.

I paid the cost of the ad in full.

On Friday, September 19 I received notification that the cartoon’s publication was cancelled by order of the Times’ publisher. I recall simply shaking my head at the news – wryly noting that this action by the Times was validating the very point of the cartoon.

I next submitted the cartoon to USAToday, where it was accepted. The morning that the cartoon appeared, I received a call at 8:45am from a USAToday vice president.

He said that in all his years at the paper, he had never had a response like what was happening as a result of the cartoon’s publication. Apparently, American pro-Israel groups are geared up for such “emergencies” and inundated USAToday offices nationwide with telephone calls and emails. But of course it was too late.

Two postscripts:

1. I received more hate mail/ threats than I did accolades.

2. A year later, senior management at USAToday had been replaced.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alan D. Stern 11.12.09 at 10:55 am

I like the fact that there is an American flag tucked in his BACK pocket. The American media never points out that US interests are often injured by the Israeli policies that we, the taxpayers, help fund. Read the Mearsheimer and Walt book “The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy.”

2 Knows Better 11.12.09 at 3:16 pm

Even better, the sole of his shoe reads “Made in America.”

The weapons they use against the Palestinians are made and provided by US taxpayers.

3 Ellen 11.13.09 at 8:04 am

My first reaction was that the ad obviously cost a lot of money. Why didn’t you better spend it helping to build a Palestinian hospital or school? Then I remembered that many
hospitals and schools were destroyed by the Israeli army last month in Gaza. Sadly, six years on, the cartoon is still relevant.

4 Pat M. 11.13.09 at 9:36 am

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said he’d rather have newspapers w/o government than a government w/o newspapers. A constrained press w/o freedom to publish certain information is a toxin to its citizens.

I have no special love for the Palestinian people, but as that cartoon suggests, our media in important ways is a propaganda arm of the Israeli government. Criticism within the US is silenced.

Unfortunately nothing will change — except at the grassroot level with blogs like this!

5 BJ 11.14.09 at 5:54 pm

Indeed. Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians is like apartheid years ago in South Africa. Back then, students organized boycotts doing business with South Africa and helped end that country’s racist policies. Today Americans, being joined at the hip with Israel, are more complicit with the dehumanizing apartheid. Where are the student activists today?

6 David Morris 11.15.09 at 2:21 pm

@BJ:

Interesting point. Citizens of Norway are now debating whether to boycott Israeli products and investments altogether. Not unlike the 1970’s boycott of South Africa because of apartheid.

7 John M. 11.16.09 at 5:18 pm

Another case in point: Jimmy Carrter’s recent book about how Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is akin to apartheid. The news media effectively ignored the book (thereby discouraging public discourse on his thesis). What they did publish/braodcast was Jewish spokesmen who tersely dismissed Mr. Carter as “disappointingly naive.”

8 Tish in Amsterdam 11.18.09 at 1:57 pm

The pun/drawing somehow reminds of that Thomas Nast cartoon about the predatory practices of Boss Tweed: “Now let us prey”

9 sally 11.21.09 at 8:27 am

I noted the arrogance reflected in the face of the Israeli (Sharon?) and how it captures the self- righteous disregard the Israeli government has toward human rights and world opinion.

10 Ian 11.21.09 at 10:14 am

The cartoon might be even more spot on if it replaced the “Press” waiter with a subservient US congressman. The way senators and congressmen fall over themselves to voice support and taxpayer money to Israel is shameful. Have you ever noticed when there is a UN Resolution condemning Israeli aggression, the vote is 143 to 3? The entire world supporting— Israel,USA, and the Solomon Islands opposing

11 Juan 11.22.09 at 10:57 am

I liked the Jefferson quote. In the context of censorship. there’s another by Lord Northcliffe– “News is what somebody somewhere is trying to suppress. The rest is advertising.” I’m surprised but not surprised by the NY Times.

12 Dianne Foster 11.22.09 at 1:46 pm

It gladdens my heart to imagine that USAToday accepted this. There has been such a to-do about the Muslims trying to suppress critique, as though they are the only ones making threats. Imagine how the Soviet Union and Castro were portrayed in their heyday, not to speak of China. Last time I looked, Israel was a foreign country, like France. It is not a sacred cow to satire. It is not “the Jewish people”, even though the name is often invoked in traditional prayers which might create some confusion about that. Israeli politicians were not put there by God. In fact, the cartoonist is simply telling us who made them.

But perhaps there is something un-kosher about that suckling voter.

13 Barbara 11.24.09 at 12:11 am

The content/message of the cartoon is good, but the artwork amateurish. Hiring a professional draftsperson would have gotten a greater impact.

14 Viewtifuljoe 11.25.09 at 2:25 pm

Badly drawn, yes. Bad cartoon, no.

15 B. Janik 12.12.09 at 1:56 pm

Last January, while Israel banned international media from viewing and reporting on their barbaric attack in Gaza, Israeli officials did obligingly provide any and all journalists tours of a Palestinian rocket carcass in a field near a Jewish settlement/colony. These images appeared on our evening news.

16 Steve Seymour 07.09.10 at 7:59 am

Cartoons attempt to say it with a degree of humour, hoping that people “get it” in a picture that sums up the situation. Cartoons can be more powerful than whole articles because the viewer is the interpreter and the conveyed message bypasses language. However, a cartoon is – “just a cartoon”. These pictures bypass language at tell you exactly how it is – you the viewer can’t do anything else but “get it”. PICTURES

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