In 1988 the teachers in Los Angeles, represented by the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), were in contract negotiations with the School Board of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) which ended after a successful strike in the spring and early summer of1989.
In previous contract negotiations the teachers had accepted certain one-time concessions with the understanding that these would be addressed in the teachers’ favor the next time the contract was to be negotiated. It had been an agreement made in good faith that gave the Board time to consider and prepare for the next round.
Instead, the Board reneged on the agreement and attempted to misrepresent facts in an effort to have teachers make more concessions in the areas of hours, wages, and conditions of employment, and was trying to influence the public into believing that, while they were out for what was best for students, the teachers were exhibiting a selfish dislike for them and their education.
The School Board had a public relations department which, as spokespeople for the district, had a connection with local media, and had, therefore, constant access to the print and broadcast media to get the Board’s misinformation out.
The teachers, not having this access, had to find ways to get their message out to as many people as possible, and as easily as possible.
I was hired by my Union to do a series of political cartoons for its publication that went to the 36,000 teachers and others that explained the facts of what the Board was doing, and exposed the misinformation for what it was.
One cartoon appeared on a number of public buses in the city to expose the fact that the superintendent’s chauffeur/bodyguard was making three times the salary of the highest paid teacher for what was essentially a part time job.
In a city like Los Angeles, with its various socio-economic levels and its various levels of literacy, a cartoon could inform an audience about complicated issues quickly, even if members of that audience could not read the Los Angeles Times, or speak the language of the broadcast media. It also could get the message across to the highly literate who might not have had the time to read a complete article about the topic covered in order to grasp it.
This approach became so effective that the Board approached the president of the Union and informed him, actually threatened, that if the Union did not cease publishing the cartoons, they would begin dismissal hearings to remove the cartoonist from his teaching post.
That would have been me.
I was called into the president’s office, informed of the Board’s threat, and asked if , knowing of the threat, I chose to cease or continue my cartoons.
Besides being obviously flattered that my cartoons were found to be so effective they were considered threatening to its subjects, and not wanting to give up my first amendment rights as a cartoonist, I chose to continue, and did.
Jerry Falwell had gone after Larry Flynt because of a cartoon of him that appeared in Flynt’s magazine, Hustler, and that case progressed up to the Supreme Court of the United States.
In 1983 Falwell had sued Flynt citing emotional distress caused by an offensive ad parody in Hustler that suggested that Falwell’s first sexual encounter was with his mother in an out-house. In 1988, Flynt won an important Supreme Court decision, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, when the Court ruled that public figures cannot recover damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” based on parodies.
“At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions.”
The subjects of my cartoons had no leg to stand on in their opposition to the cartoons provided they were not false and made with “actual malice”, that is, with knowledge of its falsehood or with reckless disregard for the truth of the statement.
Even though my cartoons may have made the Board members uncomfortable, they did not make false statements that were implied to be true, so they could not be the subject of damages.
Because of that ruling, the threat to my employment was withdrawn, and my cartoons kept coming.
Now we have Donald Trump, who, finding some are critical of his outlandish statements, lack of policy details, constant talk about himself, use of foul language when it suits him, and his promotion of bigotry toward fellow Americans, and have spoken about it in print media that includes political cartoons, wants to be able to take legal action against those he thinks are unkind to him in their reporting.
In Texas, the day after that school yard fight of a Republican debate last week, Trump announced,
“One of the things I’m gonna do, and this is only gonna make it tougher for me, and I’ve never said this before, but one of the things I’m gonna do if I win… is I’m gonna open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re gonna open up those libel laws. With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people…We’re gonna open up those libel laws, folks, and we’re gonna have people sue you like you never got sued before.”
He thinks “the media is among the most dishonest groups of people I’ve ever met. They’re terrible.”
He basically wants to do away with the First Amendment which states,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
He justifies this undoing or ignoring of this Amendment because, “I’m not like other people.”
There are all the other Americans, and then, according to himself, there is Donald Trump.
Obviously he believes that if he becomes president, he can just write off those parts of the Constitution that he believes do not apply to him, or merely offend his sensibilities.
It will be interesting to see how many people who have objected to the low number of executive orders issued by President Obama in comparison to previous presidents, including George W and the Sainted Reagan, because they claim that he ignores the Constitution will vote for someone who is announcing he will just ignore the Constitution or simply rewrite it and expect people to accept that.
The man who panders to gun owners and the gun industry by claiming the Second Amendment is sacred, seems to have no problem erasing the the First for his own ends.
It is obvious that things do not work that way, but by painting the media as evil, and describing their reporting on the things he says as unfairly attacking his great American self, he is hoping to get his supporters to buy this idea.
Is he objecting to political cartoons because he, like Mohamed, is too sacred to be drawn?
If the Second Amendment is sacred and untouchable, so is the First.
And, if people are having their right to bear arms protected, so should any writer or cartoonist have their right to bear pens as equally protected.