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Cartoon Flaps

Muzzle award faults student editors

A cartoon that caused an uproar after its publication in the student newspaper last year was at the center of another wave of controversy this spring.

The 2007 managing board of the Cavalier Daily received one of 14 Jefferson Muzzle awards distributed by the Charlottesville-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. The center’s intent is to single out individuals or entities that it believes have acted contrary to the principles of free speech.

At the eye of the storm was the Sept. 4 “Quirksmith” cartoon by Grant Woolard, a fourth-year student. In what he said was an attempt to raise awareness about famine, he depicted nine gaunt black men clad in loincloths fighting with an assortment of objects with the caption, “Ethiopian Food Fight.”

Students and administrators protested, saying the cartoon was racist. The newspaper ran an apology and Woolard, co-editor of the paper’s graphics department, was fired.

That ran counter to free speech principles, says Robert O’Neil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center and a former UVA president.

“They forced a cartoonist out of his position essentially because people were offended,” O’Neil told the Charlottesville Daily Progress. “I hate to fault student editors, and I hate to fault a student newspaper. But they reviewed the cartoon. They published the cartoon. And then when there’s an outrage, the sacrificial party is the cartoonist.” In a Sept. 12, 2007, article in the Washington Post, Herb Ladley, editor in chief of the Cavalier Daily at the time, said he approved the cartoon for publication. “My initial reaction was ‘This is offensive.’ But we print a lot of offensive things,” he told the Post. “The instant the public raised a question about it, we realized it was a mistake.”

In response to the Muzzle award, Ladley criticized the center for targeting a student-run organization.

“It shows the utter frivolity of an organization that claims to speak for Thomas Jefferson that they would go after a college newspaper and a group of students who work hard every single day to do something productive,” he told the Daily Progress in an e-mail. “It is further disconcerting that they would focus on speech, in this case a cartoon, that had no intrinsic value. The Cavalier Daily promotes freedom of expression every day, as a sounding board for issues of importance of students.”

Woolard’s take on the Muzzle award?

“I was delighted to hear that,” he told C-Ville Weekly.

Less than a month before the Muzzle award, another flap developed over cartoons in the Cavalier Daily, only this time the offended sensibilities were religious, not racial.

The March 13 “TCB” strip by students Eric Kilanski and Kellen Eilerts depicted Jesus Christ performing stand-up comedy while being crucified. The next day, the same strip showed God and the Virgin Mary in a bedroom scene, talking after apparently having had sex.

Individuals and Christian groups protested vigorously, citing poor taste as well as bad timing with Easter just around the corner. The newspaper removed the cartoons from its Web site and posted a statement that said, “It is never the intent of the Cavalier Daily to offend, and we regret having done so.”