“A Punch Straight for the Heart”: Disparaging Political Cartoons and Ethical Guidelines


  • Ayesha Ashfaq Arizona State University
  • Joseph Russomanno Arizona State University




The field of political cartooning is an important element of editorial commentary in mass media worldwide. The content of cartoons, however, is sometimes disparaging, offensive and hateful toward members of “out groups,” whether defined according to race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. As this article illustrates, this disparagement can have serious and unfortunate outcomes – from protest that turns violent – even deadly – to the alienation of those disparaged. This is particularly concerning in an age when media content may be viewed across cultural and national boundaries within moments of its publication. It is important to recognize the absence of cross-cultural sensitivity that often contributes to these situations. This article seeks to identify the ethical dilemmas in disparaging political cartoons by analyzing theoretical perspectives in both humor and ethics. Approaching these dilemmas from a global perspective, the article proposes a multi-point set of ethical guidelines, while also acknowledging the tension between free speech/press and the recommendation that cartoonists, editors and media organizations selfimpose standards that, in effect, can limit their freedom. Particularly given that the primary organization promoting the interests of the U.S. political cartoonists – the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists – does not have a code of ethics, it is suggested that the guidelines proposed herein are especially appropriate for consideration. Ultimately, as with any code of ethics, the hope is that this one leads to a product that better respects multiple perspectives worldwide.


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