Readers respond to cartoon depicting suicide bomber Jesus

Last Thursday the Vanguard published a cartoon by Alex Miel depicting Jesus with a bomb strapped around his waist with a caption reading, “How to start a riot (part II).”

Understandably, this imagery has provoked a barrage of responses, many of which you can read on this very page. In the interest of transparency, this article is intended to help readers understand the Vanguard’s decision to publish the cartoon.

Editor-in-Chief Matt Petrie first approached me about the cartoon Wednesday night as we began production on the Thursday paper. We were both immediately aware that the cartoon would likely offend or even anger some of our readers.

One of the first things that we discussed was whether there was anything about the cartoon that we found particularly problematic. We asked questions like: Does the cartoon demean any particular group of people? Is its intent just to offend, or does it make some sort of deeper point? Having experienced heated controversies in the recent past, we also discussed how we would defend our decision to publish a clearly controversial cartoon.

In addition to our commitment to Miel’s right to freedom of speech, Petrie and I hoped that the cartoon’s publication could spark debate on issues of freedom of speech and the nature of offensive imagery.

In the end we decided that the potential benefit to the community of initiating conversation and our duty to challenge our readers were more important than the fact that the cartoon would likely offend some of them.

Because we knew that the cartoon’s publication would likely generate controversy that might affect other members of our staff, we solicited opinions from some of our editors about whether we should publish the cartoon, and sent an e-mail to our entire editorial staff explaining the cartoon and our decision to print it.

Let me make it clear that while I have a personal interpretation of the cartoon, I believe that as a publication we are culpable for all interpretations. But I also believe that part of our role as journalists, especially as a college newspaper, is to challenge readers and provoke reactions that lead to informed discussions.

There has been quite a bit of response to the cartoon’s publication. Much of it has been supportive of our decision, but the criticism has not been as constructive and thoughtful as I had hoped. I feel honored to work in an environment where the right to free speech is never questioned, only the decision to exercise it.

I encourage anybody who has a strong reaction to the cartoon to write a letter (1825 S.W. Broadway, Portland, Ore., 97201), send an e-mail ([email protected]) or call either the editor-in-chief (503-725-5690) or myself (503-725-3883).