Editorial outrage does not merit cartoonist’s expulsion

Recently, Stephanie Eisner, a cartoonist for The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at University of Texas at Austin, was forced to leave the staff over a cartoon that editorialized the Trayvon Martin case. The cartoon depicts a woman sitting in a seat labeled “The Media” reading to a child about how “The big bad white man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy.” While there is no doubt that such a statement is racist, it clearly does not represent the true intent of the artist.

The Trayvon Martin case is a very sensitive one, and it is obvious that it has been poorly handled. A 17-year-old boy ended up dead, and the investigation has been hampered from the start, possibly due to a Florida law that makes it far too easy to claim self-defense in the act of killing another person. The public, however, greatly overreacted in its response to this cartoon. Even after both the artist and the newspaper issued apologies, and the artist clarified the intended meaning—the sensationalism promoted by the media in the portrayal of news—the paper nonetheless bowed to external pressure and removed Eisner from its staff. I understand the public outrage over the cartoon, as it certainly seems incredibly racist. However, such racism was clearly not the intended goal, and had more to do with the fact that Eisner, the artist and a college student, probably did not have enough time to fully consider what her cartoon was saying.

Eisner’s expulsion from the newspaper represents an extreme overreaction from readers against a student who made a simple mistake. Her removal compromises the right to free speech on which this country routinely prides itself. Rather than acting rationally, the public, certainly enraged by the Floridian tragedy, protested Eisner’s continued employment by the newspaper. Bowing to pressure from its readers, it was stated that Eisner had been removed from staff at The Daily Texan, even though it was plainly stated under the cartoon: “The views expressed in the cartoon are not those of the editorial board.”

Instead of directing its attention toward the actual victim of the whole situation, Trayvon Martin, the public misdirected its anger at another target. Rather than understanding what this is, just a simple, sorry mistake, the readers destroyed the artist’s ability to rectify her mistake with future cartoons. While the anger is understandable, the paper’s reaction to complaints destroys its credibility as an independent organization willing to support those whose opinions are published. When faced with pressure over a painful topic, the paper made the easy choice—to simply give in, rather than to support those who contribute to it.

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