Washington Post pulls cartoon of Ted Cruz's daughters. Overreaction or fair?

The Washington Post has retracted a cartoon that showed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz as Santa and his daughters as monkeys. The attempt to attack Senator Cruz has 'backfired spectacularly.' 

Chris Keane/Reuters/File
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas stands on stage with his wife, Heidi, and their daughters Catherine and Caroline, as he announces his candidacy for president during an event at Liberty College in Lynchburg, Va., on March 23. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz blasted the Washington Post for posting an editorial cartoon on its website depicting his young daughters as monkeys.

Ted Cruz won a victory over the mainstream media on Tuesday night when The Washington Post withdrew an editorial cartoon that depicted Mr. Cruz’s daughters as trained monkeys dancing to his organ grinder tune.

“It’s generally been the policy of our editorial section to leave children out of it,” wrote Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor, in a note that replaced the animated drawing. “I failed to look at this cartoon before it was published. I understand why [cartoonist Ann Telnaes] thought an exception to the policy was warranted in this case, but I do not agree.”

Cruz had attacked the Post for “making fun of my girls” with the cartoon, gaining widespread support among Republicans for the effort. Even rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio joined him in denouncing the newspaper.

The “fair game” comment, made in a now-withdrawn statement by cartoonist Ms. Telnaes, refers to the fact that Cruz has made more use of his two young children for political imagery than is perhaps typical of a presidential contender.

He read “Green Eggs and Ham” to them from the Senate floor during a filibuster, for instance. He has brought them to debates and referred to them from the stage. He’s used them in various ads.

Then, last week Cruz released a video titled “Ted Cruz Christmas Classics” in which he reads famous Christmas stories to his daughters and wife – albeit stories that have been rewritten with a political edge.

One refers to his role in shutting down the government. “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the House, not a bill was stirring, not even to fund a mouse,” it begins.

In response, the Post’s Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Telnaes drew Cruz as an old-fashioned organ grinder in a Santa suit, with his two daughters as monkeys dancing at the end of strings tied to their dad. Cruz had made them “fair game”, she said in the now-withdrawn statement.

Unfortunately for the Post the cartoon (actually an animated GIF) transgressed on a number of levels. Mr. Hiatt is correct in that, in general, the mainstream press leaves the young children of politicians alone, no matter the use their parent puts them to. There’s little coverage of Malia and Sasha Obama despite the fact that they occasionally appear at events with their dad the president (turkey pardon, anyone?) and have made ad cameos. George W. Bush’s daughters were similarly obscure despite occasional misbehavior on their part.

In addition, Cruz is Hispanic, so to critics of the cartoon depicting his daughters as monkeys is racially insensitive at best. He responded with outrage.

In response the Post moved quickly to remove the image.

In the end the whole affair may be a boost to a Republican candidate who is suddenly climbing in the polls, particularly in the key early caucus state of Iowa. It gives him a ready story to refer to whenever he wants to bash the perfidy of the mainstream press. And it makes him look strong. Has even Donald Trump forced a retraction from a big publisher? He hasn’t, to our knowledge.

“So, if Telnaes was trying to attack [Cruz] her attack backfired spectacularly,” concludes political analyst Doug Mataconis at his “Outside the Beltway” blog.

It’s also given Cruz a talking point for fundraising, which he’s already using in e-mail pleas for donations.

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