Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley has been under fire this week because of a controversial image he drew. It sparked backlash from lawmakers, police groups, and people protested outside of the Tribune’s printing location Thursday night.
The cartoon shows a policeman and a doctor looking at an X-ray of the officer. A Ku Klux Klan hood can be seen on the officer’s spine and the caption reads, “Well, there’s your problem.”
The cop in the cartoon is in for a check up because he felt something was wrong. White supremacists have made it a point to infiltrate law enforcement. That’s a fact. That’s a problem https://t.co/7ZAWoiPmjO
— Pat Bagley (@Patbagley) September 2, 2020
The Utah Sheriffs’ Association criticized Bagley for throwing “a hand grenade” with the cartoon. The group stated it was a “prejudicial” piece of journalism. In response, Bagley tweeted that “White supremacists have made it a point to infiltrate law enforcement.”
But Bagley’s edgy image, along with those like it, are protected under the First Amendment and play a valuable role in public discourse, said RonNell Andersen Jones, a First Amendment law professor at the University of Utah.
“It’s doing exactly what the Supreme Court envisions political cartoons doing,” Jones said. “The Supreme Court has celebrated the role of the political cartoon in our constitutional history.”
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-UT, joined in on the fray, calling the image “dangerous” in a tweet. But Jones said political cartoons that are “pointed” and sometimes “nasty” can be a tool for debate that news or opinion articles aren’t.
“It spurs us to have the kinds of conversations that we ought to be having and it opens the door for counter-speech,” Jones said.
She added it would be hard for Bagley to be sued for defamation for his drawing because it doesn’t target an individual, instead, it speaks more broadly of law enforcement. According to Tribune editorial page editor, George Pyle, the cartoon will remain online.