The Arizona Desert Lamp

Daily Wildcat gets a little zealous during spring cleaning

Posted in Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 August 2009
Topmiller Cartoon

Preserved for the record.

Ben Kalafut of Goldwater State just had a stellar post on the First Amendment (or the lack thereof) at the UA, and in the comments pointed out that he was unable to find the infamous 2007 “mitzvah” cartoon by Joseph Topmiller.

For those of you who don’t remember or who weren’t around – think Keef-gate, but for the Jewish community. An offensive cartoon leads to cries of racism, which leads to calls for punitive action against the paper. The 2007 brouhaha had marginally more merit (you can read about it here), but it also resulted in the more drastic action of refusing to print any more of Topmiller’s comics.

Yet when it came to putting the issue behind them, the Wildcat interpreted the phrase a little loosely. The comic was printed on October 9 – however, when one views the comic page for that date, no such cartoon exists. Yet the rest of Topmiller’s cartoons – including those from October 10, October 11, and October 12 – are readily available.

For a paper of record, this is pretty reprehensible. Regardless of how much offense the cartoon may have caused, it was printed – to remove it at this point is an attempt to whitewash the paper’s history. Those reading the pieces on the cartoon can no longer look at the actual image and make a decision for themselves. Even if Mr. Topmiller had requested the comic’s removal, this action is still inexcusable. College papers have long rejected requests from former opinion writers who sought to have their more offensive material removed while searching for a job. The same standard should hold for any other creative work at the paper.

Arizona Student Media chair Mark Woodhams regularly comments here, so I’d be interested to hear from him – and any other Wildcatters – why exactly this comic was missing from its website.

Thankfully, Clio has once again been saved by Saraswati: the image of the cartoon has been preserved, by none other than the website Jewcy. At least they had the chutzpah to actually show the image that they were criticizing.

At any rate, the image can be viewed above- the Lamp, of course, has always opposed these censorious efforts, and this image will remain on this site so long as the site remains.

NB: The aforementioned Keef cartoon is also missing, but this seems to reflect a broader policy of not publishing any comics, beginning in the summer of 2008.

UPDATE: In the comments, Kyle catches the fact that the image originally came from Tucson’s KVOA’s story on the matter, which still has the image available. KVOA often gets overlooked in the media circles of Tucson, so props to them for prioritizing the news over political correctness.

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9 Responses

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  1. Jesse Gunsch said, on 3 August 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Did the Wildcat keep the Keith Knight cartoon online? I remember having a hard time finding a copy of the cartoon once the whole controversy went down since I hadn’t seen it in its original form.

  2. I'm the worst case scenario, bump heads for coins like mario, pop more rounds than merry-go said, on 3 August 2009 at 2:43 pm

    So being offended because a cartoon insinuated that Jews are tight wads (imitating a joke that is seen in other mediums of pop culture, my favorite being curb your enthusiasm) has more “merit” than being a black person and seeing ‘nigg’ on a comic and being offended? I may have misread something, but I do not see how jews (or black people) should be more offended in this case. The n-word is found in other pop culture mediums, which indicates that if anything both jews and blacks may be equally oversensitive when it comes to the comics. All for free speech, but the DW is not fully self sufficient. They received support from the school before, but do you think the whole student fee money they are getting this year is making these clean ups more the rule rather than the exception? Additionally, their comic-free policy may have began in the summer of last year, but I can recall friends studying abroad in the fall of 08 who saw the cartoon (as it was a very important news day) on the website and later that day it was gone.

  3. Evan Lisull said, on 3 August 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Jesse: As far as I can tell, the Wildcat stopped uploaded cartoons some time in the Fall 2008 (although, see the second comment – this may not be policy, and is worth looking into). At any rate, you can always view the comic at our site:

    http://desertlamp.com/2008/11/05/cartoon-controversy-ii-the-farce/

    I’m the worst case…: With respect to merits, this has nothing to do with the groups involved and everything to do with the background of the cases. The absurdity of attacking Knight’s comments for being “racist” against blacks (and, by Election Day translation, President Obama) was highlighted by the fact that Knight himself is a very liberal black comic, agitating on race issues from an anti-discriminatory standpoint on a number of occasions. His site celebrated Obama’s victory, and the cartoon referred to an event that occurred several months prior.

    In contrast, Topmiller’s commentary seemed based mostly on personal animus. For the cases to be equivalent, the “mitzvah” cartoon would have to be drawn by a member of Hillel, active in the Jewish community, would have been reporting on an actual event, and so forth.

    Sorry for any confusion.

  4. Jimi Alexander said, on 3 August 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I was unaware that the Daily Wildcat was considered a paper of record. As the student organ that enjoys the auspices of an office and distribution on state property, I think they are sorta hamstrung on keeping comics like that up for reasons of violating the UA’s rules against discrimination that perennially get them in trouble with FIRE.

  5. Sometimes Y said, on 4 August 2009 at 2:24 pm

    From what I can remember, Topmiller was also Jewish.

  6. Kyle said, on 5 August 2009 at 1:54 am

    Interestingly, Jewcy got that scan (I think) from KVOA (local NBC affiliate) which still has it posted on their coverage of the story.

  7. Laura Donovan said, on 5 August 2009 at 9:45 am

    I agree with the Lamp’s stance on the subject. The cartoon is offensive, but removing it from the website (if it were posted to begin with) would be an attempt to erase a part of Wildcat history. You can’t change the past.

  8. […] And I thought the Daily Emerald was bad… […]

  9. Aaron Mackey said, on 10 August 2009 at 1:06 pm

    This is an interesting topic and one that came up often during my time at the Wildcat, most notably during conversations with people whose names appeared in police beat back when the paper used student names in the blotter. It’s a tricky scenario, considering that blotter inherently only reports police activity and not the ultimate judicial finding of guilt/innocence/charges dropped, etc for the individual. Do you remove the name, altering the face of the electronic archive while the print edition remains, albeit in a much less easily accessible fashion?
    Is it fair that a 30 something banker sees his name come up in google searches for the time he got busted smoking pot in Coronado when he was a freshman? It’s probably not fair. However, I have a harder time following the second argument that extends from these folks: the blotter was the reason he or she didn’t get a job/promotion. That was the point I often challenged the folks on, saying that they need to prove their job prospects were diminished by the article. If anything, the criminal information would be available through public records/background search, and any employer worth his or her salt would likely exercise due diligence to vet the candidate and the police beat incident before an interview.
    But I digress. As for the offending comic and its more offensive removal from the archives, I couldn’t agree more with the post’s sentiments. However, it’s important to remember that the Wildcat’s editorial policies change regularly (every semester or year, depending on appointment of a new student editor) because the editor who sits in that chair has control of his or her domain at that particular moment. That includes policies on archive removal/deletion. So even if one editor is in favor of leaving things up online (as I was), the next editor is free to do whatever he or she likes with all the content. It’s not a perfect system, and Mark Woodhams often cautioned against removal of archives, but ultimately it’s up to the person who is in control at that time.
    Finally, and this is the former Wildcatter in me speaking, but I want to address comments above that seem to imply that the Wildcat is somehow not independent and must bow to the whims of UA administrators upset that the paper has potentially violated some “community standards” in publishing offensive comment. I can’t speak to the latest student fee use and what role it plays in the Wildcat’s operations, as I’ve been out of the loop for years, but the paper as a whole is completely independent from the university. The paper may use state buildings, as one commenter says, but it pays rent for those buildings. The Wildcat is actually helping the Student Union finance the bond debt for reconstructing Park Student Union a few years back. On top of rent, the Wildcat pays the UA money for utilities, phone lines, paychecks, and other administrative costs. These aren’t accounting gimmicks. They are the ways in which Arizona Student Media maintains financial, and therefor editorial, independence from the university.
    I would encourage anyone who thinks the Wildcat is at the mercy of UA administrators and their code of conduct to speak with Mark or any former editor about how the Wildcat works.


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