Sexual assault is not a subject that lends itself to humor, as Toronto Star editorial cartoonist Theo Moudakis recently found out.
Indeed, many Star readers were the opposite of amused by one of Moudakis’ editorial cartoons that seemingly made light of the sexual assault allegations against former Canadian Broadcasting Corp. host Jian Ghomeshi, according to Toronto Star public editor Kathy English.
Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC in 2014, and his trial on four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcome resistance-choking ended this month. Next month, Judge William Horkins will announce his decision, as iMediaEthics previously reported.
The cartoon by Moudakis, one of four Valentine’s Day cards that played off current events, showed Ghomeshi holding a teddy bear with the caption “You get me all choked up!” Two of Ghomeshi’s accusers said Ghomeshi had a teddy bear called Big Ears Teddy.
“Moudakis’ mash-up of Valentine’s Day and the Ghomeshi trial put the Internet outrage machine into high gear with the Star, the cartoonist and my office receiving messages from dozens of people on social media throughout Sunday and into Monday’s Family Day holiday,” English reported.
Noting she initially “winced” at the cartoon, English explained that it wasn’t a “black and white” ethical decision but that “looking at the bigger picture” it was OK to publish.
“While the cartoon may well be close to the highly subjective line of ‘taste’ in editorial cartoons, the very extent of debate here would seem to me to indicate this does not rise to the level of the Star taking the rare step of making the thing disappear from the digital realm,” English decided.
Some readers thought the cartoon was “completely inappropriate” and an example of “rape jokes,” English said, while also noting that other readers thought it was well-done.
Moudakis told iMediaEthics by e-mail: “The Star really supported me on this, that doesn’t always happen in these over-cautious times. I’m incredibly proud to work here.”
He also pointed iMediaEthics to the comments he made to English, to whom he said he intended to criticize Ghomeshi and not make light of sexual assault. “It’s such a touchy subject and I knew some people were not going to like it, but it wasn’t done to hurt people, especially survivors of sexual assault,” Moudakis told English.
— Theo Moudakis (@TheoMoudakis) February 14, 2016
Another one of Moudakis’ cartoons about Ghomeshi stirred controversy last year, as iMediaEthics wrote at the time. Moudakis’ cartoon “Court Appearance” showed Ghomeshi and that teddy bear flanked by two male attorneys in front of a male judge. But in reality, the two lawyers and judge were women.
Moudakis told iMediaEthics that drawing the lawyers and judge as women was an “oversight” and that he began drawing the cartoon before the actual court scene happened.
UPDATED: 2/22/2016 11:13 AM EST With comment from Moudakis
CORRECTION - February 22, 2016 11:28 PM
Due to an editing error, this article originally didn’t include Toronto Star public editor Kathy English’s first name.