Monday, April 23, 2007

Tinsley's Fillmore is a Foul-Minded Fowl

In the past I have taken to task within the confines of this blog one Bruce Tinsley (and one is more than enough, thank you very much). Tinsley, you see, is the "cartoonist" who is responsible for that piece of journalist excrement known as "Mallard Fillmore." (Note that I use the term "cartoonist" with apologies to the many fine cartoonists who truly deserve the title; Tinsley does not.) "Fillmore" has almost always been offensive and in poor taste, while managing, unlike other taste-free offerings such as the "Borat" movie, to be not the least bit amusing. Now, however, Tinsley has strayed so far over the line as to be an affront to free speech itself.

A bit of a digression here: You will find no bigger defender of First Amendment rights than yours truly. As a proud, card-carrying member of the ACLU, I am a firm believer in Voltaire's maxim, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Contrast this with, say, Bill O'Reilly's habit of inviting guests with whom he disagrees to his show mainly so that he can shout, "Shut up!" at them, while ordering his producer to "Cut the other mike!"

But what some of my fellow Free Speech proponents fail to understand is that, as part of the Constitution, the First Amendment concerns itself with government and its relationship with the citizenry; so, for example, you cannot be arrested and thrown in jail for publicly criticizing the government. (We all know that George W and his Veep, Darth Vader, would eagerly do away with that little protection if they could.) However, if you are paid substantial amounts of money to express your opinion in a public arena, such as TV, radio, or the pages of a newspaper, and you offend a good portion of the viewers/listeners/readers, you can be fired, and there's not much you can do about it. The First Amendment guarantees that you won't be prosecuted for shooting off your fool mouth; it does not guarantee that you'll be paid for it. Don Imus learned this lesson the hard way.

There are other situations in which the government may step in to abrogate your First Amendment right to free speech for perfectly legitimate reasons. For example, you would not be permitted to shout, "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater and start a panic in which people would likely be injured. You would certainly be detained if you stood in front of an angry mob and urged them to smash windows, turn over cars, and set fire to storefronts; that's called incitement to riot. And if you decided to address a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan so as to bring to their attention the many fine contributions of black, Jewish, and Catholic Americans, the authorities would be justified in removing you for your own protection.

With all of that in mind, let's turn again to Mallard Fillmore. The Fillmore strip that ran on April 23, 2007 makes reference to the recent visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus; to her credit, Pelosi was trying to inject a bit of diplomacy into Bush's headlong rush to mire the country into yet another pointless and unwinnable war in the Middle East. For her troubles, Pelosi was roundly condemned by the country's Republican-conservative cabal for "usurping the president's role as maker of foreign policy." (Oh, we have a foreign policy? Who knew?) The always-dependable Wall Street Journal even declared on its editorial page that Pelosi's trip to Syria - a nation with whom we are not at war (yet) - represented treason, and the fact that she did it at taxpayer expense made it all the more deplorable. That three Republican Congressmen had made the exact same trip one month earlier, also at taxpayer expense, was of course never mentioned by the WSJ.

So what did Tinsley's damnable duck Fillmore have to say about this? "Unlike other conservatives," he declared, "I didn't have a problem with Nancy Pelosi's going to Syria... until I found out she was gonna [sic] come back." Cue rim shot. With typical conservative mean-spiritedness, Tinsley's insult to Madam Speaker was about as sickeningly unfunny as Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" for laughs, about as chillingly unfunny as Bush-butt-kisser John McCain crooning, "Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iran." Can you imagine how Fillmore would have foamed at the bill if his nemesis Garry Trudeau, who draws "Doonesbury," had had one of his characters say something like, "I was glad to see that Dick Cheney had gone to Afghanistan... but I was sorry to see that he came back." And Tinsley has more than once taken pot-shots at Trudeau's "Doonesbury" in his own "Fillmore" strip, violating every rule of cartoonist etiquette while only serving to prove how little talent he possesses when compared with Trudeau.

Now, I could be just as crude and offensive as Tinsley, and make some kind of comment like, "It's too bad that Tinsley wasn't visiting Virginia Tech last Monday." But I would never do that, because I recognize the difference between tasteless humor and simple bad taste - a distinction that has always eluded the intellectually-challenged Tinsley. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that Tinsley doesn't have the right to spew his pea-brained hatred in public. I'm saying that he's a no-talent moron, a worthless hack who doesn't deserve to make a penny off the garbage that he has the unmitigated gall to submit to his editor every day. I'm saying that, if anyone in the Media ever deserved to be fired for being stupid, offensive, and un-amusing all at once, it's Tinsley. Safeguarding free speech is a cornerstone of American greatness; so is not rewarding those who cannot even aspire to mediocrity.