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. JacklynD

    This cartoon crystalizes the Murdoch's culture – manipulative, hypocritical, shameless, and unprincipled.

    The Murdochs are responsible for hiring the editor who decided, at the height of the Murdoch's trouble, this cartoon would diminish interest and make fools of the people "persecuting" them. They should be fired for utter stupidity.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NipponReptilian

    I want to see a cartoon "Rupert Murdoch, the last dinasour with the raptor claws" or "Mrs. Murdoch jumped like a Tyrannosaurus to smack the joker with a pie from FOX JOKES"

    July 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Peter E

    Priorities... In the past 3 years let's count the number of articles/news segments Murdoch's papers and channels spent on trivialities, useless editorials bashing Obama, or just random hollywood celebrities for that matter. Or even just look at the amount of time all these news outlets spend on sports SPECULATION (not news, just speculation) on what would happen IF some second-rate athlete would switch teams.
    Now compare that to the actual number of articles/news they spent on this suddenly important issue of hunger in Somalia.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Great post!

      July 21, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger Noe

      Excellent point Peter E.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. OceanLight

    Both blasphemy and making fun of real human suffering must be banned.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lthomson

      Can't ban blasphemy dude, doesn't apply to people who aren't religious. To me, there is no such thing as blasphemy.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David M

    One the one hand, it's what happens when people have not ethics or morals. Everything is a joke.

    On the other hand, maybe the point is that we should spend more energy on feeding hungry kids in the world. Murdock is absorbed in the bottom line, not the integrity of his newspapers. Maybe he should be a little more absorbed in the realities of the rest of the world.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kevin

    The only link between starvation in Africa and the Murdoch scandal is that both happen in part because of greed and a lack of human decency. Unbelievable that one of his newspapers would print such a self-serving cartoon, but then again, we've known about the type of companies he runs for years. FOX News lies openly and has for years, this being one of the major themes of "Outfoxed." He and his businesses will get what is coming to them.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • RobbD

      Bingo...thank you.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GM

    Really people? Get with the purpose of the cartoon! It is meant to shock you into waking up and shows that our priorities with Murdoch are off base. We should be paying more attention as a species to the plight of a much higher purpose; being, famine and suffering. My goodness the IQ on this planet is plummeting.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      You're not helping with your goose-stepping behind the Murdoch banner.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lthomson

      While noting that everyone already understands that GM, I will say that you've managed to prove your own point rather swimmingly.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bryan

      The point is–that message should be coming from someone besides Murdoch's papers. Dope.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Palooka

      By all means trivialize pepole's legitimate concerns for their privacy, comrade.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    I think if the Brits put down their tabloids and left-wing rags like the Guardian, they might actually find a way to recapture their former glory.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lthomson

      Yeah, then they can become a crumbling third-world economy that is about to go into debt default, just like the U.S.! Brilliant idea.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Eric of Reseda

    The Murdochs simply do not get it!!! They are part of the Culture of the Rich, who are increasingly out-of-touch.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lthomson

      Not increasingly. Actually, provably decreasingly. If you think they're out of touch now, go back in time to feudal times.

      The point is, the more security a person develops, from an earlier age, the more anti-social they are. Community goodwill is founded on mutual security as an extension of survival instinct. That's how tribes - and communities are just bigger tribes - came to exist in the first place.

      It's why "absolute power corrupts." The person with absolute power loses empathy when he or she doesn't require the security of group comfort, faith and tradition.

      July 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Casey

    Shameless is right. It would be instructive to know how many column inches News of the World and the Times of London have devoted to the famine v. – any number of topics: the royal wedding? Pippa Middleton latest ensemble?

    July 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MightyMoo

    We let them get this big, is it any wonder they rub it in our faces? Honestly.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BillInLA

    Big ears, big feet, big pink lips, alien-shaped heads...Is it possibly that the cartoon could have gone farther to make black people look bad? Even putting aside the context, the visuals look like what a 1930s racist would draw.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Morgana

    The world is getting to a place where nearly all information is being shared. Not much left to do but go ahead and be authentic!

    July 21, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BJane Yeager

    wish there was a way to have Murdoch and crew live in the exact conditions the starving population of Somalia must endure. See if they can defend that cartoon after a year.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. william welch

    A fool is as a fool does.

    July 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
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