Another cartoon drawn by Nadine Scholtes! As well as drawing this cartoon, Nadine made a crucial contribution to the script; she suggested making the final panel a thought balloon, an idea I immediately agreed to.
This cartoon was directly inspired by reporter Felicia Sonmez’s lawsuit against The Washington Post. From her complaint:
Defendant Barr stated that, by speaking out publicly, Ms. Sonmez had “taken a side on the issue” of sexual assault. He also told Ms. Sonmez she was “trying to have it both ways” by publicly disclosing her own assault and continuing to report on the topic. Defendant Ginsberg raised his voice and told Ms. Sonmez that it would present “the appearance of a conflict of interest” if she continued to report on Kavanaugh or any other issues related to sexual misconduct. […] Defendant Barr stated, “We don’t have reporters who make statements on issues they are covering. We don’t want the external perception that we have an advocate covering something she has experienced. He added, “The work you do intersects with what you experienced in your life.” Ms. Sonmez noted that this is no different from any other reporter in the newsroom.
Importantly, these concerns about conflict of interest didn’t always extend to Sonmez’s male colleagues:
Around the time that Ms. Sonmez was interviewing for her position at the Post, she was told about a male colleague who faced sexual misconduct accusations including sending an unsolicited photo of his underwear-covered crotch to a young woman. Defendant Baron never ordered that the reporter be banned from covering stories related to sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior by men. Upon information and belief, none of the reporter’s editors said his writing on the topic would present a “conflict of interest” or questioned whether he was capable of objective reporting. He was given a prominent position, wrote more than a dozen stories that touched on these issues and continues to do so today.
But that’s hardly the only case I had in mind. In 2018, messages from a private discussion group for journalists – one that had no (out) trans members – were leaked. In one of these leaked messages, Jesse Singal – probably the most prominent reporter on trans issues in mainstream publications – wrote about “groupthink” among trans people, implying that not being trans makes Jesse Singal better at writing about trans issues.
But…trans people, like members of any other group, have their own prevalent forms of groupthink. Time and time again my reporting and research has conflicted with what [the biggest-name trans activists have] told me[.] On other issues, of course, I would trust trans people more than anyone else—who better to talk about the humiliation of living in a state with a ‘bathroom’ bill, or the difficulty of getting hormones, or other stuff that only trans people have to deal with? But overall, no, I don’t think trans people are more qualified to write about the tricky science stuff going on here than I am.
(Since writing that, Singal has apparently removed “the difficulty of getting hormones” from his list of topics that he thinks trans people might know more about than Jesse Singal.)
Ironically, the leaked messages displayed their own form of “groupthink,” as members of the forum rushed to agree that Singal’s reporting is perfect and the many, many criticisms of his work from trans people were, without exception, irrational and meritless.
I’ll mention one last example (although there are certainly more I could mention): in 2020, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette barred two Black staffers from reporting on Black Lives Matter. One of the staffers had tweeted a sarcastic comparison between “looters” and tailgaters; the other seems to have been excluded due to the “conflict of interest” of being Black.
Joshua Axelrod, a white reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, tweeted about a looting suspect and referred to them with a vulgar slur. Though Axelrod was reprimanded by his editors, he was not prohibited from covering BLM content like Johnson and Santiago were, despite the obvious show of bias. […]
Tony Mosley, a host with National Public Radio (NPR), has argued that newsrooms who bar Black reporters from covering BLM are essentially saying that “white journalists just by default are neutral and objective and they can cover everything, but somehow [Black journalists] can’t cover [their] own communities.”
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has three panels – although the final panel is divided into two sub-panels, as we shall see.
In a newsroom (we can see a desk, and framed front-page stories on the wall), an older reporter, who is white and male, is talking to a younger Black reporter. The older reporter is wearing an off-white shirt with a red necktie; the younger reporter is a bit more casually dressed in a gray polo shirt. Let’s call the older reporter “NECKTIE.”
Necktie has his arms folded behind his back, and a condescending expression.
NECKTIE: Percy, you can’t write about police violence. You’re not objective.
We are looking at Necktie again. In the background, we can see a young male reporter, with a red shirt and glasses, and a younger female reporter, wearing a jacket over a light pink blouse, both sitting behind desks.
NECKTIE: Just like Joey can’t write about trans issues.
NECKTIE: And Alicia tweeted about being sexually assaulted. So she can’t write sex crime stories. Reporters must be objective!
This panel is divided into two sub-panels. The first panel shows Alicia, having stood up, speaking critically to Necktie; Necktie has his arms folded and is grinning.
ALICIA: But by that standard, isn’t everyone “biased”?
NECKTIE: Not quite everyone.
A thought balloon leads from Necktie’s head to the second (and larger) sub-panel. This panel shows Necktie, now wearing a jacket, a crown, and a sash that has “cis white male” printed on it, standing on a little platform so he’s above the other three reporters. The other three reporters are enthusiastically cheering for Necktie, and Alicia is swooning a bit with little hearts in the air around her head.
Behind Necktie is an enormous lit-up sign – the kind with a border made of light bulbs. The sign says, in large letters, “ALWAYS OBJECTIVE.” Balloons and confetti and roses fall from above. The balloons have lettering, which say things like “upper class” “white” “cis” “male” “abled” “thin” and “straight.”
CHICKEN FAT WATCH
“Chicken fat” means easily-overlooked and meaningless details in a cartoon the cartoonists put in, which maybe you (and they) find amusing. In this case, the chicken fat can be found in the framed newspapers on the walls in the background.
In panel 1, there are two such newspapers, each partly blocked by foreground elements and by word balloons. Both of them are for a newspaper named “Background Tribune.”
The first is almost entirely blocked by Necktie standing in front of it. But since I wrote it, I know that it says “NO ONE CAN READ THIS! Virtually Entire Text Hidden By Drawings.”
The second article is less blocked, and says “KISSINGER DEAD. Sun Shines Bright, Babies And Unicorns Celebrating.” (Although I wrote the script for this cartoon years ago, I added in the chicken fat on November 29 2023, the day Henry Kissinger died.)
In panel 2, the newspapers on the wall are such tiny elements of the background that I doubt anyone will be able to read them online (although they might be legible in the eventual book collection). The first says “NO ONE CAN READ THIS! This Text Is Simply Too Tiny To Be Legible.” The second says “NO ONE CAN READ THIS ONE EITHER. This Gag Is The Same As The Other One.”