Cartoon Choice Raises Question Of Patriotism

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On Tuesday, March 14, we ran a cartoon on our Opinion page that made light of the public apology Harry Whittington gave to Dick Cheney for the embarrassment the vice president had gone through after a hunting accident in which Whittington was injured.

The cartoonist took the concept of a victim apology and put it in the contexts of Abu Graib, illegal wire tapping by the administration and the war in Iraq.

In response, we received this letter from Tom Strunk of Payson:

"Editor:

Your decision to print the "cartoon" by Rex Babin of the Sacramento Bee was in very poor taste.

"I know there are a lot of people out there that hate our government and our country. It seems Rex Babin is one of them. How soon we forget 9-11. Freedom isn't free. We are in a war. Do not disrespect our country again by printing such trash."

While we respect Strunk's opinion, it opened quite a discussion among our staff about the meaning of patriotism, the role of newspapers in a democracy and the current political climate.

It is unfair to say that anyone has forgotten what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. But for many years to come, historians will be examining what happened in the wake of those events.

What many in America have forgotten, is not the events of Sept. 11, but that one of the cornerstones of our democracy is the right to express opinions and to question our government.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, it seems that people who question the government are labeled unpatriotic or "enemies in the War on Terror."

We believe this outlook is not only saddening, but also dangerous to the future of this country.

Our leaders are human. They will make mistakes and if our citizens are afraid to questions those errors in judgment, the United States will no longer be an example of democracy for the rest of the world. We will become another dictatorship whose populace lives in fear of their government. Remember the rule of Stalin whose paranoia placed countless citizens in gulags for speaking their minds. Remember the many who "disappeared" for "not being patriotic" during the communist regime of Nicolae Ceaucescu in Romania.

Or pick up the Feb. 13, 2006 copy of Time magazine and read the article "Google Under the Gun: For access to China, the Web giant agreed to censor itself. Why the company made a hard bargain."

China gave Google access to their lucrative market, but in exchange the Chinese government can censor any information made available through the search engine. If you type in a Google search for "Tiananmen Square" from your computer in Beijing, you will find no references to the bloody suppression of protests at the site in 1989 -- only saccharin tourist information.

Once a newspaper begins censoring opinion for fear of appearing unpatriotic, we have destroyed everything that our founding fathers gifted us through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights all those years ago.

Strunk's letter implied that the cartoon we published on Tuesday was inappropriate because we are at war. But we believe the freedom to publish cartoons that put a magnifying glass on our leaders, represents everything we fought to destroy when we invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban from power.

As a public forum and champion of democracy, this newspaper stands by our decision to publish opinions that are critical of any administration, as well as our choice to publish letters that are critical of that decision.

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