Tim WhytePauline HartePatti RasmussenRichard RiouxLeon Worden

Black N Whyte

Cartoonist strikes a nerve with Promise Keepers

Tim Whyte · October 19, 1997

You can always tell when something in the paper has struck a nerve. The phones ring. The "Tell It to the Signal" machine runs constantly. The letters start coming in.

Such has been the case with a recent editorial cartoon we published about the Promise Keepers, that group of Christian men who seemed to come from nowhere and converge upon Washington, DC a couple of weekends ago to celebrate their pledges of responsibility and loyalty to their wives.

The Promise Keepers came under fire from a few angles, most prominently from the National Organization for Women, which has suggested the Promise Keepers' message promotes the subjugation of women.

The topic has prompted a variety of editorial cartoonists to poke fun at the Promise Keepers. We get several cartoonists' work via syndicate, and we've published a few.

I don' t know enough about the Promise Keepers, honestly, to say whether I absolutely agree with the critics. Everything I know about the Promise Keepers has been gleaned from reading a few news stories about them. I don't profess to know exactly what makes them tick, but I do know that sort of organization just isn't my cup of tea. Too much heart-on-your-sleeve type stuff. I only do the heart-on-my-sleeve routine in my column.

Plus, some of their "take charge and be the man of the house" rhetoric seems, at least on the surface, to be outdated in an era of two-income households and, supposedly, equality of the genders. Still, their core values of loyalty and love for spouses and children are commendable, and on the whole, the Promise Keepers seem pretty harmless.

But some of these "Promise Keepers" cartoons have been pretty funny.

For example, there was the one we published Thursday that depicted Ned Flanders (the irritating hyper-friendly neighbor on "The Simpsons") putting an entry into his photo album from the Promise Keepers rally.

Ned wrote: "Me and a few of the guys at the Promise Keepers rally in Washington, 10/4/97. (We just had lunch at 'Hooters.' Tee hee!)"

It was a chuckle. At least, it was to me, but apparently such is not the case for some of the local Promise Keepers faithful, some of whom called to complain about that cartoon.

More of their criticism, however, has been directed at Rob Chambers, a California State Northridge student who is doing an editorial cartooning internship with us.

We haven't had a full-time editorial cartoonist since our beloved friend Randy Wicks died of a heart attack at the age of 41 in August, 1996. We decided it just wouldn't be right to run out and replace Wicks, so we haven't made any plans to hire one. Someday, perhaps that will change, but I don't see it in the cards in the immediate future.

But we have had a few local residents contribute some cartoons to our opinion page, and Rob is gaining some valuable experience as an intern.

Among his experiences is being taken to task by angry readers, specifically those who were offended by his Oct. 8 Promise Keepers cartoon.

The cartoon depicted a tree house with a sign in front of it. The sign reading "Promise Keepers" had begun to fall off the signpost, revealing another sign beneath: "He-men wimmen haters club."

Sorry Spanky, but I got a laugh out of it. Actually, it might be the best price of work Rob has done on his internship. But some of the local Promise Keepers didn't think it was so funny. Some wrote letters to the editor, which we have published. Others have called "Tell It to the Signal," and we've published them, too. Part of being in the newspaper business is taking your lumps from people who disagree with you, and Rob has been getting a lesson in lump-taking.

Some of the callers, though, have stopped just short of calling for Rob's head. I've had more than one caller demand that Rob's cartoons be banned from future editions of The Signal. Another caller was a business owner who threatened to pull their ads.

I responded, of course, with the obvious First Amendment arguments. Rob's cartoon was not libelous, nor was it profane, nor did it contain graphic sexual or violent content. It stated an opinion with which many of our readers will disagree, and that alone is not, in my mind, sufficient reason to deny its publication. The opinion page is, intentionally, a forum for diverse viewpoints.

Really, I didn't mind the people who wrote us letters and called to voice their disagreements. That's part of what we do here: Generate an exchange of ideas and opinions. We don't always have to agree, and it truly is OK when we don't.

But those callers who demanded the silencing of a cartoonist based on their disagreement with a single panel -- well, they led me to wonder whether a pledge to tolerate other people's views has ever made it onto the Promise Keepers' agenda.

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