Is Ted Rall a racist, or is Markos Moulitsas’ ship no longer seaworthy?

In response to another in a series of user posts complaining about the work of a wide variety of political cartoonists hosted on, Ted Rall was branded a racist by an unknown editor of and told that his cartoons would not be welcome unless he was willing to depict President Obama in a far more attractive manner. His response can be read here

Much of the audience despises any cartoonist who isn’t a Yellow Dog Democrat. To explain quickly, a posting can get positive or negative votes. Enough negative votes will effectively delete comments, but positive votes can counter negative. Here we go into the madness Matt Bors seems to have inspired in some.

49 positive, 58 negative. This isn’t a poll. A negative vote at this site means you think the content is so hateful it should be hidden from the public. Only long time heavy site users are even given the authority to cast these negative votes. They are the core of the subscription buying user base.

Cartoonist Matt Wuerker was called a racist by several users.  Now, they certainly didn’t gather much steam, but some of them were quite confident that this cartoon was racist.

Users asserted that this cartoon was “straight out of a minstrel show”   Here’s the jumping off point for those attacks.

Eventually, Tom Tomorrow stepped in to defend him and quashed most of the personal attacks being launched at Mr. Wuerker.  This brought the issue to a rapid close.

This is a Tom the Dancing Bug strip. They voted 49 to 68 to try to hide it from the public. They also claimed it was racist, both because The President was drawn as a child among other children, and because he was drawn with an adorable button nose.

Brian McFadden who does The Big Fat Whale also got his turn to be branded an enemy.  They actually gave him so many negative ratings that the automatic ban feature, meant to deal with really horrible trolls and spammers, kicked in.  He was banned from the site and Mr. Moulitsas had to restore his posting privileges.  This was a paid cartoonist Mr. Moulitsas did not want banned!

Mr.Moulitsas in this instance actually wrote a front page post desperately trying to explain to his users what political cartoons are.

Some understood, some didn’t. No editor sent nasty messages to any of these other cartoonists. They’re all still paid to post there. Their work wasn’t censored.   We can assume they didn’t want to raise the kind of stink Rall has raised.

Mr. Moulitsas wasn’t on Thanksgiving break when these other incidents happened.   To his credit, when he was first challenged by users about Rall’s drawing style he told people to move on and ignore cartoons they don’t care for in much the same way he stood up for all of the above artists.

This holiday weekend he left someone else to mind the store for four days and returned to a fait accompli. He had to decide whether to cut off an employee at the knees for a bad call or roll with trying to get some mileage out of disparaging a man who rubs many the wrong way.  Many of these users still harbor grudges resulting from several years of feeling that their complaints concerning staff cartoonists have been ignored.

That’s why he responded to no one in the press until Monday, by the way.

He wasn’t making the decision.  He was enjoying a long weekend. One of Mr. Moulitsas’ editors is now gleefully posting about how much this kerfuffle is driving up traffic and bringing out lurkers. Knowing that Mr. Moulitsas is desperately pumping out emails begging users for five dollar “donations”,  it seems reasonable to wonder what role a desire to please potential donors might have played in his decision process.

Any journalist covering this story should not only ask “Is Mr. Moulitsas right to call Ted Rall a nasty racist bigot and bizarrely claim Rall doesn’t draw anyone else the way he draws Obama?” They should also ask if the user base is adult enough to understand what political cartooning is.  They should question what lengths Mr. Moulitsas will go to in order to float his foundering ship.  One can only hope that getting his own hand back on the tiller will be his first priority.


13 thoughts on “Is Ted Rall a racist, or is Markos Moulitsas’ ship no longer seaworthy?

  1. You know a little more about this than I do, but here’s my hypothesis:

    When Markos banned several prominent black writers during the purge a couple years back (Adept2U, Robinswing, ThisIsMyTime) because they had been calling out people for racism, more black people left the site, and it, and Markos, got a rep for racism.

    Time passes. The remaining black writers post a lot about how white people should listen to black people about racism, because they are the experts on it, as it’s aimed at them, they suffer from it.

    All good. Now, Ted is informed indirectly by Markos that it’s okay for him to post his stuff on Daily Kos. He does so. Many are upset at his blunt style. Markos then tells Ted it’s not okay for him to post his stuff there anymore. Maybe different stuff. Says how he draws Obama is racist (when warnings are unsigned, they come from Markos even if he didn’t write them).

    All that in the face of Ted’s being as strong a voice in the cartooning world as anyone else Markos pays to post there. Markos knew what he was getting into.

    Outcome? Black bloggers feel they have been listened to for a change. Markos gets some street cred back about racism. Ted gets played and has to deal with a bunch of reputation-tarring crap about racism.

    Ted is responding as I expected he would, via demonstrating how he can caricature a politician if he *really* wants to go after him.

    Racist, my hind foot.

    Oh, and Kos needs $5.

  2. Little question that Markos is terrified of the various race-baiting demagogues at Daily Kos, and thus his outrageous, cowardly treatment of this incident.

  3. I have never been a subscriber to “The Daily Cuss” but my wife is on their mailing list. When she received a solicitation for money to help them keep up and running, here’s how she responded:
    “I am afraid Daily Kos needs more than any financial help I could give. I am very upset about your treatment of Ted Rall and his cartoons. Depicting President Obama as a monkey??? He has used a certain style to depict politicians for more years than Daily Kos has been in existence. He is so progressive, his political views make the Kos look like a right wing publication. I hope that Daily Kos apologizes to him, although he does not expect that.”
    Needless to say, I won’t be signing up.

  4. Sad…

    But this is just a symptom of a simple disease. Denial among the Kos readership, and Democrats in general. Namely: Our leaders disappointing actions, and wholesale sellouts, on nearly every issue that Democrats identified with at the time Obama was getting elected. But that’s a symptom too. The real source of our tension and inner conflict?

    Barack “gave a cool trillion to the banks that screwed the economy” Obama?
    Barack “extrajudicial targeted killings” Obama? Stop it!
    Barack “took forever to close guantanamo torture bay” Obama? Why?
    Barack “J. Edgar NSA Hoover” Obama? That hurts!
    Barack “Still in Afghanistan” Obama? Why are we still over there?
    Barack “tried to start another Iraq in Syria” Obama? Say it ain’t so!
    Barack “Just like George Bush” Obama? Could it be?

    I mean, jeez guys. Maybe we should reconsider our party affiliation. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. George Bush hired African Americans to top positions, a positive step that stands apart from the endless litany of shameful garbage he did.

    At the same time, the deep and total screw-ups of the Bush years showed many Republicans that maybe they should think different.

    Well those of us who voted Democrat in 2008 and maybe 2012 can continue to be proud of what we accomplished by electing Obama, completely separate from holding the president, the face of the Democratic party, accountable for his and their pattern of policies and actions that are very, very, similar to the Bush II years.

    If we’re going to be honest, republicans and democrats are BOTH reactionary conservative warmongers who are power hungry, undermine the rule of law, dismantle the social contract between rich and poor that was put in place after much hard work in the 20th century.

    Accusing a left-wing political cartoonist, who has actually a very impressive track record of calling a spade a spade, is shooting the messenger in this case.

    For that matter, accusing the Kos readership is a little bit of a misdirection as well!

    It is Obama and the Democratic party who ought to be on trial, in our court of public opinion.

    Thanks for the article!

      1. The origin of the phrase apparently refers to shovels. I would have guessed something about cheating at cards, but the Internets say different 🙂

      2. @ Miep – Absolutely! I hope my facetiousness was obvious by the “j/k” parenthetical insertion. I, too, thought the reference was to playing-cards, but when I looked it up on Wikipedia ( ), I found that it indeed refers to the shovel; additionally, I discovered this:
        The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African Americans, which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur and/or confusion with playing card references such as “black as the ace of spades”.

  5. Political cartoonists make fun of politicians. So do lots of other people. It comes with the territory. Insisting that *your* guy has to always be treated with respect is kind of creepy and sets a terrible precedent.

    This whole debate, such as it is, turns on context in so many ways. Calling Ted a racist ignores the context of his work, calling his caricature of Obama racist ignores the context of political cartooning. As I have been pointing out repeatedly lately, it is a shockingly weak position to cheer on cartoonists’ portraying the previous, white President as “Chimpy” and then turn around and get all fussy about cartoonists portraying the black President you support, as looking a little simian, or reminiscent of historical racial stereotyping. Imagine the glee of Republican voters, watching this all play out.

    Daily Kos has had long-standing problems with “Special Rules For Special People” – see IGTNT – and this is yet another manifestation of it. It’s elitist and not remotely in the spirit of populism. And it is far too easy to use such to cover up a multitude of sins.

    While racism should indeed be challenged, and people of color granted enough respect to at least listen to them, even if you think they are wrong, without fear of reprisal, the political arena is a rough one and politicians potentially extremely dangerous people. We do no one any favors with a hands-off approach, and ironically, I have never seen any reason to believe Barack Obama sees things any differently.

  6. Thanks for your excellent analysis of the current ongoing debacle at dKos. I really appreciate your inclusion of the history from 2011-12 — I had not been aware of this before.

    Could you provide a link/links to the posts showing this —

    “One of Mr. Moulitsas’ editors is now gleefully posting about how much this kerfuffle is driving up traffic and bringing out lurkers.”

    Not disbelieving you, just want to see this with my own eyes. Thanks.

    1. Mr. Moulitsas

      “SIX MILLION unique visitors on a November of a non-election year? Seriously? It was our third best month ever on a month in which a whole week was lost to the Thanksgiving holiday.”

      He’s quite proud that this drove traffic. He seems to believe that it all worked out for the best.

      This was the one by Susan Gardner I was referring to at time of publication.

      The staff seems to believe they’ve struck upon a gold mine.

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