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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/11/2010

Reader Poll: Is this 'Tea Bag' Party cartoon offensive? (Bill O'Reilly thought so.)

By Michael Cavna

Every time I think political cartoons might be losing even a little of their power to offend mightily -- as long as they don't malign a prophet, a pope, a president or a Palin -- along comes a new 'toon that riles at least hundreds of vocal folk.

The latest case-in-point erupted in recent days over an animated Mark Fiore cartoon ... that was nearly two months old. (Talk about your delayed conflagration.) The cartoon mocks the intelligence of so-called "Tea Party" activists.

NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard recounts the timeline that led from the cartoon getting a mere five comments on its site Nov. 12 to, rather abruptly, more than 1,000 comments by the middle of last week. (By late last Friday, the cartoon's posting on had drawn nearly 1,400 comments.)

Also last week, Bill O'Reilly called the left-leaning Fiore's cartoon "puerile" and "sophomoric." And "not funny." And "stupid." And "unnecessary."

Meantime, Fiore -- who has blogged about the brouhaha -- says he's received death threates over the animation.

There are several hot-button issues being debated, including (1) whether the cartoon is effective satire; (2) whether NPR should hire a right-leaning cartoonist to "balance" Fiore's voice on its site; and (3) just which side is responsible for labeling the activists as the "Tea Bag Party" in the first place, anyway?

For purposes of this blog -- in which we so regularly tackle the effectiveness of political satire -- Comic Riffs will focus on the question: What do you think of this cartoon as satire?

So here's the animated "Learn to Speak Bag" cartoon, and below that, feel free to vote your conscience, your consciousness or even simply your tolerance for Darjeeling-based satire. (Note: You can vote for as many options as you see fit -- or, in the Comments section, can also offer your own term for the cartoon.)


By Michael Cavna  | January 11, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  The E-Mailbag, The Political Cartoon  | Tags:  Mark Fiore, National Public Radio, Political Cartooning  
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This looked like something Nancy Pelosi might write. It was simply a series of political jabs at people who are try to keep our country from drowning in debt. An unfortunate and untrue representation.

Posted by: Jason32 | January 11, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that the headline asked if the cartoon was offensive, but "offensive" wasn't an option in the pole. Personally, I think any time the Tea Party group is referred to as Tea Baggers, I find it offensive. Tea Bagging is a sexual reference that has no place in this debate. If you think I'm wrong, I challenge you to turn off your search filters and search for Tea Bagging videos from your computer at work.

Posted by: justanotherguy | January 11, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

It's difficult to judge the cartoon now, because the punchline is no longer new. Plenty of people have made the observation that some "Tea Party" attendants use simplistic name-calling in replace of reasoned analysis: John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and the Post's Dana Milbank to name the obvious. Fiore's cartoon was probably a lot funnier when it was originally created, but by now I've heard the "socialist/communist/nazi" punchline a lot.

I will say it's interesting that the more reasoned attacks of the cartoon defend the protester's intentions rather than criticize Fiore's representation. (So instead of "that's an unfair exaggeration, we don't resort to calling people Nazis," we get "the protesters have a good point!")

Posted by: ishkabibbleA | January 11, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I was hoping it would be more sophomoric and puerile. However, he probably kept it simple so his target would understand it...

Posted by: JkR- | January 11, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

As far as satire goes this cartoon is OK, but not great. I'm not a big fan of Mark Fiore even though I look at him regularly on the San Francisco Chronicle site and didn't even know he had a connection with NPR. I think his jokes are a little too easy and even though I agree with him politically (most of the time) He still manages to irritate me. I agree that it is difficult to judge the cartoon now, but I reread the comments on the SFGate from when it was first online and they split pretty evenly on party lines.

Whether there should be balance on NPR is another question. I think when someone asks for balance on NPR it means they disagree with straight reporting. I have never felt any liberal bent on NPR. I think what some people interpret as "liberal" is merely being open-minded and not afraid to report on the negatives in this country. Mark Fiore might be a questionable pick for NPR.

Posted by: elyrest | January 11, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

More, darker, better, more, more, more.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | January 11, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

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