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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 04/16/2010

THE RANT: Why does Apple hate political satire? Pulitzer winner's app case stokes larger failure

By Michael Cavna


The saga of the Rejected Political-Cartoon App rears its head again. Only this time, the heat of a Pulitzer has helped stoke the fires of controversy.

On Monday, Comic Riffs spoke with political animator Mark Fiore about his iPhone app that he says Apple rejected back in December. That rejection might have been end-of-story. Except that coverage of his Pulitzer win cast a spotlight on the app rejection. And in a case of conspicuous timing, Apple suddenly has urged Fiore to resubmit his app, the cartoonist says.

Haven't we been down this road before? And more important: Hasn't Apple yet decided how to resolve the larger issue of political satire apps instead of suffering PR black-eyes with each skirmish?

Both questions, of course, are rhetorical.

As MAD artist Tom Richmond told Comic Riffs last November, his iPhone app "Bobblehead Rep" -- a literal database of congressional representatives developed by entrepreneur/filmmaker Ray Griggs --- was rejected by Apple. The reason? According to the official rejection letter, Richmond said, his app was turned down because "it ridicules public figures" and "is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement."

On Monday, Fiore and I even discussed Richmond's initially rejected app -- as well as the initially rejected app of political-cartoon syndicator Daryl Cagle -- after Fiore mentioned that he'd had an iPhone app (titled "NewsToons") rejected.

The reason for the rejection? According to Fiore, citing Apple's language: It "ridicules public figures." (Yep. Deja-vu all over again.)

newstoons.gif

Both Richmond and Cagle eventually had their apps approved after their rejections garnered some publicity. So perhaps it should have come as no surprise that this week, Fiore got a call from Apple executive Richard Chipman, inviting him to "resubmit" his iPhone app, the SFGate.com animator says.

"The call came totally out of the blue," Fiore tells Comic Riffs, "and he [Chipman] didn't refer to all the [negative] press bubbling around. He just said: 'You might want to consider resubmitting your app.' "

So Fiore says he contacted his colleague Marty Beckers, who had handled the technical creation of the app. Beckers tried to resubmit the app, Fiore says, and saw an intriguing response from Apple: "Your submission is already under review."

Fiore says that Chipman also told him: "I can't guarantee it's going to be approved." Chipman did not returns calls from Comic Riffs seeking comment.

Fiore says that he's confident his app will be approved and that initially, his app will be available for free.

Ever the Mac devotee, Fiore adds: "I still think Apple is a good company." He does think, however, that Apple faces a larger issue of satire to be dealt with.

"At first it was a shock" when I was rejected, Fiore says. "But it's not just me. There are so many cool apps for satire.

"Apple IS a private company" Fiore continues, "but I think it goes farther than that now, because they're becoming a media company. And as a media company, they're the '4.0 Estate.' "

Tom Richmond also believes Apple's stance toward political satire needs to change. Today, the MAD artist posted this on his blog:

"Mark's story is striking a bit more serious chord than Apple just being overly Draconian in their app approvals. With the introduction of the iPad, the focus of content for these devices moves out of the convenience of having a few apps in your pocket and into the promised land of a media delivery/consumption device that could revolutionize the way the world get's its news, entertainment and information.

"Suddenly Apple's control freak approach threatens the development of the very technology it is supposed to be innovating by placing restrictions and outright rejections upon the content that would be consumed via their devices. Apps for publications and newspaper content won't be very useful if it only lets us see stuff that Apple and Steve Jobs thinks we should see, and rejects things they don't like."

Another clause that Richmond says Apple invoked in his case reads: Apple's reasonable judgment may find "objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory."

So should Apple remove its clause about the ridicule of public figures as a condition of refusal?

"Definitely," Fiore tells Comic Riffs. "I'm all for ridiculing public figures, and that should be perfectly acceptable. I can understand the libel and defamation clause -- [it rightly covers] obscenity and pornography. I think with satire of public figures, one of these things is not like the other.

"Maybe this [case] will be enough to get them to really decide" how to handle satire in the App Store, the self-syndicated animator said.

And what if Fiore decided -- via an approved iPhone app -- to ridicule that ever-public figure that is Apple honcho Steve Jobs?

"That could happen," he says. "And that would be interesting."

By Michael Cavna  | April 16, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Political Cartoon  | Tags:  Apple, Mark Fiore, NewsToons, SFGate.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Steve Jobs, iPhone app  
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Comments

So if you're famous enough to garner some press, Apple will allow you to publish an app on their sainted platform. How exactly is this empowering again?

Posted by: robert17 | April 16, 2010 11:44 PM | Report abuse

That's exactly the right question. Am half-waiting for someone to "remake" Apple's iconic "1984" commercial of empowerment -- only now, Apple is now cast in "IBM's role" as Big Brother.

Hm. If there just happened to be a newly minted Pulitzer-winning cartoonist with an ax to grind who could animate such a satirical spoof...

--M.C.

Posted by: Michael Cavna | April 17, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

There's a reason Microsoft beat Apple in the first place, and it wasn't because of "anti-competitive practices." It was because Apple's ridiculous need to control everything on its platform discouraged outside participation and innovation. Despite their recent success, they apparently have learned little.

Why the hell are they concerned about whether public figures are ridiculed, anyway?

Posted by: bgarst | April 17, 2010 1:43 AM | Report abuse

If they don't like Apple's policies, don't buy their products, don't develop apps. And don't expect them to change for you.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | April 17, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

Good policy, Nemo -- at the first bit of opposition, run away, hide your head, refuse to engage in any sort of argument over things that matter. That's the spirit that made this country great!

Posted by: MikePeterson1 | April 17, 2010 3:08 AM | Report abuse

Unlike Mr. Fiore, I know for a fact Apple is a dishonest & unethical corporation based on personal experience, and speaking to former employees who were coerced into dishonest business dealings by no less than Mr. Jobs himself.

All that was prior to the iPhone however, and the only thing new is that now they're getting caught at being slime more.

Their design stuff is nice, but their technology is in no way leading edge. I have a now 6 year old phone that does things that the iPhone still doesn't do.

Unfortunately there's no app for the truth, and zealots do not like hearing it.

Posted by: Nymous | April 17, 2010 4:24 AM | Report abuse

The amazing thing is that we the public accept a computing platform (iPhone) where we can't install whatever application we want. Imagine buying any other computer with those restrictions.

Don't give me any b***sh** about how the iPhone is "different." It isn't. It's just another computing platform.

I love Macs. It's pretty much the only computer I buy. But Apple's App restrictions are stupid.

Posted by: egc52556 | April 17, 2010 4:51 AM | Report abuse

Why does Apple hate the media? Why does Pulitzer hate journalism?

Apple employees take the same revulsion they feel toward pornography and redirect it toward anyone who disgrees with the company. It's a profitable combination to lump what makes the internet objectionable with what is costly for the company.

Pulitzer still has credence with many people, but it lost some with me this year. The National Enquirer reported news about John Edwards's horrific scandals. It was news not fit to print anywhere else, and it was news that was difficult to source and break. But they got the story right and ran with it. Then Pulitzer refused them the award because there weren't enough sources.

It was a sad day for journalism. But these days, what day isn't a sad day for journalism?

Posted by: blasmaic | April 17, 2010 5:45 AM | Report abuse

I'm an Apple guy. I've got an Imac, a MacBook, and an Iphone.

Come this summer I will be ditching the Iphone.

Why?

The HTC Evo will do many things the Iphone can't (or won't). It'll multi-task, it'll be on a 4 G network (ten times as fast as Iphone), and it's got a decent camera.

All things that the Iphone doesn't have.

I'll still have my Imac and MacBook, as the thing about not getting viruses with Apple is absolutely true.

But Apple is going to lose the Iphone war if they don't step up to the plate and match the competition.

Particularly if the Droid phone Apps market continues to grow.

Posted by: Hillman1 | April 17, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Political correctness strikes again!!!!!

Posted by: Jimbo77 | April 17, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Word on the initial rejection of the bobblehead rep app was that particularly offended by it was Nancy Pelosi or Nan's staff. Turns out Ms. Pelosi's hubby is a shareholder in the Cupertino, CA company to the tune of supposedly $6 million. Maybe he was the one actually offended by it after he laughed at it and she bounced a skillet off of his head?

Posted by: masmas | April 17, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Do you have any documentation of that, masmas? Because, frankly, it seems like a typical spurious email rumor.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou12 | April 17, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

American corporations, including Apple, are in the business of mind control. Satire is abhorrent to them.

Posted by: mnjam | April 17, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

This (below) is what the Wash Post states at the end of all these comments. Of special interest is the second paragraph. Have a look:

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

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Posted by: Raydoggy | April 17, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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