Using Wounded Warriors to Make Political Points

Using wounded warriors to make political points, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."

Take a look at this political cartoon, which ran in The Washington Post last Monday. It features an Iraq war veteran with missing limbs and text mocking Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

Well in a rare statement, the joint chiefs of staff wrote a letter to the newspaper saying, "Using the likeness of a service member who has lost his arms and legs in war as the central theme of a cartoon was beyond tasteless."

The cartoonist, Tom Toles, says the letter's understandable, but he doesn't regret the cartoon. Toles says he meant no offense to any wounded military person. And I believe him. The cartoon was obviously created to damage Rumsfeld.

Back in May of 2004, I wrote a column criticizing cartoonist Gary Trudeau for pretty much doing what Toles did — using wounded warriors to make a political point.

I wrote, "There is a line that all commentators should not cross. That line is using someone's personal tragedy to advance a political agenda, and Trudeau is now doing that in his exposition of a fictional U.S. soldier who loses his leg while fighting in Iraq. Imagine if you lost a limb and believed in the cause. Would you want your ordeal used to further Trudeau's political views?"

Now I stand by that column. Once the personal suffering of the military during a war is introduced as a tool to undermine the conflict, a boundary has been crossed.

Now if The Washington Post was thinking, it would have run the cartoon, but also printed an article criticizing it on the same page at the same time. I don't believe in censoring commentary unless it's dishonest, but in cases like this, a balance must be provided.

Donald Rumsfeld's the secretary of defense. He has a great burden to bear, as thousands of Americans are getting hurt fighting the global war on terror. You can criticize Rumsfeld on policy and results, as I have. But implying that he is callous in the face of suffering and death is simply irresponsible.

The Joint Chiefs called Tom Toles' cartoon "reprehensible". You can make the call on that. But I think Toles could have gotten his message across in another way and should have. And that's "The Memo."

The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day

I think it's safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting into when I told you in December that we would police the media for personal attacks in the year 2006. The situation is far worse than I ever thought.

Scores of American newspapers are printing personal attacks on people with whom they disagree, and facts don't matter. Accusations rule. We've listed some of those media outfits on, and now The Atlanta Journal-Constitution joins the don't buy, don't advertise list.

Under the leadership of publisher John Mellot, editor Julia Wallace and editorial page editor Cynthia Tucker, the paper has become a far left publication that slants news coverage and deals in defamation. As a result, the newspaper's circulation is in a freefall. Only The San Francisco Chronicle has steeper declines.

So we now urge fair-minded Georgians, and that's about 90 percent of you, to avoid the Atlanta J-C until the Cox Company makes some changes there, which it will have to do sooner or later.

Ridiculous? That paper is off-the-chart ridiculous.

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