Pulitzer-winning cartoonist: GOP = Cleveland kidnapper

Tim Cavanaugh | Contributor

An Arizona Republic cartoonist is under fire for a funny that equates the Republican Party with accused Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro.

In a drawing that appeared Friday titled “Speaking of holding women in captivity…..” Steve Benson, a 1993 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, depicted a dungeon in which an elephant, bearing the label “GOP,” holds in one hand a whip and in the other chains attached to the necks of three women.

The three women wear shirts bearing the respective labels “No Abortion Rights,” “No Reproductive Coverage” and “No Respect for Rape Victims.” The third woman appears to be pregnant.

The cartoon provoked outrage at the paper, which has a weekday circulation of 321,600.

“It is simply unacceptable to vilify someone’s political views by portraying them as a basement sex slave criminal,” local blogger Arizona’s Own Espresso Pundit wrote. “Such comparisons also cheapen and make light of horrific crimes. One of the women in the Benson cartoon is labeled ‘No contraceptive coverage.’ Really? Being held as a starving sex slave in a basement for 10 years is just like not having mandated contraception coverage? … Doesn’t Benson’s portrayal show a shocking insensitively to real victims?”

“To equate the Republican Party with the diabolical actions of the captor is beyond imagination,” reader Joe Callahan wrote in a letter to the editor. “Benson should let these women come back to some kind of a normal life and not use them for his political agenda.”

Opinions editor Robert Leger, however, told The Daily Caller the cartoon “stands on its own” and that the cartoonist seeks to make strong statements.

“Steve’s cartoons are often among the things that draw the most comment,” Leger said. “This one was not unusual in that regard.”

A look through Benson’s archives, however, doesn’t turn up similarly pointed statements against Democrats. One from the Democratic National Convention, for instance, pokes gentle fun at first lady Michelle Obama’s popular DNC speech, while a drawing from later in the election riffs on the NFL officials’ strike by showing a diminutive Mitt Romney, wearing a propeller beanie, attempting to replace a tall, smiling, confident President Obama.

“This Arizona media outlet has chosen to publish an absurd and grotesque image that grossly mischaracterizes the pro-family and pro-life position contained in the Republican Party platform,” Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham wrote in an email to The Daily Caller. “The cartoon is bizarre and disturbing. The fact is that our party supports the sanctity of life and the right of every individual to life and liberty, and we are disappointed that some in the media so falsely misrepresent our view.”

The Pulitzer Prize, named for New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer, is America’s highest award for excellence in journalism. Previous Pulitzer winners include Sari Horwitz, a Washington Post reporter who plagiarized sections of stories on the Jared Lee Loughner shooting; Janet Cooke, another Post reporter whose Pulitzer-winning feature on an 8-year-old heroin addict turned out to have been wholly invented; and Walter Duranty, a New York Times Moscow bureau chief who passed off Soviet propaganda as actual news and denied a widespread famine in the USSR that killed an estimated 6 to 8 million people.

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