The yellow rose of journalism
Freedom of the press does not relieve newspapers of the responsibility to exercise discretion upon what appears in their pages
The first reason The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper, should have withheld a cartoon published Tuesday is for misspelling: the subject's name was Trayvon Martin not Treyvon [sic]. Thus the comic includes one typo as well as stereotypes. But by taking issue with an image so small people are not blowing things out of proportion.
To set the scene: A motherly figure rocks in a chair whose top rail is labeled, "The Media." A young girl with a football on her shirt stands beside her, mouth gaping. She is afraid of the story the woman is telling, but not of the woman's racism.
The image appears to perpetuate the racial stereotypes tied to its southern setting.
The mother reads aloud from a book, "Treyvon Martin and the Case of Yellow Journalism." Some text is presented in a bubble: "the Big Bad White man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy." There are symbols embedded in this text, but the words speak for themselves. "Colored" is racist, and some might even take issue with the use of the word "White" to describe George Zimmerman, whose mother is Peruvian. The student cartoonist, Stephanie Eisner, might defend herself by saying while she does not use such language herself, it is necessary to the story she drew. But people of any background should not be drawn in monochrome strokes, period.
The Daily Texan has drawn heat for this comic. The cartoon went down because of web traffic, but has returned along with a statement. The paper's editorial board oversees editorial cartoons but is quick to distance itself from them: "The views expressed in the cartoon are not those of the editorial board," the board said. "They are those of the artist. It is the policy of the editorial board to publish the views of our columnists and cartoonists, even if we disagree with them."
Well, we disagree with this. The First Amendment goes both ways, and a newspaper has the freedom not to publish certain content. Certainly, this editorial board has the right to publish opinions, not only but especially when it disagrees with them. But the board is also responsible for not publishing content which is clearly hateful.
Eisner tried to make a point about journalism. "I feel the news should be unbiased," she said to The Daily Texan. Her comic alleged that coverage of Martin's death had been too focused on race and sensationalist. "My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions," Eisner said.
Yet in critiquing the tradition of sensational journalism, Eisner in the same instant joined it.
The Cavalier Daily has a history with controversial comics, and this Managing Board is not turning against Jefferson. Just because newspapers can say almost anything they want doesn't mean they have to. We know weighing prudence against justice is difficult, but this comic should not have been drawn, far less published. But it has made a good story for all us sensationalist newspapers.