My column on the furious reaction to Lee Judge's Feb. 9 cartoon is here. It'll be in print on Monday. I'd like to go into a bit more depth here, without the constraints of newsprint space.
Before getting to the content of the objections, there are two things I have to lay out plainly.
First and foremost, there is no excuse whatsoever for the some of the depraved and horrifically threatening content that some of the messages sent late last night contained in particular. I've been in this chair for a long time, and this has been by far the item that's generated the most obscene and violent feedback I've ever seen. I'm talking about direct death threats, crude sexual insults and constant F-bombs.
As I wrote in a column last year, letting your emotions take over often ends up with your words generating the exact opposite effect from what you want. This is the best example I've ever seen.
Second, it's become clear to me that the cartoon does have a built-in problem that's responsible for a large portion of the anger it's generated. It requires readers to be familiar with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's statement in a press conference after the Newtown, Conn. shootings: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
If that phrase doesn't ring a bell for you, the cartoon's caption won't make sense.
This emailer is one of many who mistook its message:
"But a cartoon that suggests killing a U.S. Navy SEAL hero - and that the killer would be the 'good guy' is far beyond the pale."
The cartoon does not make this point -- but I can absolutely understand how a reader could get the wrong impression.
But that's not everyone. Many people fully got Judge's message and vehemently disagreed with it.
But most of what I'm hearing is simply that many people felt Judge's choice of Kyle's death is inappropriate in the service of any point, political or not.
"Following CPO Kyle's murder Lee Judge and you chose to use the same 1st Amendment Right to mock him in a lame attempt to make a political point," wrote one. "Both of you owe an apology to his loved ones."
"In my opinion the paper could at least not publish a cartoon that can be perceived as tasteless," wrote another. "I am aware of LaPierre's comment about a good guy with a gun, but even police officers, who have their weapon out and are ready to defend themselves against a criminal, lose their lives by the bad guy getting the best of them. Leave the dead soldier alone. He did nothing wrong and was just trying to help. Even anti-gun people I know see the cartoon in POOR TASTE."
Scott DePriest wrote: "Your cartoon and comments regarding my friend, Chris Kyle, are a stab at the heart of the country he protected. ... You are the reason he went to war."
That the overall tone of the objections is far more civil today than it was overnight is remarkable. And I've also heard from numerous readers who regretted their initial message.
"I apologize for coming across as being rude but once I saw that on the Internet I simply saw red," wrote one in followup to an earlier message. She's far from the first person to have sent email in pique and later wish she'd slept on it first.
I'm all for people expressing themselves, and a paper's Opinion section isn't a place for pulling punches. But as I write in the column, there's nothing more subjective than matters of taste, and it's within anyone's rights to object to this cartoon. Some of the most highly-regarded pieces of political satire and parody in history have tread similar lines (though don't take that as my saying this cartoon necessarily reaches Swiftian levels).
The threats and histrionics have been an ugly mark on what should have been a productive and adult conversation. I know people can get really angry over the topic of firearms. Here's to hoping we can keep a discussion going.