Religious caricature double standard?

washpocartoon thumb 01Just as Young Man Pulliam said last week, Deborah Howell devoted her most recent ombudsman column to the controversy over Pat Oliphant's anti-Pentecostal cartoon that was published on WashingtonPost.com. Howell had noted in an earlier column that readers were right to complain over the cartoon. This weekend, she ran a lengthier piece about political cartooning in general.

More than 750 readers from around the country -- more than I heard from about the financial crisis -- told me they were mightily offended. Many were Pentecostals, whose worship can include speaking in tongues; complaints also came from mainline Christians and from Charles Martin, a Buddhist in Boulder, Colo., who said "it offends me."

McCain and Palin are certainly fair game, but most of those offended by the cartoon felt it mocked all Pentecostals. Most cartoonists don't go out of their way to lambaste religion. But the pope is a frequent editorial cartoon character, as are God and St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

Of course, I think offense is what Oliphant was going for. What Howell neglected to mention in her lengthy column was that Oliphant was so ignorant of Palin's religious views that he didn't even know that she is no longer Pentecostal. Yes, she was Pentecostal or, at least, attended a congregation with Pentecostal roots. No, there is no evidence she ever had the "gift of tongues." But what do facts matter when we're journalists talking about Palin, eh?

Much of the article deals with the fact that most political cartoonists are liberal and the politics of cartooning, which is interesting but mostly tangential to this post. She also discussed the fact that the Palin cartoon did not appear in print, just online through an automatic feed:

I showed it to several Post editors. While it was clever in some ways, most editors -- including me -- would not have run it. The Post has a policy against defaming or perpetuating racial, religious or ethnic stereotypes. That was why The Post did not run the Danish cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.

Oliphant wasn't surprised that it didn't run in print. "Many publications are too timid" to run some of his work, he said, but "the Web is giving us more of a solid venue."

What's weird is that The Post has different standards for its print and online editions. I have absolutely no problem with this cartoon running in print or online, but why in the world is it not okay to defame or perpetuate racial, religious or ethnic stereotypes in print but it's totally awesome to defame or perpetuate racial, religious or ethnic stereotypes online?

The cartoon is still proudly up on the Washington Post site. It's not like it ran one early morning via the automatic feed and then was quickly removed when the editors realized it violated policy.

The website's executive editor says that the paper is all for showing as many cartoons as possible online and allowing the readers to express their own opposition to them. Which doesn't quite explain why they didn't run those Mohammed cartoons last year. Seems like that would have been the consistent thing to do. And it looks like the Buddhist from Colorado is making the same point. He's asked Howell to explain the discrepancy. Hopefully she'll get back to him and enlighten us all.

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