Rick Perry’s Explosion

In case you haven’t heard the backstory to this cartoon, my friend Jack Ohman, editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee, drew a cartoon criticizing Perry’s flagrant opposition to business regulations in light of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Perry has been visiting California, trying to recruit businesses to move to Texas, citing thes state’s lack of regulations and its low taxes. Perry fired back with a letter to the Sacramento Bee, calling the cartoon a “detestable attempt at satire” that mocked the deaths of the victims. Jack got a lot of hate mail, and even I had Twitter trolls accusing me of not caring about the lives of first responders after I defended the cartoon.

As any cartoonist knows, interpretations of one’s work may vary, but there is a point where subjectivity gives way to willful misreading. Anyone who thinks Ohman’s cartoon makes fun of those who died in West is suffering such poor reading comprehension as to be objectively wrong. This cartoon isn’t like a joke from a Jay Leno monologue — it’s serious. Deadly serious. Far from making light of the tragedy, Ohman is condemning Perry’s negligent attitude toward worker safety in the hopes of preventing more deaths in the future.

After prancing into California trying to lure its businesses away to an unregulated banana republic, Perry shouldn’t be surprised when a cartoonist in Sacramento bites him in the butt.

This whole controversy reminds me of the Tom Toles cartoon from 2006 that elicited a letter of condemnation from the Pentagon. Toles drew an amputee soldier to symbolize the worn-out condition of the U.S. Army, and was accused of making fun of soldiers themselves. Free advice for high-ranking officials angered by a cartoon: it’s generally best not to make a stink, lest you draw attention to the fact that you don’t smell so sweet yourself.


Jen Sorensen is a cartoonist for Daily Kos, The Nation, In These Times, Politico and other publications throughout the US. She received the 2023 Berryman Award for Editorial Cartooning from the National Press Foundation, and is a recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. She is also a Pulitzer Finalist.



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