[It's interesting how a much larger event than the Boston Marathon bombings – by every conceivable measure – gets so much less press coverage. Charitably, it's because the chain of responsibility is diffuse in corporate malfeasance, and this makes for a much less exciting story than a couple of insane kids blowing shit up. Uncharitably, it's the transnational corporate media distracting attention from calls for increased regulation. –Des]
By Jack Ohman
25 April 2013
(Sacramento Bee) – Several readers wrote me this morning expressing varying levels of concern about the cartoon depicting Gov. Rick Perry's marketing of Texas' loose regulations, juxtaposed with the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas.
Their comments ranged from "you are a sick human being" to "insensitive and tasteless." I'm not sure I am clinically qualified to give myself a direct diagnosis, but I am pretty sure I am not a sick human being. Let's explore the question of tastelessness.
The Texas chemical plant had not been inspected by the state of Texas since 2006. That's seven years ago. You may have read in the news that Gov. Perry, during his business recruiting trips to California and Illinois, generally described his state as free from high taxes and burdensome regulation. One of the burdensome regulations he neglected to mention was the fact that his state hadn't really gotten around to checking out that fertilizer plant. Many Texas cities have little or no zoning, resulting in homes being permitted next to sparely inspected businesses that store explosive chemicals.
So when the plant exploded and killed 14 people, people started asking the inevitable questions about whether this tragedy could have been prevented.
Well, we're not going to know that now, exactly, but I doubt that more inspections and better zoning would have hurt.
Gov. Perry's name and the explosion have been linked for several news cycles. I didn't just make this all up. It's out there. There is a rather stunning report about all this on ProPublica, the investigative news website. I invite you to read it.
When I have to come up with these ideas, I can assure you that I am not really deliberately trying to be tasteless. I am not. What I am trying to do is make readers think about an issue in a striking way. I seem to have succeeded in this cartoon, one way or the other.
The question is whether it is tasteless or not.
My answer, respectfully, is that it isn't.
Having said that, what normal person doesn't mourn those poor people fighting the fire and living by the plant? I certainly do. What makes me angry, and, yes, I am driven by anger, is that it could have been prevented. I guess I could have done a toned-down version of the cartoon; I am not sure what that would have been, but I think many readers' objections just stemmed from the fact that I used the explosion as a metaphor, period. The wound is fresh, the hurt still stings.
The Texas governor's campaigning notwithstanding, should I have used the explosion as a vehicle to illustrate my point? I did. I stand by it. Here's why: Many readers said things along the lines of, "Would you have portrayed the severed limbs created by the Boston bomber to make a political point?" Hmm. No. I would not. But I have drawn a faceless Iraq war veteran, wrapped in bandages, wanting to know who had to invade Iraq to save face. [more]