The Sorensen Monologues

Archive for June, 2014

Buffer Buffoonery

You can see a graphic comparing the 35-foot clinic buffer zone with the Supreme Court’s luxurious 252-foot buffer zone here.

I’ve been to a couple national political conventions now where the “free speech zones” can hardly even be found by convention-goers. This has always struck me as questionable. And yet the slender measure of security afforded to visitors of Massachusetts’s abortion clinics, which have been subjected to horrific violence in the past, is unconstitutional? Seems like the justices are playing legal Calvinball here.

More recommended reading on McCullen v. Coakley: this piece and this other piece by Dahlia Lithwick on Slate. A key quote:

the First Amendment shouldn’t be a Trojan horse that swallows every other right that we cherish. I think the First Amendment and I need to see other people for a few days.

And yes, things have only gotten worse in the 24 hours since I drew this cartoon.

CD cover art: Relache “Comix Trips”

CD cover art for Relache's "Comix Trips"

Belatedly sharing this CD cover project for classical label Meyer Media. Relâche is collective of musicians in Philadelphia that has been performing avant-garde “Downtown meets Dada” compositions since 1979. I was honored to be asked to illustrate the cover of their latest album, “Comix Trips.” It’s a good album, too! Really quirky, fun, modern compositions that cartoon fans would appreciate.


Iraq: Now and Zen

Ugh, doing cartoons about Bush administration neocons and Iraq is giving me terrible flashbacks of the early oughts. I never thought I’d spend time thinking about the ill-groomed John Bolton again, but there he was on Fox News, saying that past decisions are “irrelevant to the circumstances we face now” and that he’s “happy to discuss the past 10 years and we can start 10 years before that if you want,” but that it’s “not the question that America faces today.” I also happen to be reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen, which contains reflections on Buddhism. The hotheaded Bolton is probably the farthest a person can get from a Buddhist monk, and yet he shares a Zen master’s single-minded — some might say insistent — focus on the now.

Making a Point

Relevant article showing photos of the London spikes here. Apparently the number of homeless there is increasing:

Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, said: “This is happening in a context where rough sleeping has gone up massively. Over the last three years rough sleeping has risen by 36% nationally and by 75% in London. More than 6,400 people slept rough in London last year.””The reason for that increase is the continuing economic downturn, the housing shortage, and cuts to benefits, particularly housing benefit.”

Yay austerity! Why not add a dollop of hostile symbolism while you’re at it?

Soldier Falls Into Hands of American Taliban

The thuggish behavior on the right toward Bowe Berdgahl, his family, and his community has been nothing short of disgusting. In the past week, his parents have received multiple death threats. Officials in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho are being harassed with profane and sometimes intimidating phone calls, such as one promising “consequences” if the town held a welcome home party.

We don’t know all the details yet of what Bowe was thinking when he wandered off his base – or the state of his mental health. But he paid a price for that mistake: five years of hell. Republicans and their media stooges have been trying to gin up controversy about soldiers killed searching for Bowe, but as the NY Times reported by doing actual journalism, the reality was far more complicated. It is reprehensible that CNN has been presenting as fact highly charged claims that this article shows to be very dubious.

I’ve been to Hailey, and saw the weather-worn yellow ribbons flying for Bowe long after the country had moved on from that news story – and from Afghanistan altogether. If Bowe wandered off, so did the rest of America.

Special thanks to Markos Moulitsas, author of American Taliban.


Shooting Star

To be clear, I have no problem with how the Isla Vista shootings have led to a discussion of misogynist hate groups and violence against women. That’s an important conversation to have. What I’m criticizing is the folly of obsessing over details of a shooter’s life and broadcasting his every utterance in the name of “understanding” what happened. Studies show these events are a kind of social contagion exacerbated by certain kinds of news coverage. Austria faced an analogous situation with a spate of subway suicides; a campaign urged less dramatic and personalized coverage, and after Austrian media took this advice subway suicides declined by 80%. (See this PDF from the CDC and other medical groups for details.)

Many progressives bristle at the thought of holding any information back; they associate it with censorship, priggish schoolmarmism, and McCarthyism. But our current methods of reporting on these tragedies do sweep something under the rug: the media context for these events. The news doesn’t just passively reflect reality, and sometimes less really is more. Good journalism does not require publishing shooters’ pictures nor their manifestos, and if news outlets do, they should acknowledge that they are quite possibly contributing to more deaths in the name of keeping the public “informed.”

I’m not saying we shut down all discussion completely; there are ways to report on a mass killer’s motivations without promulgating his entire oeuvre. Responsible reporters can write non-sensationally about the web communities he frequented, etc. And certainly we can talk about the need for better gun control. Changing the nature of reporting is not incompatible with discussing the root causes that lead to these tragedies.

The point I am making is not new. Garry Trudeau made much the same argument back in 1977 in his famous criticism of the New York Daily News coverage of Son of Sam (below I reprint the first of six Doonesbury strips on this topic). Nobody listened then and nothing has changed.

Doonesbury Son of Sam cartoon by Garry Trudeau

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.



Join the Sorensen Subscription Service! Powered by Campaignzee

Or subscribe via Patreon: