I thank Mr. Matt Jones for returning this space to me, and hope to use it as well as he did a week ago.
For those who don’t know, Mr. Jones comes to the Odessa American after putting in his time at the Daily Texan, the University of Texas’ own student-run publication that is about as prestigious as a college paper can get.
Of course, the other day cartoonist Stephanie Eisner got her paper in a lot of trouble when she drew a cartoon satirizing the situation of Mr. Jones’ column last week. Or more appropriately, it satirized the media’s coverage of that situation.
“And then…the big bad white man killed the handsome, innocent colored boy!!’ a woman reads from a book to her apparent daughter in the cartoon.
In undisputed fact, a 17-year-old black male named Trayvon Martin was shot dead in a residential Florida neighborhood by a 28-year-old Hispanic man named George Zimmerman who perceived him as a threat, primarily it seems, because Martin was young and black and wearing a hoodie. Martin had no gun but reportedly attacked Zimmerman after Zimmerman left his vehicle and ran after Martin. Zimmerman was never arrested.
The coverage of the news media, as amorphous as that term always is, has been, it’s fair to say, largely sympathetic to Martin. An unarmed young man being suspected, pursued and finally shot — it’s very easy to be sympathetic with the one who’s dead.
But the tone of some of the coverage has sort of moved from objective journalistic analysis to a kind of fable where Zimmerman is a racist super-villain and Martin is a literal martyr.
“I feel the news should be unbiased. And in the retelling of this particular event, I felt that that was not the case,” Eisner said. “My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions.”
This is the point she meant to make.
In the end the Daily Texan editorial board apologized, removed the cartoon and got rid of Eisner. It made clear it was very very sorry but never made clear exactly what it was sorry for.
I know in Texas we all think of Austin as a bastion of conservative racism and lacking in multiculturalism, so I’m glad they’re taking steps to correct that.
But I do believe in Freedom of the Press, even when I think someone is wrong, or lame or stupid. (Eisner isn’t the most talented cartoonist, judging from her past work.)
As the press, when people protest what you’ve already OK’d, it is your responsibility to be civil but give a very polite middle finger to the rabblesome masses. Things are either free, or they aren’t. Your selfish sensitivities do not allow you to circumscribe what is published by a truly free press.
Disagreeing with someone’s politics in a medium that is by definition opinion-based shouldn’t lead to that person getting jettisoned. (I leave open the possibility Eisner just wasn’t that great and this was the last straw.)
Before anyone says so, I want to make it clear that I haven’t got a prejudiced bone in my body. In fact, some of my best friends are in the media.
However, a media that worries about who it has offended over what it has actually said is of no service to anyone.
And more than anything, the paper ought to be apologizing for spelling the dead kid’s name “Treyvon.”
What kind of credibility can you have when you don’t even spell someone’s name right?