On Friday, the Bucks County Courier Times printed an apology after angry readers flooded the newspaper's phone lines over a political cartoon about the situation at the Mexican border.
The cartoon, drawn by syndicated cartoonist Gary McCoy (whose work is distributed by Cagle Cartoons), shows a Planned Parenthood receptionist on the phone complaining about Republicans "ripping children from their parents." Waiting for an abortion at the desk is a pregnant African American woman.
"Hi! We're running a two-for-one special on abortions if you're carrying twins," the Planned Parenthood receptionist tells the pregnant woman.
"It was a searing criticism and, in retrospect, the cartoon handled both issues without the delicacy that might have helped make the point without alienating readers," wrote Guy Petroziello, the editorial page editor of the Courier Times, adding that the cartoon drew additional criticism for its "racial overtones."
"I thought the cartoonist, not in a subtle way, raised the issue of hypocrisy, which I thought was a relevant issue," Petroziello said. "I heard this argument from … folks who are up in arms over the separation of children from their families at the border, yet have little concern about unborn babies separated from their mothers."
Readers didn't see it that way. Petroziello said the newspaper's phone lines were flooded after the cartoon was shared on social media, with editors and reporters fielding heated complaints. One reader told Petroziello her daughter was in tears over the cartoon.
"I make no apologies for bringing to light the hypocrisy I see from those on the left advocating for the welfare of immigrant children while at the same time accepting the murder of children in the womb," McCoy said. "The reason I depicted an African American woman at the Planned Parenthood counter is to point out, again, that the organization aborts a large percentage of black babies."
The newspaper doesn't have a cartoonist on staff, so it uses the work of cartoonists distributed by national syndicates. But despite having multiple sources to turn to, Petroziello said, it's often difficult to find cartoons expressing a conservative opinion or point of view.
"Probably 80 to 90 percent of them are from a liberal perspective, so it's difficult to try and achieve balance," Petroziello said. "So in the interest of trying to give readers something they might identify with, I try to give conservative cartoons a little bit more of a look, a little greater consideration."
This isn't the first time the Courier Times has angered readers with a cartoon. In 2014, the newspaper said it regretted publishing a cartoon by syndicated artist Chris Britt featuring children urging Santa Claus: "Keep us safe from the police." The cartoon drew an angry response from readers and police officers, including Philadelphia FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby, who called the cartoon "disgraceful and highly offensive."
The issue of political influence on the opinion page recently came up at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where longtime staff cartoonist Rob Rogers was fired after his editor killed at least 10 cartoons, most of which were critical of President Trump. Rogers' editor, Keith Burris, told the Post-Gazette the issue was over Rogers' unwillingness to be edited.
Rogers, who is continuing to draw cartoons for syndication, used the issue of children being separated from their parents at the border to comment on a recent police shooting in Pittsburgh. Antwon Rose, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed Tuesday by an East Pittsburgh police officer while attempting to flee following a traffic stop.