Great moments in opinion journalism … not

James Wigderson:

The Madison-based Capital Times posted on Wednesday, then pulled, a cartoon depicting the president of a conservative legal organization as a hangman lynching people wanting to vote in Wisconsin.

The cartoon by artist Mike Konopacki accompanied an op-ed by Cap Times Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel, “Don’t let the vote suppressors win in Wisconsin,” complaining about a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) against the Wisconsin Election Commission. The lawsuit seeks to force the Election Commission to follow state law and remove the voter registrations of people who have been identified as moving from the residence where they are currently registered.

The op-ed never cites the actual law, and the one example given by Zweifel of a person’s voter registration being cancelled has nothing to do with the lawsuit by WILL.

WILL President Rick Esenberg is depicted in the accompanying cartoon as a hangman with a blue hood over his head while holding a noose. Several other nooses are shown in the cartoon. Esenberg is shown saying, “The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty WILL let you vote, but first you gotta jump through some hoops.” The word “WILL” is the organization’s logo.

The cartoon is clearly indicating that voters will be lynched by WILL. The symbolism of the cartoon is especially strong given the history of actual lynchings in America over voter rights, especially of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow eras.

After the cartoon appeared, a number of conservatives objected on social media, including Collin Roth of WILL, and the Cap Times pulled the cartoon from its website by 3:00 PM. However, the cartoon remained on the Cap Times’ Twitter posts until 10:00 PM when Opinion Editor Jessie Opoien was able to complete the cartoon’s removal.

An editor’s note now accompanies the op-ed online: “A cartoon previously published with this column was determined to be in poor taste and has been removed.”

Esenberg and Opoien will be discussing the cartoon and the decision to pull it down on the Steve Scaffidi show on 620 WTMJ AM on Thursday.

Opoien responded in an email to inquiries from RightWisconsin about the decision to pull down the cartoon. She explained that Konopacki and Zweifel work together on cartoons to accompany his op-eds for the Cap Times.

Cartoonist Mike Konopacki has a long history with the Cap Times, and a long history working with Cap Times editor emeritus Dave Zweifel to illustrate his columns. As a relative newcomer to the Cap Times opinion section, and as a person who deeply values ideological diversity, I’ve tried to balance a great number of competing interests in my role as opinion editor. I’ve taken a lot of flak from readers for publishing conservative perspectives – perspectives I believe should be shared with our traditional, deeply progressive audience – and I’ve certainly taken some flak from conservative friends who disagree with the liberal and/or progressive perspectives published in our section. What I always aim to do is stay away from undeserved personal attacks, and to keep the conversation smart and fair. In my opinion, the cartoon in question failed to meet those marks, and I take responsibility for not having raised concerns before it was published. I appreciate the conversations I’ve had with the folks at WILL and I look forward to publishing a response from them, and to talking about this more on air with Rick on WTMJ tomorrow morning.

Esenberg released a statement on Facebook, calling the cartoon “offensive” and “nasty and ignorant.” He also commended the decision by Opoien to pull the cartoon down.

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. I will be on Stephen Scaffidi‘s show tomorrow morning at 10:20 to discuss this. I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

RightWisconsin will not be posting the cartoon due to its inflammatory and offensive nature.

Well, Empower Wisconsin did:

Esenberg posted on Facebook:

Some of you may know that the Capital Times published an offensive cartoon that depicted me as a hangman (and I oppose capital punishment!) and pushed a clumsy implication that our case governing outdated voter registrations was somehow akin to lynching. It was accompanied by an op-ed by Dave Zweifel who complained about his barber’s voter registration not being on file. He admitted that this was a huge non sequitur since it had nothing to do with our case but nevertheless discerned some unfathomable truthiness in the story. We did not ask the Cap Times to take the cartoon down but it did so anyway, recognizing that it was in poor taste. I give them credit for that and commend Jessie Opoien for recognizing that we can disagree without mistreating each other. … I don’t mind if someone criticizes what we do but it’s best done with civility and an appropriate regard for the facts. The First Amendment allows people to be nasty and ignorant if they want. It doesn’t require them to be that way.

Nothing says First Amendment, or for that matter sticking to your guns, quite like posting something controversial, and then pulling it off the Internet. This also makes you wonder who makes editorial decisions at The Cap Times, given that the way to avoid having to backtrack on something is to have enough judgment to not do it in the first place.

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