Ford cartoon sparks some readers' anger

January 03, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Elsewhere on this page are a couple of letters criticizing my decision to use a political cartoon on the late President Gerald Ford on Dec. 29.

We've also gotten phone calls with the same message - the cartoon was insulting to a man who stepped into the presidency at a crucial time in our nation's history.

If you didn't see the cartoon, it showed the late president, his legs tangled up in a golf bag and a lamp cord, leaping to catch a vase President Nixon was knocking off a pedestal.

The vase was labeled "Rule of Law."

In the background, two men were watching and one said, "I remember Gerald Ford - What a klutz!"

This is the message I got from the cartoon: If you only remember Gerald Ford as a joke from a "Saturday Night Live" skit about his occasional stumbles, you're missing the essence of the man and what he accomplished after Nixon resigned in disgrace.


Carl Leubsdorf, Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News, said it well in a column we published Dec. 31: Ford was the president American needed at the time.

His pardon of Nixon denied those who hated that president their pound of flesh. (If you're too young to remember, many Nixon-haters' venom made most of those who denounce President Bush appear downright polite.)

But Ford knew that tearing the nation apart would not help deal with the nation's problems, notably double-digit inflation and stagnant growth.

According to a profile of his presidential years written for National Public Radio, by vetoing dozens of spending bills, Ford was able to cut inflation to below 5 percent.

He was also the subject of two separate assassination attempts and in 1975 sent in the Marines after the Cambodian communist government seized the Mayaguez, an American merchant ship.

Would I run the cartoon again? No.

Why? Because when I write a column and someone disagrees with me, I know that at least I've gotten my point across.

But when someone tells me, "I read your column, but I didn't understand what you were getting at," then I know I've failed.

In this case, I ran a cartoon whose message I understood, but which, in retrospect, readers didn't get.

A woman who said she knew Ford personally left a Voicemail message asking me to retract the cartoon.

I'm not sure that's possible. How can you unring a bell?

All I can promise is to try to look at the cartoons we run as readers might seen them. Our goal is to run cartoons that make people think or offer a humorous take on the news.

What we never want to do is offend anyone just because freedom of the press allows us to do so.

If you missed the cartoon and want a copy to see what the issue is all about, e-mail me your name and address at, or write to Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown MD 21741.

Letter changes coming

Beginning this week, we're going to make some changes in the way we handle letters.

Barring any problems - libel, slander, or accounts of facts we can't verify - we will put reader letters on The Herald-Mail's Web site at as soon as possible.

Unless they contain things such as personal attacks, the letters on our Web site will appear pretty much as they are submitted, since we don't have the same space limitations we do in the newspaper.

None of this means there will be less editorial oversight of what is written. We will still need your name, address and daytime phone number, so that we can make sure - if the need arises - that no one else is using your name to promote their point of view.

We're also pondering what to do with those thank-you letters that list everyone and every business that contributed to a fundraiser.

They're tough to edit and we wonder whether anyone not involved in the events reads them. Please respond to the address above if you have a thought on this matter.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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