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SPJ Supports First Amendment Rights of Cartoonist Michael Ramirez


Robert Leger, SPJ President, 417-836-1113 or rleger@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists today saluted Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., for chastising the Secret Service over its interest in Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez.

The Pulitzer Prize- and Sigma Delta Chi Award-winning Ramirez drew a cartoon that was a satirical takeoff of the 1968 photo of a South Vietnamese general executing a Viet Cong officer at point-blank range. Ramirez labeled the man with the gun as “Politics,” aiming a gun at Bush with the backdrop labeled as Iraq. On Monday, a Secret Service agent showed up at the Times asking to talk to Ramirez. His reason? The clearly pro-Bush cartoon “might be construed as a threat against the president.”

The agent was turned away by a Times attorney. Cox, who chairs the House of Representatives committee with oversight of the Secret Service, objected to the service’s actions. He called it an attempt at intimidation that reflects “profoundly bad judgment.”

SPJ agrees. In a letter from President Robert Leger, the Society thanked Cox for his stance and his call on the Secret Service to apologize to Ramirez. SPJ also wondered how this case might have turned out if Ramirez had been an ordinary citizen without a newspaper’s attorney available to him. No citizen should be subjected to a visit from the Secret Service for exercising basic American rights, Leger said in the letter.

The full text of the letter follows.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.

SPJ Letter to Rep. Christopher Cox

July 25, 2003
Rep. Christopher Cox
2402 Rayburn Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
VIA FAX: (202) 225-9177

Dear Rep. Cox:

The Society of Professional Journalists thanks you for your letter to the Secret Service objecting to its interest in taking any action against Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez. You were correct in noting that “The use of federal power to attempt to influence the work of an editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times reflects profoundly bad judgment.”

SPJ is the nation’s largest and most broad based group of journalists, with 10,000 members working in newspapers, television, radio, online, newsletters and as journalism educators. We advocate for the First Amendment, freedom of information, journalism ethics, diversity and promote professional development for our members

Like many, we wonder how lacking in intelligence the Los Angeles bureau of the Secret Service must be to have missed the point of Ramirez’s cartoon. It takes an extreme suspension of common sense to find any threat in the cartoon. Rather, the cartoon was a defense of President Bush against what Mr. Ramirez sees as the president’s political enemies. Perhaps the service needs to add a class for its agents in understanding satire.

We wonder what would have happened if Mr. Ramirez had been an ordinary citizen without a large newspaper and its attorney to stand between him and the Secret Service. Would that citizen now be in jail for exercising his First Amendment rights?

SPJ supports your call for a Secret Service apology to Mr. Ramirez and an explanation to the public as to how this happened and why it will not happen again. We also would urge the Secret Service to assure the public that all citizens’ First Amendment rights to engage in free expression remain inviolate.

And, again, we thank you for speaking out against this outrage.

Robert Leger
SPJ President
Editorial Page Editor, Springfield News-Leader

Cc: Michael Ramirez


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