The Irish Times today apologised for publishing a cartoon by Martyn Turner, and has removed the cartoon from its website. Whatever the reason for removing the cartoon, it is not the consistent application of the stated reasons for doing so. The Irish Times should withdraw the apology and republish the cartoon, or else it should also apologise for and remove from its website any other Martyn Turner cartoons that violate the standards that it used to make this decision.
This is the cartoon. It is about the publication of a Bill to strengthen the legal requirement to report to the police any knowledge of sexual abuse of children, and the position of the Catholic Church that its priests will not report any crimes they hear about in Confession. The cartoon has three priests reading the Bill, and singing “I would do anything for children, but I won’t do that.” The part that has caused the problem is the comment in the bottom right corner. It reads “But there is little else you can do for them, other than stay away from them.”
The Irish Times editorial gave two reasons for the apology and removing the cartoon: firstly that “civilised debate requires the eschewing of ad hominem argument, playing the ball, not the man, and avoiding crude stereotyping;” and secondly that Martyn Turner had taken “an unfortunate and unjustified sideswipe at all priests, suggesting that none of them can be trusted with children.” This, The Irish Times concluded, “has, unsurprisingly, caused considerable offence,” and “reflected a regrettable editorial lapse.”
But the Irish Times is applying these stated standards very selectively. If you apply them to other cartoons by Martyn Turner, it quickly becomes evident that you cannot apply such standards to political cartoons. That is because political cartoons as an art form have their own language, which necessarily includes using stereotypes as hooks on which to hang short-cuts to making a political point. It is acknowledged as part of the art form that the stereotypes are not to be taken literally.
Applying the same standards to other Martyn Turner cartoons
Using those standards, many of Martyn Turner’s cartoons take “an unjustified sideswipe” at all people in various professions. In “A history of Ireland in four phases,” four people say “Trust me, I’m (a politician, a priest, a banker, a doctor…)” and a voice says “A few more tribunals would sort the country out… trust me, I’m a lawyer.” In another, the Taoiseach asks advisers to prepare a Bill about curbing Government spending, and the advisors prepare a bill for their own fees. Will the Irish Times now apologise for and remove these cartoons?
Using those standards, two recent cartoons “take an unjustified sideswipe” at all Gardai, suggesting that none of them can be trusted to obey the law. In one, a Garda tells a suspect “Anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against us.” Another has the punchline “Well it couldn’t be the Gardai doing it because they would have arrested themselves by now.” Surely these cartoons make (or don’t make) the same inference about the majority of law-abiding Gardai as the removed one does about the majority of non-pedophile priests?
Using those standards, many of his cartoons “take an unjustified sideswipe” at all politicians. A man at a rally shouts “Credibility! Honesty! Integrity! These are just a few of the words our candidates can spell.” Another describes the Belfast Assembly as “an Assembly of failed politicians hurling abuse, spouting religious dogma and proferring outmoded ideas.” Another depicts John Major wondering what planet Unionist politicians are from. This is all stock-in-trade of political cartoons, but it breaks the standards used to apologize for and remove the priest cartoon.
Using those standards, some of his international cartoons use even more overt “crude stereotyping.” In one, a man is reading a newspaper headline “Bertie on Mission to Africa,” and is imagining Bertie Ahern tied up and being boiled alive in a large cooking pot. In another, an American tells his son that the Tea Party are so named “because they are all as mad as hatters.” In another, Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan are approaching Viet-NAMA, with the following dialogue: “They’ll probably be fighting those little men in black.” “Viet Cong?” “Lawyers.”
Another cartoon depicts talks between ESB Management and unions, while a man outside says “The lights are still on but I’m not sure there is anyone home.” Using those standards, is this an “unjustified sideswipe” against all people with intellectual disabilities, or against all ESB negotiators, or against both? In another, Angela Merkel is recklessly driving a coach labelled EuroZone down the incline of an economic graph. A voice asks: “Can I make a comment about lady drivers?” and another replies “No. Just think it.” Using those standards, is this an “unjustified sideswipe” against all women politicians, or all women drivers, or all women generally?
Using these standards, this is not even the first Martyn Turner cartoon to take “an unjustified sideswipe” at all priests. He recently depicted Enda Kenny washing a Tricolor, and telling a nun and a priest that nothing will ever get the stains of the Magdalene Laundries and Industrial Schools out of it. As far back as 1992, he depicted Bishop Eamon Casey saying ‘Forgive me sinners, for I have fathered.” Several voices from aside saying “me too” were described as “Translated from the original Dutch, Spanish, Irish, Portugese of the thousands of priests around the world.”
But the Irish Times did not apologise for publishing those cartoons. Why? Because it was obvious that Martyn Turner was not suggesting that all priests and nuns were responsible for the crimes of the Magdalene Laundries and industrial schools, and it was obvious that he was not suggesting that all priests had fathered children, just as it is obvious that he is not now suggesting that all priests cannot be trusted with children, and just as it is obvious that all of the above cartoons are written in the language of political cartoons as an art form, and that their short-cut depictions are not to be taken literally.
Whatever the reason for removing this week’s cartoon, it is not the consistent application of the stated reasons for doing so. The Irish Times should withdraw the apology and republish the cartoon on its website, or else it should also apologise for and remove from its website any other Martyn Turner cartoons that violate the standards that it used to make this decision.