An editorial cartoon that ran on the Editorials & Letters page of the Los Angeles Daily News on Dec. 21 outraged readers with an image that confused as much as it provoked.
Cartoonist Patrick O’Connor offended readers with his “View From The Valley” one-panel political cartoon. The wordless image depicted Israeli Defense Force soldiers, with Magen Davids on their helmets, beating up what appeared to be the Three Wise Men, or Palestinian men, or both, in the foreground, as the Nativity unfolds in the background. The juxtaposition of the Israeli military violently assaulting men in turbans with the birth of Jesus seemed perplexing to some.
The decision-makers at the Daily News responsible for running the cartoon were Editor David Butler and Managing Editor Ron Kaye.
“We’re apologetic,” Kaye told The Journal. “Obviously a lot of people are upset about it.”
The Daily News printed a rare public apologyfor running the cartoon in its pages. According to a source close to the paper, Butler pushed for the apology. Butler, against the objections of Kaye and Editorial Page Editor Mike Tetreault, had pushed to run the cartoon in the first place, said the source.
“Our intent was to highlight that the violence in the Middle East was spiraling out of control and post-Sept. 11 was dangerous to everybody, and we deeply regret that the cartoon obscures the message and we apologize to those we’ve offended,” said Kaye.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles sent a joint letter to the Daily News’ editors to convey the disappointment and outrage of the numerous calls their offices received. On the day that the cartoon ran, Aaron Levinson, director of the ADL’s Valley office, said the organization had received about a dozen complaints at his outlet and another dozen at the Los Angeles office.
“The message was unclear,” Levinson said, “but it clearly depicted Jewish soldiers beating up Arabs or the Wise Men without showing the other side of the story.”
Both Levinson and the Israeli Consulate’s Consul of Communications Meirav Eilon Shahar told The Journal that they could not recall past complaints regarding O’Connor’s cartoons or the Daily News in general.
“I can’t recall receiving complaints about their cartoons in the last three years that I’ve been at the ADL,” said Levinson.
By contrast, the ADL has received numerous calls regarding various Los Angeles Times political cartoons over the years.
But that does not excuse the irresponsibility of this particular panel, say the ADL and the Israeli Consulate.
“It could stroke the flames of intolerance,” Levinson said. “It could lead to finger-pointing. At a time after Sept. 11, when we’re trying to bring some healing to the community, this is counter-productive.”
“Usually, our policy is try to engage, not criticize, the media,” Shahar said. “This was a very offensive, one-sided and irresponsible. The media has a responsibility of reporting with accuracy, and to present both sides of issues in a factual and responsible way.”
Kaye would not let The Journal speak to O’Connor. Instead, he spoke on the staff cartoonist’s behalf.
“I’m conveying his sentiment that it was over-the-top and not in his heart and not in our hearts and we all regret running this cartoon,” Kaye said.
There were no plans at press time for any of the Jewish organizations to meet with the Daily News editors.
“At this point we are not, but we don’t rule that out,” said Tamar Galatzan, leader of the ADL’s Western State Association Council, who did note that the Woodland Hills-based paper immediately took responsibility, in light of reader reaction, and yanked the offensive cartoon from their Web site.
“The images overwhelmed the message,” Kaye said, “and was inappropriate to conveying what was essentially a plea for peace in the Middle East, which turned out to be offensive to many people.”