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Boris Johnson asked for resignations in the British newspaper The Guardian for a cartoon published last Saturday, April 29, in which he appeared alongside Richard Sharp, former chairman of the BBC.
About the cartoon
The scene alluded to Sharp’s resignation as chairman of the BBC after he was found to have broken the rules by failing to disclose that he had been involved in the arrangements to facilitate the guarantee of an £800,000 loan to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In the scene, Sharp leaves with a box that reads “Goldman Sachs,” alluding to his former employer, in which there is a squid and what others interpreted as a Rishi Sunak puppet.
Many interpreted these elements as an allusion to the Jewish “puppet master” who secretly controls the world economic and political order and considered a classic anti-Semitic trope.
Next to Sharp, Boris Johnson appears sitting on a pile of manure yelling at him, “Cheer up, mattey. I put you donw for peerage in my resignation honours list.”
Apologies from The Guardian
The newspaper apologized in its corrections and clarifications Richard Sharp and the Jewish community and withdrew the image, arguing that the cartoon did not meet its editorial standards after it received criticism that it propagated messages anti-Semites.
“A cartoon (published in the newspaper on 29 April 2023, and online the day before) about the resignation of the BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, did not meet our editorial standards, and we decided to remove it from our website. The Guardian apologises to Mr Sharp, to the Jewish community and to anyone offended.”.
Apologies from the cartoonist
The author, Martin Rowson, also posted an initial apology on his Twitter account at these terms:
“Through carelessness and thoughtlessness I screwed up pretty badly with a Graun toon today & many people are understandably very upset. I genuinely apologise, unconditionally. A fuller response will be on my website in about an hour. I’ll post the link here as soon as I have it.
In his text he explains that all the criticism was due to the way he represented Richard Sharp.
“And this is where things started going wrong. The portrayal of Sharp takes up 3% of the overall image. I was trying to draw him looking silently furious, by implication with Johnson, in the standard caricatural way common to all political cartoons of exaggerating various of his features (most prominently, I thought, his large forehead and rather hooded, baggy eyes)”.
“As for the pig and the “Dignity Shreds”, I think I painted them red as like scraps of licorice, again not appreciating they could also be interpreted as blood, repeating yet again antisemitic blood libels that have recurred poisonously for millennia. Finally, fatally, many people assumed the yellow polyps on the squid were gold coins and the truncated Goldman Sachs logo simply read “Gold Sacs”.
“I know Richard Sharp is Jewish; actually, while we’re collecting networks of croneyism, I was at school with him, though I doubt he remembers me. His Jewishness never crossed my mind as I drew him as it’s wholly irrelevant to the story or his actions, and it played no conscious role in how I twisted his features according to the standard cartooning playbook. Likewise, the cute squid and the little Rishi were no more than that, a cartoon squid and a short Prime Minister”.
And he closes his text with this paragraph:
“What I’m feeling now is enormous regret, idiocy and deep shame at the needless upset I’ve caused to people through my thoughtlessness, people I never intended to offend. I also feel shame at my own stupidity in failing to apply the rigour I called for in the apology. As I should”.
About “removing” cartoons.
“Taking down” a cartoon in the internet age is useless because, in addition to causing the usual Streisand effect that people will go to see what it was about, you can’t stop it from continuing to be published to explain the issue that led to its removal.
The fact that a media outlet depublishes a cartoon, or any other content, should be seen today as a declaration of intent, a gesture. However, in doing so, it is also necessary to explain the reasons and the context with which the ball continues to roll and, in addition, references to the subject are often made long afterwards when talking about censorship, freedom of expression and their corresponding recurring debates.
Humor in trouble, a compilation of cases (III)
Cases of cartoonists who have had problems of some importance because of their cartoons or satirical illustrations or because of their opinions. There are also some stories of other people who, without being cartoonists, have had problems for sharing them.