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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/26/2008

The Riff: Who's the Online Comics "Editor"? YOU Are.

By Michael Cavna

To many readers, the news apparently comes as both bombshell and revelation: The Washington Post does not edit its daily choice of online comics and editorial cartoons.

Yep, you read it right. Although every comic in the print edition is eyeballed before publication, the Great Wide Web is a different animal, even at a newspaper. Post comics come from the syndicates digitally via "automatic feed." Typically, of course, this is an invisible distinction. But every so often, a cartoon is so hot-button and lightning-rod and "nuclear" -- pick your fave metaphor for artwork that offends and "blasphemes" -- that a white-hot light is shined upon the crucial difference.

Exhibit A: Pat Oliphant and his controversial take on Sarah Palin as Pentecostal candidate.

Our personal sermon today is not to attack or defend this particular cartoon. Rather, it is to examine the very mechanism by which this cartoon was published on -- and not, despite rumors to the contrary, in The Washington Post's print edition. Because longer term, the core issue of belief here is: Do you believe The Post should "edit" its online comics?

Deborah Howell, The Post's ombudsman, will publish an insightful column tomorrow that addresses political cartooning -- on the heels of receiving more than 750 complaints about the Oliphant cartoon and writing about the controversy. For this weekend's piece, Howell spoke not only with Oliphant but also with Jim Brady,'s executive editor.

Brady's take: He's a fan of the automatic feed, as it provides a certain double freedom: The cartoonist retains freedom of speech, and the viewer retains the freedom to read -- and to be entertained or offended.

Political cartoonist Ted Rall, however, who this month became president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, takes the opposite view of automatic feeds. "It's not unreasonable for the public to assume that something that appears on a newspaper Web site has been chosen," he tells Comic Riffs. "They should hire an online editor. ... It's ludicrous. I think it's the newspaper's responsibility."

It should be noted: Rall -- who, like Oliphant, is syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate -- is no stranger to the controversies of this very mechanism. In 2004, he drew a powderkeg of a cartoon that, as political metaphor, depicted mentally challenged children. The cartoon led to The Post Web site's dropping of Rall as part of its feed.

And what does Howell think of automatic feeds that publish unedited by newpapers? "I'm conflicted," she tells us. "I approach this with my print standards, but the online world is different."


(Entertainment Weekly / AP) Enlarge Comic

Speaking of controversial political illustrations: The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly pulls off an inspired spoof of July's Obama cover of the New Yorker. In the parody, Comedy Central's late-night satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert stand in for Barack and Michelle Obama. So what does Barry Blitt -- the artist who created the famed New Yorker cover -- think of the EW spoofage? "I thought it was incredibly funny," Blitt tells Comic Riffs. "I loved it."

By Michael Cavna  | September 26, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Riffs  
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Good topic today. And thanks for linking that Oliphant cartoon. I'd missed it before, and found it both funny and alarming.

Posted by: Andrew | September 26, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm a little late with this but will someone explain Sunday's "Dilbert" What am I missing?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 26, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm the Editor? Com'n give me a break. I didn't see any 'Delete' button next to Doonesbury.

I agree that posting the comics on the newspaper's website implies some approval, so the Post better start planning for some tools to make the job easier. Does 'the feed' get hacked? Somebody must check that daily, or do you just rely on some reader to alert you to problems?

It's better to be proactive.

Posted by: MSchafer | September 26, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Anon, apparently Dilbert just announced who he worked for, which generated sympathy from the colleagues at the table.

Of course, Dilbert's boss is at the table...

Explaining it kinda drains it of it's yux...

Posted by: JkR | September 26, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the opportunity to read the comic "as written". I'd like to see a LARGE NOTE when the print comic is an alternate because the editors thought we couldn't handle the original.

And Ted Rall is fantastic, once you get over the fact that all of his drawings are of flounders.

Posted by: f2 | September 26, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Just forward the complaints to Oliphant. He enjoys these controversies, so the complaints will make his day.

Posted by: edward | September 26, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

A second for F2, if the paper has used a substitute comic I would like to know.

The "Double Freedom" Bradly cited is rationalization to shirk responsibility. I have the same Freedom to not read a print article under your banner as well as not read a web article on your domain. The paper is responsible for every article it prints and publishes on it’s web site. I believe in Freedom of Speech and taking responsibility for your decisions. (Remember teaching your kids the whole ‘Freedom and Responsibility’ thing? It’s true through your whole life.) If I am offended I have the responsibility to: 1) Offer a counter view; 2) Convince the author she/he is wrong; or 3) Ignore it. Not to whine and demand that it be removed from everybody’s view. (P J O’Rourke quote anyone?)

To address the question, The Post should only edit to the extent it falls in with it’s business model. (Does it draw readers?) Content and viewpoint should be left up to the reader to edit. By edit I don’t mean remove from view (please note MShafer), but how it affects my thinking, action or inaction or even if I return to the site because I rarely find articles or comics that stimulates me. (mmm…Sounds strangely like a Free Market Model…)

Note about the Oliphant cartoon. I think he ruined the point having God say Right Wing politician. It drew away from the first panel where I thought the subject was brought out.


Posted by: Thom | September 26, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh my, big bad right wing religious nuts complain about CARTOON, and, fearing CRITICISM that it is part of the LIBERAL MEDIA, has to EXPLAIN how this CARTOON got there! Ooooh, shades of Moslems rioting over cartoons about their religion.

Posted by: mongolovesheriff | September 26, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Then can I assign a reporter to ask Mark Tatulli if today's "Lio" strip means he knows something the rest of us don't?

Posted by: If I'm The Editor | September 26, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

That's interesting. My immediate reaction was, "No! Of course they shouldn't substitute the online feeds when a cartoon is controversial!" Then I had to think about why I felt that way, when I only midly disapprove of it being done in the paper paper. Finally came up with this - the Internet is the place where we go to see what the MSM is "protecting" us from.

Posted by: bokodasu | September 26, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

to>> If I'm The Editor:

we spoke with mark tatulli some days ago about the "Opus Is Dead?" strip and he says it is pure commentary -- no "insider information" at work.

Posted by: M.C. | September 26, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

"I'm the Editor? Com'n give me a break. I didn't see any 'Delete' button next to Doonesbury."

Why would you want to delete Doonesbury? Is there something wrong with it?

Posted by: dwm | September 26, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse


Wow, I feel like an idiot. Thanks for explaining.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 26, 2008 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Next up, my 10,000 word manifesto on Judge Parker and sexual subtext....

Posted by: JkR | September 26, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I would encourage all Christians to go to the website and show your support for Christian values and show the Post that we deserve an appology.

Posted by: Bryan | September 26, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

If "I am truly the editor' and the readers have the freedom of viewing and the cartoonists have the free expression, then please explain why I am no longer allowed to see Rall's cartoons....?? Somebody is NOT being entirely truthful.

The Oliphant cartoon being described as 'nuclear-exhibit A' says more about the Post than it does the cartoon or cartoonist.

Posted by: Milt | September 26, 2008 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Pat Oliphant is originally Australian, and if you've ever seen Aussie political cartoons they really go for the jugular. I suspect the stuff in the Sydney Morning Herald or Melbourne's The Age would cause protests from sensitive U.S. readers two or three times per week.

Posted by: You Must Remember This | September 26, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I thought the comic was funny. It's just an effing satire people, chill out.

Posted by: Sara | September 26, 2008 7:51 PM | Report abuse

>>I would encourage all Christians to go to the website and show your support for Christian values and show the Post that we deserve an appology.<<

Wouldn't Christian values be to turn the other cheek?

Posted by: dwm | September 27, 2008 10:25 AM | Report abuse

The only way in which this cartooo went, maybe, just a little bit "too far" was the part about God not understanding what she was saying.

I watched Palin being interviewed by Couric on CBC and prayed, "God, I hope you understand what she is tryng to say, because I have nooooooo idea."

Posted by: IA Dem | September 28, 2008 4:17 PM | Report abuse

how did Oliphant know what God looked like

Posted by: richard kranium | September 28, 2008 6:54 PM | Report abuse

>>I would encourage all Christians to go to the website and show your support for Christian values and show the Post that we deserve an appology.<<

What scares me is the idea that I'm sure many other newspapers ran the cartoon in their online feeds, and there could be just as many sites protesting those papers.
'Go to and makes the appolloggize for hurting our feelings. =('

It seems some of us are forgetting how political cartoons get made and distributed.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 29, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Seems less like a freedom-of-speech issue and more of a laziness issue.

Posted by: DoctorZ | September 29, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: Tarconnabancy | October 2, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

to>> Tarconnabancy:

you may direct e-mails to:

Posted by: Editor's Note: | October 2, 2008 7:33 PM | Report abuse

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