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News: Rall Receives Death Threats
posted May 5, 2004
May 5 -- Ted Rall's May 3 cartoon about pro football player turned Army Ranger turned casualty of war Pat Tillman called into question whether or not the much talked about soldier should be called a hero. In response, a percentage of readers called into question whether or not the cartoonist, who has been highly critical of American efforts overseas as it relates to a war on terror, should join Tillman.
According to Rall, he received approximately 400 threats of death or injury out of 8,500 e-mails. The cartoonist says that 75 percent of the e-mails were positive, but that the early messages were almost all negative. Rall believes the early respondents were conservatives who found the cartoon through a link on the Drudge Report web site. "Some of the threats were more worrisome than others; frankly, in the interest of discouraging anyone reading this from doing this to me or anybody else, I won't say what makes one death threat more credible than another." MSNBC.com, a high profile web news site that hosts Rall's work, also received negative mail and soon dropped the strip from the site. Editors claimed that the Tillman cartoon was put up on the site through a syndication feed that is rarely reviewed by anyone on staff before going live, but that the cartoon did not meet the site's general standards.
At press time, Rall was compiling all of the offending e-mails, phone call voicemails and any accompanying information he could gather to disseminate to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. He also plans on filing complaints with various Internet service providers, the companies that provide the e-mail accounts from which some of the mail originated. "No doubt some people, those who have never been subjected to this sort of thing, will deem me hypocritical for exercising my right to protect myself and my family. They're entitled to their opinion; I've never pretended to oppose laws. People who do this sort of thing deserve whatever punishment or sanction provided by law so that journalists and cartoonists can work without fear. Harassment is not protected by the First Amendment; in fact, it's a form of censorship."
Rall was criticized for the subject of the strip, although he feels that the strip was "more or less understood" as saying "giving one's life fighting a war of aggression for an illegitimate president hellbent on stealing oil resource isn't heroic." He added, "I don't think a lot of people misunderstood what I was trying to do this time. It's just that they, and those of us who despise Bush and his illegal wars, don't share the same values or view of what the United States of America should stand for. Sadly we're talking at, rather than to, each other. It's no wonder it all boils down to shouting."
The Journal asked Rall to respond to a couple of frequent criticisms made of the strip in question. First, that it was purposely provocative in an attempt to generate publicity for the cartoonist and future projects.
If I could create publicity out of thin air, I would. Often I do cartoons that I expect to raise all sorts of hell, and no one says boo. Other times the outrage comes as a surprise. I'm just not very good at predicting reactions. My personal code of ethics as a cartoonist is to do the work that I would like to read in the paper -- or try to -- without concern for whether or not some readers might take offense. I don't know how to piss people off, but I don't care when they happen to get pissed off. I do what I do; if people like it, fine. If they don't, fine too. The way I look at it, once the media is calling and hassling me, and kooks are calling to threaten to slit my throat, I figure I might as well get something out of it by going on TV and using that platform to talk about Bush's policies. But it's not like a few appearances on Fox will make me wealthy. I might sell a few extra books for a few days, but that's about it. Anyway, consider this: I've done 200 cartoons a year since 1988. How many of those thousands of cartoons have gotten me national media exposure? Three? Four at most? That's not a very good record for a supposed publicity hound.
Second, the Journal asked if Rall's portrayal of the deceased asking if he would get a chance to kill Arabs was based on his belief the ex-St. Louis Cardinal safety was legitimately racially insensitive or simply gung-ho to the point of racial insensitivity:
The latter. Tillman did have a history of violence, having served a month in prison for assaulting some dude his friend didn't like. And his reaction to 9/11 wasn't, like most of us, to sit back and see what Bush was going to do. No, he enlisted--something that, it isn't hard to assume, he did to kick Muslim ass. Remember, this was in the spring of 2002, while the war in Afghanistan was winding down. Tillman knew he was going to Iraq, and in fact that was his first tour of duty. (He was sent to Afghanistan later.) So he in effect volunteered to take out Saddam--as if Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Now anyone with half a brain or a newspaper subscription knew that that wasn't true. They knew that at the time. So draw your conclusion -- I did.
Asked if he found anything of interest in reports from the funeral services that Tillman himself was uncomfortable with the hero label, Rall responded with a few words of praise and a final justification for his recent cartoon. "I think it's obvious that Tillman didn't want the hero label," Rall said. "That's why he traveled away from Phoenix to enlist. The guy definitely died for his beliefs; he had integrity. But lots of people died and fought gallantly for false or evil beliefs. The soldiers of the Confederacy did. Should they be honored? How about the fallen of the SS? I think not. Tillman wasn't fair game for a cartoon, but media coverage, and political exploitation by the right of his 'heroic' death was. That's what I did."