Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Herblock Cartoon Sparks Editorial Page Exchange

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Herblock Cartoon Sparks Editorial Page Exchange

Article excerpt

Cartoonist trades drawing pen for writing pen to defend work on gay bash killing

A Washington Post editorial cartoon condemning a gay man's killing elicited harsh criticism in the form of an op-ed column from a fellow editorial board member.

The op-ed piece, in turn, prompted a passionate defense in the form of a letter to the editor from the cartoonist.

Editorial writer Colbert I. King took on the venerable Herblock - a k a Herbert Block - over an Oct. 15 cartoon on the beating death three days earlier of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay University of Wyoming student.

The cartoon shows a woman near a flower-draped tomb stone inscribed "Matthew Shepard murdered gay." Arms crossed, she asks of Sen. Maj. Leader Trent Lott and a man holding a ledger marked "'Christian' Politics": "Would you explain again how a young man like this might have cured himself of his 'sin'?"

In a June 15 TV interview, Lott, a Mississippi Republican, declared he believes homosexuality to be a sin, one that can be dealt with like alcoholism, kleptomania or sex addiction. And in July, a coalition of 15 Christian groups ran ads in the Washington Post, USA Today, and New York Times criticizing homosexuality and declaring it can be "cured."

Herblock's assistant, Jean Rickard, said the cartoonist "was just so outraged" by Shepard's murder that he put pen to paper. She said several readers called to express approval afterward.

But two days later, King's op-ed piece, titled "Too Broad a Brush," took the opposite tack. "I am one of many Christians whose 'politics' don't include treating homosexuality as a 'curable sin,"' King wrote. "The same goes for the church I attend and the denomination to which it belongs."

Not all Christians agree about homosexuality, wrote King, who declined to be interviewed for this article. "No religion has a hold on antihomosexual bias or has cornered the market on conversiontherapy enthusiasts," he wrote. Nor is Christianity alone in being "forced to contend with a confrontational, fundamentalist element." But the "rhetorical and legislative assaults against gays - disgusting and wrong as they are aren't the same as the kind of violence that took Matthew Shepard's young life."

Relabeling the Christian character as 'Religious Right' or 'Conservative Christians' might have made the cartoon more accurate, he said, "but I'm not sure even that would have been fair."

"Goodness knows," King concluded, "Christianity has its Hall of Shame with centuries of devout believers - anti Semitic and racist to their core - who have done all sorts of evil and great wrongs in the name of the true faith. But that doesn't warrant a generalized condemnation of Christians today.

"Of course, the protective cloak of the First Amendment protects anyone's right to do just that. But I too have a right to say it's wrong."

As a courtesy, Herblock got a chance to read King's column in advance, said deputy editorial page editor Stephen S. Rosenfeld.

Describing Herblock's demeanor, Rickard said, again, "the only word I can think of was outraged." The cartoonist felt the column was off on many points and that it was calling him names. Herblock drafted a response right away and submitted it to Rosenfeld Oct. 19. It ran Oct. 22, at the bottom of the letters to the editor under the headline "Herblock Replies."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist notes that King calls himself a Christian without using quotation marks but uses the marks when speaking of Christians' "politics. …

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