Last week, the Pensacola News Journal published a cartoon depicting two fire fighters hosing down African Americans as a smiling fire fighter says: “Don’t worry, since they laid off all the journalists in Alabama we can get away with this kind of stuff again!”
The Pensacola News Journal is the most widely read paper in northwest Florida and serves Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
Cartoonist Andy Marlette defended his drawing, saying it was inspired by the news that hundreds of newsroom employees in Louisiana and Alabama were losing their jobs because of cutbacks at Advance Publications. The illustration references famous 1960s-era photos which show fire fighters turning fire hoses on black marchers during civil rights demonstrations in Alabama.
“In the context of the mass layoffs of Alabama’s journalists, the cartoon is a dark comment on the fact that the most sinister things happen — in fact have always happened — when nobody is there to show and tell about them,” Marlette told the News Journal.
IAFF General President Schaitberger immediately condemned the newspaper’s decision to print the cartoon and called on editors to issue an apology.
“Layoffs are never good. At their worst, they tragically hurt people who work for a living. From a business perspective, they can remove valuable experience and institutional knowledge from a work place. News Journal workers have suffered from layoffs in the past year. And the massive layoffs last week at newspapers owned by Advance Publications in Alabama that threw hard-working journalists and editors into the streets and out of jobs during a terrible economy is deeply disturbing. But none of that is an excuse to insult fire fighters -- and it’s time for the illustrator and editors at the paper to stand up honorably and apologize for their ignorance,” Schaitberger said in a statement released June 18.
Phillip Hoffman, president of the Pensacola Professional Fire Fighters Local 707 told ABC 3 WEAR that the cartoon is a direct attack on fire fighters and makes them look like villains.
"I feel that it was very disrespectful to that event to portray it like they did. We're doomed to relive our history if we don't remember our history, and I agree with that," said Hoffman. "But to use that cartoon to show the demise of the print media, that's despicable, absolutely despicable."
Hoffman and other leaders from Pensacola Local 707 visited the newspaper offices seeking an apology and retraction.
“It’s an editorial cartoon. It’s supposed to evoke an emotional response. It’s not supposed to be taken literally,” said Richard Schneider, executive editor of the Pensacola News Journal.
Pensacola News Journal readers are also criticizing the newspaper – just take a look at the comments, some of which are excerpted below.
“This is absolutely ridiculous that you would stoop to such a level as putting this in your newspaper!!! I am a fire fighter and I take great offense to this!! Putting us in such a bad light to make a point for selling newspapers!! You have it in your own requirements to ‘keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally and keep your language decent.’ You have attacked me and all my fire fighter family with even thinking of printing this!!!”
“What would possess this guy Marlette to create such a disrespectful and divisive cartoon and why would fire fighters be brought into the mix? Why would the Pensacola News Journal allow this to run? Very little journalistic integrity in my opinion. Boycott this newspaper.”
IAFF 12th District Vice President Larry Osborne has said that fire fighters can find no record, photograph, nor oral history of anything like what the cartoon depicts to occur in the Jacksonville area. He recalls newspapers running stories in the late 1960s of a bumper sticker being distributed by the IAFF stating,” Fire Fighters Fight Fires, Not People.”
Fire fighters are planning to submit a letter to the editor and are also asking friends, family and other supporters to call, write or post on the Pensacola News Journal's Facebook page how wrong it is to pull fire fighters into the demise of the print media. Local 707 President Hoffman also denounced the editorial on NewsRadio 1620.
You can even email your letters to the editor to managing editor firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is the cartoon that the newspaper published over Father's Day weekend.