It wasn’t an error or an ethical breach, according to the Omaha World-Herald editorial page editor. Innocent sailors died and the long-time cartoonist said he was trying to right a wrong. So why were readers upset?
Omaha World-Herald cartoonist Jeff Koterba depicted a naval ship hitting the U.S. Naval Academy, just days after the destroyer ship the USS John S. McCain crashed into an oil tanker in an accident that killed ten U.S. sailors. It was the fourth U.S. navy warship accident in Asia this year, CNN noted.
“I drew the cartoon because I’m on the side with the kids,” Koterba tweeted. “So that no sailor should have to die in an accident.” Koterba added, “It’s my job to shine a light on problems so they don’t persist. The cartoon comes from a place of compassion.” But, some readers did not see it that way.
A few readers tweeted about their anger over the cartoon. One, Stacey Polston of Arkansas, argued in a letter to the editor that the cartoon was published too soon and lacked compassion. She wrote her daughter is a midshipman who was on the USS Fitzgerald when it crashed in June in the Philippines.
“It’s a tragedy,” she wrote. “Lives were lost. Their families are going through unimaginable pain. I will never ‘like’ the cartoon, but I believe you have the right to publish whatever you want. I just wish you’d have waited a little while before you published this.”
— World-Herald Opinion (@OWHopinion) August 24, 2017
In an Aug. 24 opinion column, Koterba, who has been a cartoonist for the paper for 28 years, told readers he wanted “to offer my sincere and heartfelt apology.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the World-Herald and Koterba to ask how many complaints the paper received, if the paper asked him to apologize and if the cartoon and apology were both in print as well as online. Editorial page editor Cate Folsom responded on behalf of Koterba and the paper, stating, “I want to make it clear that we do not perceive any factual error on Jeff’s part, nor do we view this as an ethical breach. Beyond that, we think Jeff’s note speaks for itself.” Folsom declined to respond to iMediaEthics’s questions, however.
In his apology, Koterba said “a number of readers” including those whose families lost a family member in a naval accident were upset. Koterba lamented, “I thought I was helping the cause. But clearly, with this cartoon, I failed. And for that I am deeply sorry.”
Koterba added that he always tries to bring “compassion and humanity” to his work, as well as provide social commentary on “darkness, to point out that which needs fixing.” He explained, “when innocent sailors die, not in battle, but in yet another naval accident, I believe it’s my job to put pen to paper.”
The World-Herald is a daily newspaper in Nebraska owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. It has more than 1.2 million unique monthly visitors, according to its website, and a weekday circulation of about 100,000.
It's my job to shine a light on problems so they don't persist. The cartoon comes from a place of compassion
— jeffrey koterba (@jeffreykoterba) August 24, 2017
Did you see my statement? I drew the cartoon because I'm on the side with the kids. So that no sailor should have to die in an accident.
— jeffrey koterba (@jeffreykoterba) August 26, 2017