Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Political cartoonist Ted Rall’s comment that the late President Ronald Reagan is “turning crispy brown right about now” provoked a reaction that crashed his Web site for at least 24 hours after the remark was posted on the Drudge Report.

“I think most people view the president as a fair target,” Mr. Rall said yesterday in an interview. “Reagan was a public figure, and he was an idiot. And if he were around and lucid, he would probably say that it comes with the territory.”

In a column published yesterday, Mr. Rall continued his assault on Mr. Reagan, calling the idea that the late president won the Cold War a “myth” and saying, “Reagan elevated unjustifiable military action to an art.”

He also said that both Mr. Reagan and President Bush relied on “Christianist” — which he described as “the radical-right equivalent of Islamist” — “depictions of foes as ‘evil.’”

Mr. Rall’s cartoons are distributed by Universal Press Syndicate and appear in about 140 publications, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury-News. He also regularly posts his opinions at www.rall.com.

He attracted invective and even death threats earlier this year when he implied in a cartoon that former pro football player Pat Tillman was a fool for dropping a lucrative career and enlisting in the U.S. Army to fight in Afghanistan.

The cartoon said Mr. Tillman “falsely believed” that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were linked to the September 11 attacks and that Mr. Tillman, who was killed by “friendly fire” on April 22, was a “cog in a low-rent occupation army that shot more innocent civilians than terrorists to prop up puppet rulers and exploit gas and oil resources.”

“With Tillman, people were offended not so much by what I said, but by the fact that he was a private military guy,” Mr. Rall explained. “And to his credit, he didn’t try to make hay out of what he was doing.”

Mr. Rall defended the “crispy brown” comment and said it was made “to get people to understand that the right is attempting to canonize this guy, and it is ridiculous. If there is a hell, this guy is in it.”

“Imagine what would happen when Clinton dies, and they gloss over the fact that he lied under oath,” said Mr. Rall, 40, who is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and two-time winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. “I bet there will be conservative writers there to point that out and say something similar to what I said. And I think it is completely appropriate.”

“This is journalism, and it is a job, and we are here to tell the truth,” said Mr. Rall, who is also the author of “Wake Up, You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back from the Right.”

“I don’t think the media should be in the business of pulling punches from the left or from the right,” he said.

The piece from which the original Reagan comments were taken, he said, was an Internet posting, which he said served “for random things that pop into your head.”

“Still, I’m not a knee-jerk left-wing guy,” Mr. Rall said. “I am an advocate of the Second Amendment; I don’t believe in abortion as birth control; and I was the first to call for Clinton’s impeachment. I think that this country has shifted so far over to the right that anyone who is a garden-variety Democrat circa 1972 is painted as a Marxist-Leninist.”

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