Last Friday, I and several Oracle staff members traveled to Nashville for the annual Tennessee Press Association conference.
We attended workshops on libel and privacy laws, social media, event planning, and had an opportunity to learn from other successful campus newspapers across the state. During our lunch, we heard a presentation from Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial cartoonist, Clay Bennett.
While we heard various presentations and seminars all day long, his was the only one that day of a political nature. He had the floor all to himself for the entire hour while we sat eating our lunch.
Bennet used his time to lambast every prominent Republican politician in the same old way that much more talented satirists and pundits have done thousands of times before (Sarah Palin, really? Can we try for a little originality?), while also mocking the “backwards” state of Tennessee where he chose to live, and his own daily readers who pay his salary.
Bennett sure has a great job. Whereas I lay out a case for my convictions each week, explaining why I believe the way that I do on a given issue, and am answerable to everything I write (Did you read the letter to the editor about Ron Paul?), Bennett, as an editorial cartoonist, can place an incendiary or outright false suggestion out there for the public consumption in the form of an innocent cartoon and not have to qualify it.
If anyone makes an effort to hold him accountable for his work, the answer is “it is satire,” “it’s up to your own interpretation”, etc. And while humorists on the national scene like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at least make an effort to operate under some guise of objectivity—giving just about equally harsh treatment to Democratic opinion leaders and public figures as they do Republicans—Bennett is a predictable parrot for his party’s talking points.
If you read Bennett’s cartoons, some of which were shown to us during his lecture, you would see that they operate on very worn, third-grade schoolyard premises: Republicans are mentally handicapped, George W. Bush hates the constitution, proponents of intelligent design are backwoods bible-thumpers who can’t put a coherent sentence together, and so forth.
Bennett did not pull punches during his presentation either. On the topic of creationism, Bennett denounced this school of thought and added, “All creationism has shown us is that some people are less evolved than others;” the context there implying that “some people” were the supporters of that doctrine—you know, uneducated hicks like myself.
Bennett then went on to default to the standard, boring Sarah Palin jabs that we’ve all heard before. In what must have been an off-script moment for him, he also informed us that he would like to throw a rock at her. I’m trying to think of a way to make that remark sound more intelligent, but there just isn’t one.
Clay Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, said he wants to throw a rock at Sarah Palin. The comment struck me as interesting, though, given the fact that Bennett showed us cartoons during his presentation slamming Tea Party candidates in the 2010 election cycle for their over-the-top rhetoric.
He was likely among those on the far left calling for CNN pundit Roland Martin’s resignation after he sent out an off-the-cuff tweet about the Super Bowl which was misinterpreted to advocate anti-gay violence, or those who sought to score political points off of the unspeakable tragedy in Arizona last year against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by ludicrously suggesting that Sarah Palin’s now famous “crosshairs” map targeting 20 Congressional seats to win in 2010 may have played a role in that massacre.
Bennett’s caustic style of rhetorical bomb dropping and name calling offer nothing to solve our sharply divided, hyper-partisan political environment today. He isn’t offering solutions, or even truth.
I’ll always defend his right to speak his mind, but perhaps some of his thoughts would be better shared with a therapist than with a reading public.