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Published: Sunday, 5/9/2010

Staff cartoonist sketches his own opinions

Who decides what the newspaper's editorial cartoonist can draw - and who decides what cartoons get printed?

An e-mail from a reader who didn't give a name asked, "Does The Blade cartoonist have the right to refuse to draw a cartoon illustrating an editorial position he disagrees with?"

This reader added, "I'm assuming he does because the cartoon accompanying The Blade's anti-Arizona editorial came from Newsday," whose cartoons come via wire service.

Actually, that particular question was moot, since Kirk Walters was on temporary leave at the time Arizona's controversial new anti-illegal immigrant policy was passed. But what about the bigger issue?

I asked Editor David Kushma, who is in charge of The Blade's pages of opinion.

"Actually, Kirk's role as staff cartoonist is closer to that of a staff columnist than an editorial writer," Mr. Kushma explained.

"He expresses his own opinions in his cartoons, rather than merely illustrating The Blade's institutional positions," the editor said.

In his capacity as editor, Mr. Kushma has the right not to run a staff cartoon, just as he has that right for a column.

"But I haven't done that, and I can't imagine I would simply because I disagreed with its viewpoint," he said.

"When cartoons create problems, usually it's because of taste issues, or pushing the envelope a little too far."

Another reader who signs himself only "Benthere59" is indignant that The Blade continues to suppress a major story - the "fact" that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed "to hear arguments concerning Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as President."

Benthere59 provided me with a huge mass of information showing that the President received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia and was "born in Kenya and there is no record of him applying for U.S. citizenship."

"This is looking pretty grim," he added.

According to Mr. Benthere, a group called Americans for Freedom of Information released transcripts proving Mr. Obama was not a U.S. citizen at the time he was attending Occidental College in Los Angeles.

So, Benthere59 wants to know why The Blade isn't telling its readers about all this?

That's a good question, and there's only one answer: Because not a word of it is true.

Extensive research by the investigatory Web site snopes.com shows that all of these claims were based on a forged Associated Press article from a year ago.

"It's a hoax, whose elements are all demonstrably false," Snopes found. Yes, there was a lawsuit filed by one Leo Donofrio that claimed the President wasn't legitimately qualified. But it was denied even a hearing by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Not a single justice on the U.S. Supreme Court has ever shown the slightest interest in this matter. That's because it has clearly been established beyond any reasonable doubt that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii to a mother who is an American citizen.

There's also no such group as "Americans for Freedom of Information."

However, there is such a thing as April Fool's Day.

And if Benthere59 had bothered to notice, that was the date on the Associated Press story he sent me to "prove" his claims.

Dick Eastop is puzzled that The Blade continues to mention that the University of Toledo Medical Center was formerly known as the Medical College of Ohio. "It has been almost five years since the [two institutions merged.] Don't you think … it insults the intelligence of your readers?" he asks.

Dealing with last things first, unless someone is involved with medical issues or those two institutions, they may well not know that they have merged. In the last several months, I have talked to readers who did not know, say, of the Chrysler-Fiat alliance.

The Medical College of Ohio was a highly respected and regionally famous institution. Even if the reference was totally redundant, there would be nothing ethically wrong with reminding readers of the medical center's origins.

Incidentally, I read a story in a national newspaper last week that referred to Ho Chi Minh City as "formerly Saigon, the capital of the former South Vietnam." South Vietnam was even better known than MCO - and it has been out of business since 1975.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office, 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610, or e-mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don't leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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