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The case for and against Sean Delonas

A new Poynter Institute piece on NY Post cartoonist Sean Delonas's February 18 offering--which may or may not have depicted Barack Obama as a dead chimp--includes a semi-exoneration from the excellent cartoonist Ted Rall:

Rall, who is familiar with Delonas' work, said he doesn't believe the cartoonist was saying anything about Obama. "It's about his economic advisers who wrote the stimulus bill, and they're a bunch of white guys."

Yet he also criticized the cartoon because it doesn't have a message. Delonas, he said, was employing a common editorial cartoonist technique of tying together two unrelated stories "and forcing these square pegs into round holes."

Yesterday, former Politico cartoonist Rob Tornoe made a similar argument in an email to the Phoenix:

My basic thought is that I don't think that Delonas is attempting to make race an issue in his cartoon. I think it's more likely that he was taking two news items of significance yesterday, the death of Travis the chimpanzee after he went crazy, and the passing of the stimulus bill, and tried to mash the two together as commentary, which is a tried and true method for cartoonists. 

So, should we err on the side of charity and assume that Delonas didn't really mean to compare the first black president to a simian? 

Maybe. But that's harder to do when you consider Delonas's oeuvre. Check out this Gawker recap of some previous Delonas lowlights, which include jokes about A) how fat Rosie O'Donnell is, B) how ex-Mrs. Paul McCartney has only one leg; and C) how gay marriage has paved the way for unions between human and sheep. This is pretty lowbrow stuff, and makes me reluctant to dismiss yesterday's Delonas cartoon as a mashup gone wrong. 

Then, finally, there's the question of what Delonas's editos were thinking. Even if we give Delonas the benefit of the doubt, and say he only wanted to link the dead chimp to the stimulus package, surely someone in the Post's editorial firmament realized that the cartoon also links Obama to a dead chimp. As Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman told me yesterday, even if Delonas had no racist intent,

The editor's got to save him. The editor's got to say, "Whoa, what you're saying here is going to be widely misinterpreted. Despite your best intentions, you're calling the president an ape. That's like drawing drunken Irishmen or hook-nosed Jews."

[The image] has a history. You've got to know that. The cartoonist was ill served by his editor.

That, at least, strikes me as an awfully hard point to argue with.

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