Twitter rages: Murdoch's Times of London famine cartoon 'most offensive' thing yet?
An editorial cartoon in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London is causing some outrage on Twitter.
July 21st, 2011
11:45 AM ET

Twitter rages: Murdoch's Times of London famine cartoon 'most offensive' thing yet?

If you thought the outrage over the phone-hacking scandal was starting to die down, The Times of London, one of Rupert Murdoch's own papers, may have brought it straight back into the spotlight.

An editorial cartoon published Thursday morning in the paper with the title "Priorities" shows starving people in Somalia saying "We've had a bellyful of phone-hacking ... " It's causing quite a firestorm on Twitter. You can access the newspaper's site here, but you won't be able to get past the pay wall without a subscription. The paper has not yet returned calls for comment.

The Guardian's Deputy Editor Katharine Viner (@KathViner) tweeted a link to a photo of the cartoon this morning and asked what people thought of it.

And boy, did she get a response. From regular citizens in the U.S. and UK, to politicians, media specialists and PR folks, the responses are rolling in at a mile a minute.

The responses generally fall in one of two directions: utter disgust or the notion that while the cartoon makes a point, having it come from a Murdoch-owned newspaper makes it just straight ridiculous. For some, it's being seen as an attempt to try to get readers to move away from the story and focus on something else.

The cartoon does come a day after the questioning of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has also become a part of the phone-hacking story, during which several UK lawmakers argued that perhaps it was time to move on to more pressing issues.

Emma Gilbey Keller, who is married to New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller and is a contributor to Vanity Fair Daily, had one of the most retweeted responses to the cartoon.

She tweeted the following: @EMMAGKELLER: "Anyone else wondering if this cartoon from today's London Times is part of the Edelman strategy?"

Keller is referring to the giant public relations firm that is now working with Murdoch and his team to try to repair their damaged image after the phone-hacking scandal.

There's been a lot said in the media and online about how the Murdoch empire has handled the scandal. In a post on media blog Mediaite about the cartoon, writer Alex Alvarez calls it a "tacky, potentially offensive cartoon" and says it probably isn't the right way to divert attention.

"There are several methods of dealing with a much-publicized scandal, some less advisable than others. Issuing a public apology for mistakes or poor judgment? Pretty much always a good idea. Holding individuals responsible for their roles and dealing with them accordingly? Usually works out pretty well," she writes. "Publishing a tacky, potentially offensive cartoon making light of serious allegations AND life-threatening poverty? Oddly enough, that rarely ever works."

She does, however, agree that more attention needs to be paid to the crisis in Somalia and elsewhere - and she's got a suggestion for what The Times of London may do to really make a statement about the issue.

"We agree that eradicating childhood hunger is still a global priority and that outlets diligently, even obsessively, covering the phone hacking scandal were probably not devoting too many headlines to the plight of starving, saucer-eyed children in the first place? Although, hey. Maybe the Times of London can change the tide by donating to charities fighting to end hunger, or devoting an issue to poverty instead of offering up condescending, out of touch editorials that only work to reflect poorly on its already beleaguered employer."

And there is indeed a major problem in Somalia. The president has issued an urgent appeal for international aid as his drought-stricken country faces a famine that has left half of the population in dire need.

Anna Holmes, founder of the popular news blog, which caters to women, acknowledged in response to someone else that she believes there's truth in the cartoon that the famine news has been buried. But she tweeted (@AnnaHolmes) "the media/public can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can talk about hacking *and* famine."

Ryan Bourne, an economic and statistical researcher at the UK Centre for Policy Studies, tweeted (@RyanCPS) "I know the point The Times are getting at, but I find this cartoon very distasteful."

Was it an attempt to guilt-trip readers into changing their focus? Political Scrapbook, a political blog, tweeted (@psbook) that the cartoon was an attempt to tell us to "move on," and in an post on its site, it said "the third and most tasteless prong of resistance has come from a graphic in The Times depicting children in Somalia, suggesting that talking about phone hacking has prolonged their starvation. No one is stopping The Times covering both stories."

Jeff Jarvis, well-known media critic, journalism professor and creator of the BuzzMachine blog, (@jeffjarvis) simply tweeted:  "Good God. Murdoch's troops no bounds" in response to Viner's search for feedback on the cartoon.

Others, like Tim Karr, campaign director of the Free Press, a media reform group, called it "shameless." A lengthy search through the responses finds similar synonyms and sentiments, including that it was "brutal."

One of the most retweeted comments in response to Emma Gilbey Keller's tweet was from (@TeresaKopec), who said the "Cartoon in Murdoch's London Times may be most offensive thing they've done yet."

There's no doubt the comments will keep coming, and in a variety of forms, just as the tentacles of the story continue to grow and the implications of the scandal continue to murk the media waters.

Let us know what you think of the cartoon and the meaning behind it in the comments section below.

soundoff (423 Responses)
  1. Patricia

    Let's keep in mind that the famine in Somalia is much harder to deal with due to systematic corruption. Which is really what the phone hacking is about - systemic lawbreaking, lying, bribery, improper influence over government (on whom we must keep an eye as they deal with this).
    Besides, papers do have multiple pages.

    July 22, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
  2. PR

    "You can access the newspaper's site here, but you won't be able to get past the pay wall without a subscription. "

    umm, yes we can. Simple javascript and the "paywall" melts like butter
    I love imaginary walls, the people who build them actually think they're real and they work lol

    July 22, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
    • d

      show me how it's done...

      July 22, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. PR


    July 22, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  4. Michael

    Wow...This is absolutely ridiculous and done in completely poor taste.

    Trying to use a very serious issue as starvation and famine to try and dodge the bullet for the hacking scandal is totally off base.

    Way to go Murdoch &'ve screwed up...again

    July 22, 2011 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. Exulted

    Poor taste or not, it is the artists right to show his political views through this cartoon. IE political cartoon. Since when are politics ever clean or nice. Most of the things that gentlemen in ties do are atrocious acts that get swept under the rug, and when one artist actually makes a statement people jump on said artist because they can do that to an artist, not a politician. Let people express their opinions, if you don't like it then don't acknowledge it. The more people gripe on the internet the more publicity it gets.

    July 22, 2011 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • FlickDude

      The artist is not the problem. The paper that chose to publish them is.

      July 22, 2011 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Exulted

    ^ and then the children that call themselves adults are fighting over racism on a CNN post, Go Team.

    July 22, 2011 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. Adam

    The fact is that even whilst Hack-gate was ongoing the UK Govt. still managed to donate around £24m to the Somalia-Kenya famine crisis, TWELVE TIMES more than France. I think that as a country we really don't need to be lectured to on priorities, we're doing pretty well as it is!

    July 22, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamie Riden

      Exactly – I put my hand in my pocket for the Horn of Africa some weeks back. That's not mutually exclusive to the phone hacking story. The government have also stumped up, as you say.

      An extremely cheap jibe from NI – and there's been plenty more saying it on radio and TV as well. Bah!

      July 22, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Larry

    During WW2 if I remember,there was a cartoon by David Low that was banned.
    It showed an oil soake sailor in the water,clinging to wreckage.
    Underneath it said.PETROL PRICE ROSE 1 PENNY TODAY.
    The latest Times cartoon could have also used First lady Michelle Obahma campaigns against child obesity in the USA.
    Government mandates calories displayed in fast food outlets.
    The one I would use is The Dog and Cat food advertisemnts I see everyday on TV,you are not howling about the image but that is the hated Murdochs is it not.go open a can of dog food full of that wonderful protein.......

    July 22, 2011 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  9. ron s

    Will people look into the possible collusion of the newspapers and the Iraq lied into war, especially since Blair had a big part in legitimizing Bush..We know how the NYTimes was used thru one it's writers. The one that went to jail.. One thing to hack into a dead girls cell phone another to lead people to a war and their death.

    July 22, 2011 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  10. Tashina

    Murdoch: "These allegations aren't that serious! Won't someone PLEASE think of the CHILDREN!!!"

    July 22, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |

    Proof positive just how humbled Murdoch feels as a result of all his 'empire' is responsible for...

    July 22, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. Amanda

    On a technical note, the newspaper is "The Times", not "The Times of London", just like CNN is not "CNN of Atlanta".

    July 22, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Facts'Rus

    Classy with a K.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dan Simmons

    Was that a picture of allah? Seriously, important news stories are ignored daily and this one is no different. This is an obvious attempt on their part to irrevocably change the story's focus from corruption, fraud, and manipulation, to that of simple-minded outrage over a cartoon that is parceled with a real story. As it was pointed-out in the story, they could have sent reporters to the Sudan and done a real news story, but they don't actually care about the story, just the outrage over the cartoon. It's pathetic and common.

    July 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  15. torbach

    Afghan citizens + soldiers saying "we are just dying to know more about the phone hacking" I'm sure that would have been off-message for the conservative viewpoint

    but to suggest that you are responsible for their starvation is on the side of narcissism; there is no sustainable check against Malthusian catastrophe...anyway, I hear starving children tastes great kids... just saying! ><

    July 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
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