One picture is worth a thousand words. Or think of it this way: one editorial cartoon is worth a thousand-word column. At the Hotel Angeleno in June, Michael P. Ramirez said, “A reporter is a purveyor of fact. Editorial cartoonists just go back and shoot the wounded.”
The two-time Pulitzer Prize winning (1994, 2008) editorial cartoonist opened the 2016 NSNC annual conference in Los Angeles. Famed for his controversial cartoons, Ramirez gave columnists insights into his working world, and from it, we drew a fresh view of ours. Very different platforms, but clearly our goals intertwine.
Ramirez’s cartoons are carried by Creators Syndicate and distributed to over 550 publications. A multiple award winner, he described his work, “Editorial cartooning is a profession about ideas and concepts. We are the pit bulls of journalism. We are the rapid prosecution and immediate execution. We draw a conclusion, we draw a cartoon, and hopefully, we draw blood. It informs and challenges. An editorial cartoon is a fine instrument of journalism, at times dark with imagery seizing a reader’s attention. It tells a story. It challenges hypocrisy. It exposes the predators of society, and by that I mean politicians.”
Ramirez explained why he applies his formidable drawing talent to attacking those in authority, “History has demonstrated that the powerful can turn into monsters. The journalists report and keep them human. It’s a journalist’s job to hold these government servants accountable.”
A self-described “political wonk,” Ramirez reads four newspapers daily and watches the news hourly to see what the public is digesting. From that, the artist distills pointed commentary into one powerful image. His process offers a lesson to columnists as well seeking to get to the meat of a matter.
Ramirez said, “In order to be judge and jury, one must be informed. Digest the complex issues in order to make concise statements. If you fervently believe in an issue, I urge you to read the opposite, larger and more complex sides of the issues. Know your enemy.”
His editorial cartoons have ignited controversy, threats, and an outpouring of hate mail, but Ramirez remains clear on his mission.
“The important thing is we have that debate, that we initiate ideas, that we have the freedom of information so people can decide for themselves. It is our responsibility to bring these things to light and to debate them,” he said.
In the cartoon of my mind’s eye, Michael P. Ramirez and other editorial cartoonists brandish a drawing pen exploding with bravery and purpose as they gallop into battle. We ride with them. They keep on drawing, and we keep on writing.
(Michael Ramirez is the author of two books, Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion and Give Me Liberty or Give Me Obamacare.)