FL Newspaper Draws Outrage Over Cartoon Depicting Alabama Firefighters

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Editorial cartoon published June 23, 2012 in the Pensacola News Journal. (Artist: Andy Marlette)

Some firefighter unions and local firefighters are outraged over a political cartoon printed in a Florida newspaper on Saturday.  The cartoon depicts two firefighters spraying water on people; an image straight out of the civil rights era in Alabama.

The Pensacola News Journal says the image was a commentary on Alabama's massive newspaper layoffs.  Last week, more than 400 employees were cut at the state's largest newspapers -- including more than 100 at The Huntsville Times.

The Pensacola News Journal was lambasted by firefighter groups and citizens who said the image was racist, offensive and unfair to men and women who put their lives on the line to help people in emergencies.  Firefighter groups demanded the newspaper apologize for the drawing.

The newspaper has a story on its website addressing concerns regarding the cartoon.  The paper's executive editor, Richard A. Schneider, called the cartoon a historical metaphor that fits squarely with the mission of the editorial page, and the newspaper will not apologize. Schneider said the paper has offered firefighters -- and readers -- the opportunity to submit letters to the editor in response.

The article also includes a note from the cartoonist, Andy Marlette.  Part of his comment reads:

"In the context of the mass layoffs of Alabama’s journalists, the cartoon is a dark comment on the fact that the most sinister things happen — in fact have always happened — when nobody is there to show and tell about them.  The cartoon is about the staggering loss of journalists — those who show and tell — in Alabama, and ultimately, everywhere. It is about the danger of this loss and what happens to a society without its watchdogs. It is about what Birmingham could have been today had journalists not been on the scene in 1963.  It is simply not about firefighters."

WHNT News 19 spoke with Marlette by phone on Tuesday.  We asked him about the strong reaction to the cartoon.

"It's absolutely not a comment on firefighters, certainly not any specific firefighters. It was a direct reference to that image from Birmingham in 1963," said Marlette.  "You know, a comment on what kind of  dangerous things we might risk when we are getting rid of our professional journalists.  If we're removing the people who tell the stories and show the pictures throughout history, that's always always when the most dangerous things happen."

"Cartoons are metaphors, they're not  to be taken literally, and it's not saying because these Alabama journalists have been lost, Alabama is going to return to 1963.  It's not meant to be taken literally in that way," Marlette added. "It's more that bad things can, and history has shown, do happen, you know, when people aren't there to talk about it and show the rest of the world what happened."