Op-Ed: Trash cheap-laugh cartoons

by Matt Berger

I promised myself that I would not be like other former editors of The Hatchet who left the townhouse and criticized the actions of their successors. I am a strong believer in the fact that what makes The Hatchet great is the turnover of staff, at least every four years and the ability of college students to be autonomous and make important editorial decisions on their own. For the most part I have been impressed with the tenacity of this year’s staff, and their coverage of a slew of major news stories.

That being said, I feel compelled as both a journalist and as a Jew to weigh in on The Hatchet’s decision to run Monday’s cartoon, which likened a hippopotamus to a Jewish person. Unlike other people who have commented on this incident, I do not consider Russ Rizzo or anyone at The Hatchet to be anti-Semitic. I know everyone at The Hatchet takes great pride in his or her work.

But I think the staff at the Hatchet needs to take a step back and think about what they were trying to accomplish by printing this cartoon. Staffers need to think not only about whether this cartoon crosses the line into indecency, which you could argue either way, but also whether the cartoon adds value to a story, opens a legitimate debate or just simply targets a minority group for a cheap laugh.

The fact that Mr. Rizzo essentially said in his own column that he did not get the joke in the cartoon raises red flags in my mind. As editors, one must be very careful not to let anything slip by them that they do not understand, whether it appears in the news, sports or opinions section. It is the job of an editor to edit, to siphon relevant information from people and publish only legitimate arguments. If the editorial board could not understand the point, or joke, that the cartoonist was trying to make, how could they assume that everyone else would get it and understand it was not offensive?

I am not saying The Hatchet should not take risks and be provocative. I hope they do that, as I know the staff during my years at the paper strived to do.

But there are risks worth taking, and there are times when comments and critiques by the public placed in the editorial pages would add no depth to a debate or conversation and only propagate hatred and anti-Semitism. It is the job of smart editors to gauge the difference.

I applaud the idea of allowing The Hatchet editorial section to be a public forum for debate but that can be done without placing offensive material in the pages. It is true there are a lot of Jews on GW’s campus. But to insinuate that Jews get special treatment, or that someone could gain admission just for being Jewish, is a very provocative statement, and one that I doubt would bear fruit. I wonder whether the editors would have thought differently about running the piece if the targets were blacks, Latinos or gays?

My point is not to chastise the Hatchet staff, but to simply say this: one of the most important things I took from my four years at The Hatchet was the chance to make big decisions and learn from my mistakes. I urge everyone in the townhouse today to really reflect on the consequences of running a cartoon like the one that was presented Monday.

If this cartoon sparks a debate on morals, ethics and responsibilities within The Hatchet’s opinion page, both in the classroom and in the newsroom, it will have ultimately done something positive for the GW community.

-The writer is former Hatchet special projects editor

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