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"Terror Widows''
March 6, 2002 2:10 PM   Subscribe

"Terror Widows'' An editorial cartoon that ridicules widows of World Trade Center victims as greedy and shallow publicity hounds drew instant outrage last night from the grieving survivors. One widow was shown with a pile of cash in her lap and telling a reporter, 'I keep waiting for Kevin to come home, but I know he never will. Fortunately, the $3.2 million I collected from the Red Cross keeps me warm at night.' The NYTimes pulled the strip from its Website.
posted by matteo (52 comments total)

 
Here's the comic, fyi.
posted by kokogiak at 2:19 PM on March 6, 2002


Insensitive? Somewhat. Did the NYT have the right to pull the cartoon? Sure. But as something to ponder, isn't this really the height of political correctness, to censor such viewpoints, such sacred cows (or for that matter, to censor dissenting viewpoints of our political leaders)?

By the way, can someone find a cached or copied version of this cartoon?
posted by hincandenza at 2:20 PM on March 6, 2002


This is in pretty bad taste. BTW Ted Rall is kinda a kook.

Editorial policy is not censorship, although there can be a fine line. Right now, anyone and thier dog can get this cartoon.
posted by phatboy at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2002


The strip in question can be seen here.

Diverse people in a group don't deserve to be painted with a broad brush, yada, yada, yada... Certainly matters involving the mourning and grief of average Americans who lost a family member are more sensitive than the latest foot-in-mouth gaffe by George W. Bush...

But some of these beneficiaries have made this a public issue, and some of their statements and behavior have been outrageous. The WTC victims' families and the families who lost relatives in Oklahoma City, IIRC, even got into a public spat at one point. It wasn't pretty.

As the discussions prompted by a previous MeFi post noted, though, some of the blame for the money grab goes to the Red Cross, and the agencies and groups distributing it.

See also "What's a Life Worth?" in a recent issue in Time:

"'My tax money should not be given to someone with a $750,000 mortgage to pay who needs a set of fresh, matching towels in her bathroom every season,' one person wrote anonymously to the Department of Justice's Web page on victim compensation. 'I'm shocked and appalled and very disappointed,' wrote a Florida resident, 'that some individuals are living in such a rare and well-gilded ivory tower that they feel $250,000 is not sufficient compensation.'"
posted by pzarquon at 2:25 PM on March 6, 2002


I think Steven Den Beste had the right take on this.
posted by mw at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2002


It upsets me that people feel the need to be so politically correct these days. Some will go to great lengths to insure that they offend no one, which is really just a catch-22 since they end up offending people who resent the prominent position politcal correctness has in American society today. To tell the frank truth, I found the cartoon funny, and somewhat true perhaps. While I do understand how 11 September widows may be insulted by the cartoon and I respect their right to be so, the vast majority of people in the nation have not received financial compensation due to the terrorist attacks. And to top it all off, the cartoon is satire - which, by definition, is 'a work in which situations, mistakes or vice are shown through the use irony or wit'. The cartoon thus did not verbally attack the widows themselves directly; it only poked fun at and brought light to the state of the situation.
posted by tepidmonkey at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2002


I saw this strip and though it disgusting and stupid, but that's par for the course with Rall. The New York Times has every right to pull the comic.

'Dissent' for its own sake is not like some magic tonic that will make our society stronger. Dissent is not the simple gainsaying of every opinion and belief, but has become the tactic of some people on either side of the political spectrum to their detriment. This cartoon slips below that. He's trying to offend to get his name in the papers, whatever the cost to his credibility (which he already possessed little). It's a sick personal attack, a weak generalization, and a display of mean and ugly cynicism the likes of which I had hoped not to see in the mainstream press. I would suggest that he be ashamed of himself, but it is obvious he has no shame to muster.
posted by evanizer at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2002 [1 favorite]


With maybe one or two exceptions, nobody having anything to do with anybody who died in the collapse of that structure need, deserve or should be given any money at all, much less enough to live on for the rest of their life.

Having said that, what's the point of the cartoon? This is a message better delivered by someone having the balls to come out and say it.
posted by Settle at 2:36 PM on March 6, 2002


And this is not an issue of 'political correctness' striking down the brave Chomsky of the funnies. I hate that the opposite of 'politically correct' has become 'act like a total, unmitigated asshole'. That's not being 'politically incorrect', that's being stupid. And lazy.
posted by evanizer at 2:38 PM on March 6, 2002


In the interest of equal time: Rall's side of the Hellman lawsuit.
posted by Dean King at 2:39 PM on March 6, 2002


Here's a more legalistic analysis of whether the compensation is fair.

The problem with the cartoon is that while it may be defensible to view (some of) the widows etc. as undeserving of compensation, the strip didn't hint at the arguments. Maybe if the strip contrasted them with other victims of violence, or with other possible uses of the money, it would be fair. But just to present them as greedy is pretty offensive and dumb.
posted by Gaz at 2:44 PM on March 6, 2002


I agree with Den Beste. This was awfully tasteless, and paints with far too broad a brush the whole situation. If people get compensated for a terrible loss, it doesn't alieviate the grief. Should they not be compensated, helped out, paid in any way? I'm not really sure. But I do believe a few things: the individuals whose behavior has been "outragious" are not the norm; Opportunism in America is often applauded, yet many would shrink from doing so here; Those who would deny the victems compensation of this scale are invariably comparing themselves and their own lives to the ones in question, and that's foolish and unfair.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:44 PM on March 6, 2002


I think it's funny that a man who immedietly demanded $20,000 in reparations over an e-mail prank he was the subject of, then subsequently sued for $1.5 million, has a problem with World Trade Center victims collecting reparations.
posted by tomorama at 2:45 PM on March 6, 2002 [1 favorite]


It seems the Freedom of Speech concept is missing this crucial addendum: Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
posted by tommasz at 2:51 PM on March 6, 2002


Slaughter your sacred cows.

Besides, the greedy family members in question--and they're out there--are doing more to disparage their lost loved-ones' memories than this little cartoon will do to disparage the widow(er)s themselves.
posted by jpoulos at 2:52 PM on March 6, 2002


Is it offensive? Absolutely. Do I have a right to go through life unoffended? No. Rall has every right to draw this cartoon and publishers have every right to refuse it. Rall has drawn some amusing strips in the past but he's crossed the line into just plain meanness here. Or he's trying to contort tragedy into something that can support his particular political opinion, which usually results in drivel like this.
posted by jonmc at 2:56 PM on March 6, 2002


A question: the compensation the terror-widows (and widowers?) are receiving is in addition to whatever insurance they're spouses had taken out privately, correct?
posted by Hildago at 3:01 PM on March 6, 2002


Hildago, this matters why?
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:15 PM on March 6, 2002


I have to say that after 9/11, Ted Rall's comics, which I previously had often enjoyed, became more than I could take. I don't know what line moved -- whether I became overly sensitive or he became overly cynical, or some of both -- but I definitely noticed it and reacted against it. "Jihad Slacker," for instance, left me feeling like Rall had a sense of humor about 9/11 that (1) I didn't understand and (2) made me unhappy to think about.
posted by precipice at 3:18 PM on March 6, 2002


Wulfgar! -- This matters because I do not know, and would like to.
posted by Hildago at 3:51 PM on March 6, 2002


Hildalgo, the final rules for the Victims Compensation Fund are to be announced shortly. Certain other compensation received, from life insurance to Red Cross money, will be subject to deduction, from all indications.

Rall has definitely gone beyond the pale of human decency with this one. It's just plain vile. As precipice states, if there's a place where it's funny, I'm not sure I want to take myself there.
posted by dhartung at 4:01 PM on March 6, 2002


the compensation the terror-widows (and widowers?) are receiving is in addition to whatever insurance they're spouses had taken out privately, correct?

Actually, Hildago, no. That's one of the unusual things about the federal formula for awards with this fund. Everyone starts out with a large sum ($1-1.6 million?), but independently secured insurance is deducted from that, as is pension, Social Security, workers compensation, etc.

Thus, a wealthy victim's award might be absolutely nothing. (Apart from a flat base award of $250,000 plus $50,000 per spouse and child.) But someone who earned only $22,000 a year could conceivably take home more ($444,000 in the example linked).

To some, it penalizes folks for planning ahead. To others, it levels things somewhat.

I have to say, though, that I'm surprised by the number of responses here that are to the effect of, "I believe in free speech, but that goes over the line." Especially since, again, the issue Rall is commenting on has already been beaten to death (often by considerably less sharp commentators) on talk shows, in editorials, and the like.

It's not like he was saying the attacks were the fault of lesbians and non-Christians...
posted by pzarquon at 4:05 PM on March 6, 2002


it might be a true portrayal of some of the widows/widowers, (there are always a few in every group), but i think it's not material suitable for publishing by an institution such as the NYTimes.
the yahoo article does make a good point however: "However, pushing the envelope of polite criticism is what editorial cartoonists do. (Rall) is looking at recent news events with the cynical eye of a satirist.''. perhaps in a few years time this could be more widely accepted?
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 4:06 PM on March 6, 2002


Another response.
posted by mw at 4:09 PM on March 6, 2002


I think Rall is on par with the Robertson/Falwell comment actually.


"However, pushing the envelope of polite criticism is what editorial cartoonists do"

Yes, pushing the envelope right down the crapper. And flushing.
posted by evanizer at 4:09 PM on March 6, 2002


Let's not forget that the federal Victims Compensation Fund is different from the billion or so dollars that everyone donated through various charities.

Also, the Times didn't really "publish" Rall's comic; they just have him, and a bunch of other political cartoonists, shoved into a tiny corner of their web site's Op-Ed page. If you can find their names and click on them, you'll get taken to another page with said toonster's latest work.

Anyway, I was oddly unaffected by this particular cartoon when I first saw it. It's not at all funny, but to me, that's not because it's inherently evil: There really ARE a few of these sort-of-creepy Stepford Widows out there, a very tiny contingent that keeps showing up on the same news/talk show circuit over and over again. The reason the joke doesn't work is because these "Terror Widows" are usually always in front of the cameras because they're arguing about the money and not getting enough of it, and that's the exact opposite of what Rall is portraying these people as doing. As such, the joke just doesn't work.

For what it's worth, here's a defense of Rall and the cartoon in question by his friend John Scalzi.
posted by aaron at 4:25 PM on March 6, 2002


"Stepford Widows". I like that.
posted by jpoulos at 5:02 PM on March 6, 2002


Regarding Rall and his so called commentary on victims' families: what tomorama said. It's absolutely comical that this "artist" should criticize (boorishly) the reparations when he himself is suing for an outrageous sum over libel. Seems to me that Rall loves the attention as much as those he allegedly satirizes. "Your Ad Here", indeed.
posted by Vek at 5:06 PM on March 6, 2002


i just read every Rall cartoon from september 11th on. I don't see how this one is different from the others. Some are funny. Some make me cringe. He takes shots at everybody. I'm going to agree that he considers it to be his job, as he should.
posted by th3ph17 at 5:29 PM on March 6, 2002


My real problem with it is, as aaron said, it's not funny. There is not one vaguely humorous frame in the entire thing. "Bitchin tie" -- that's supposed to rouse a chuckle out of me? I'd tell Rall to try harder, but I think maybe that's why its such a witless cartoon. He's trying too hard. For my money, the Baltimore Sun's Kal is a far more talented political/social commentator.
posted by Bixby23 at 5:30 PM on March 6, 2002


I am not sure why Rall's lawsuit over libel is any reason why he cannot speak out against women like the one I profiled recently on my site -- she was on O'Reilly Factor, bitching because she had, to that date, "only" received $25,000 worth of charity to pay her mortgage on her tony north Jersey McMansion, and she wanted to know why it was taking so long to get her the damn charity money, already. People like that deserve whatever brushes they are tarred with, whatever labels are slapped upon them, and every derision which can be fashioned by the human mind, and I don't doubt for a moment that Rall was working from that perspective when creating this cartoon.
posted by Dreama at 5:32 PM on March 6, 2002


Here's an interesting remix of the sorry toon in question
posted by owillis at 5:33 PM on March 6, 2002


The guy has guts. As his friend notes in the above defense, he knew what he was doing, so he knew he wasn't going to win popularity contests with this. He's just putting his finger on the strangeness (or worse) of the victim compensation flap. Which might make people think of the strangeness (or worse) of America posing as a victim while bombing everything in sight in words or in fact. Might. It's speech. It's free. It belongs in the paper. Maybe there even should be more of it. Even if you don't agree with it.

Like th3ph17, I just read all his cartoons since Sept. 11, as well as his take-down of Art Spiegelman and some of his columns, including this prescient pre-9/11 one. Though I may not agree, I have more respect for him as a result.
posted by Turtle at 5:44 PM on March 6, 2002


Nice, owillis. but socialists wouldn't have "monkey sex" would they? Too barbaric and laden with power imabalances, y'know. What socialists would have is amoeba sex-split into two equal parts with no pleasure involved for anyone. :)
posted by jonmc at 5:45 PM on March 6, 2002


I just read a good amount of Rall's comics too, and I have to say, he really is not very funny. At all. He makes a few good points and I even liked a select few of his pieces, but really, nothing was humorous. Or clever. All of the good comics I've read, political and otherwise, have some sort cleverness, punch line or dynamic that separates them from what J. Schmoe draws on his napkin at lunch with his trusty bic.

Angels in Heaven lament over not being able to talk to George Bush ever again. George Bush is going to hell!! Get it? Yuck yuck yuck.
posted by tomorama at 5:56 PM on March 6, 2002


I thought the strip was pretty funny, and the flood of negative reaction, while not unexpected in these times, is certainly disproportionate to any "crime" here. Of course, I didn't read it as an indictment of every victim's family any more than I read Popeye as an indictment of every sailor.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:10 PM on March 6, 2002


The "Jihad Slacker" one made me laugh out loud. I must be evil. Oh well.
posted by Grum at 6:22 PM on March 6, 2002


Hmmm... is that $3.2 million figure anything near correct? This page suggests that there was ~ 50k for each recipient but there was a bunch of non-itemized stuff also listed on the red cross site.

I hope I'm not a huge asshole, but the extent to which red cross assistance is apportioned according to victim earnings is the extent to which I won't give to them again. Look me in the eye and tell me that you're going to give 80% of my dollar to pay someone's mortgage and 20% to someone else who lost a father who was a janitor and I just don't feel like giving it up. The government fund is a whole different kettle of fish.
posted by Wood at 6:48 PM on March 6, 2002


Technically the cartoon was never on the NYT site at all -- it was here, in an NYT template on uclick.com, and was presumably pulled by uclick at the NYT's request. I would guess the NYT site is paying for the right to link to this page. I don't think I'm just being picky here. Unless there's no difference between linking and publishing, Reuters etc. don't have it quite right.
posted by davidfg at 7:00 PM on March 6, 2002


any more than I read Popeye as an indictment of every sailor
Ne'er do wells who jump from port to port hopped up on "performance enhancing" green leaves banging toothpick boned yelling women. Indeed.
posted by owillis at 7:23 PM on March 6, 2002


With maybe one or two exceptions, nobody having anything to do with anybody who died in the collapse of that structure need, deserve or should be given any money at all, much less enough to live on for the rest of their life.

That's something that would usually be decided by a jury...except that the feds have capped the liability of just about everyone these people could sue. Which, as I understood it, was one of the reasons this fund was set up in the first place. (The airplane passengers, at the very least, could have gotten tens of millions of dollars a piece.)

Unfortunately, this has made the usual, private disputes about "just compensation" into public, governmental decisions (and the subject of unfunny cartoons).
posted by oddovid at 8:06 PM on March 6, 2002


is it possible that 'free speech' means that some things you do not like will be said in public?
whether you find it amusing or not is your business, and not an argument for or against publication.

it is refreshing to see people admitting that they cannot, or will not, understand the mentality of the author. the admission of ignorance can help alot on the journey towards wisdom. ; )
posted by asok at 4:12 AM on March 7, 2002


is it possible that 'free speech' means that some things you do not like will be said in public?
whether you find it amusing or not is your business, and not an argument for or against publication.


Rall has the freedom to draw the cartoon and publish it on his website. We have the freedom to call him an insensitive asshole. The NYT has the freedom to publish or not publish it. Free speech is working fine here.
posted by straight at 6:34 AM on March 7, 2002


After reading Rall's defense of his suit, and the defense of his 9/11 cartoon linked above, I'm leaning toward weighing in on the side of Rall. He sounds like a crank, but only a mild crank.

His 9/11 cartoon was crude and insensitive, painful, and classist. I've often wondered why the victims of 9/11 will get more money than, say, the US soldiers who died the other day in Afghanistan.

Then again, we live in a big country, and the cost per individual who donated to relief efforts is pretty inconsequential.
posted by mecran01 at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2002


Call me a doorknob if you will, but aren't editorial cartoons supposed to be funny, or expressive of a coherent point of view, or preferably both?

I guess I won't be switching from the WSJ to the NYT anytime soon...
posted by clevershark at 8:49 AM on March 7, 2002


Rall has the freedom to draw the cartoon and publish it on his website. We have the freedom to call him an insensitive asshole. The NYT has the freedom to publish or not publish it. Free speech is working fine here.

I didn't get it either, but I haven't watched Larry King in eons, have been busy besides and wasn't up on the whole widows thing. Dreama's info helps. (Some explanation, however small, from the cartoonist might have helped too. Or it may have accompanied some article about the widow controversy? Just seemed to come out of nowhere here.) In any case, the whole self-important "I'm more in favor of the war than thou" or the "I'm more sympathetic than thou" thing or both combined is getting really old. I'm becoming almost instinctually skeptical of at least 60-to-70 percent of Sept. 11-related concern. Of course people aren't truly free to express themselves when they get shot down by these tyrannical-posing-as-earnest types the second they do so.
posted by raysmj at 10:52 AM on March 7, 2002


raysmj -- for the daily "I'm more in favor of the war than thou" column, read Sen. Lieberman's column in the WSJ's op-ed page. I love how the DNC works... get Daschle out there to complain, and then get Lieberman a good media spot denying that the Democrats are complaining. Oy veh!
posted by clevershark at 11:07 AM on March 7, 2002


Jonmc,
It's frightening to read your endorsement of inequal sex, or your condemnation of sex among equals as 'no fun'. Try jumping into the now.
posted by goneill at 1:27 PM on March 7, 2002


clevershark: Just for the record, my comment had nothing to do with partisanship. I don't care about what the DNC does do or doesn't or general posturing or a lack of courage. Or I do, rather, but it's nothing particularly shocking. That's politics. I do think the GOP attacks on the Senate majority leader were cheap, slimy and dangerous and beyond the line of "just politics," but I was referring more to general comments I've heard out and about. You could even say those fuel the stupid sort of partisanship mentioned above.
posted by raysmj at 2:23 PM on March 7, 2002


goniell- Not what I intended to say at all. It was intended as a spoof on socialism and humorlessness and I was merely using the "socialist monkey sex" line in the cartoon owillis linked to as a jumping off point. I don't know how you interpreted that as "condemnation of sex among equals" but if that's how you took it, I'm sorry if I offended you.
posted by jonmc at 3:28 PM on March 7, 2002


Of course people aren't truly free to express themselves when they get shot down by these tyrannical-posing-as-earnest types the second they do so.

This is crazy. You're saying free speech isn't truly free unless people pretend to like what you're saying?

The whole point of free speech is that you're free to say something and I'm free to criticize it and let the reader decide which of us is right.
posted by straight at 7:19 AM on March 8, 2002


> The "Jihad Slacker" one made me laugh out loud.
> I must be evil. Oh well.

I, too, am evil.
posted by pracowity at 8:25 AM on March 8, 2002


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