Ethical Bang Bang

I don’t think enough people care about ethics. Most of the time when someone acts like ethics is something important to him, what’s really important is catching the other guy for violating them. Yeah, we’re talking about Republicans.

Republicans pretend to care about right over wrong, but they really only care about the politics of it. Currently, they’re attacking President Biden over an issue that they didn’t care about when Donald Trump did it worse. Oh, so much worse. Yesterday, one of my readers tweeted that at least with a Special Counsel, House Republicans won’t create any bullshit committees to investigate Biden’s misplacement of classified documents. I had to laugh. They’ve already created two.

One of the Republicans who’ll be chairing a bullshit select committee with subpoena power is a guy who defied congressional subpoenas over his part in an insurrection. He also ignored sexual assaults he was aware of.

In case you are a Republican, ethics are the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. Do I also need to tell you what “morals” and “principles” are? It explains why the Republican majority’s very first vote was to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. Hell, they tried to eliminate it altogether in 2017 but it didn’t take.

Without ethics, the GOP is perfectly fine with a serial liar among their ranks, George Santos. Speaker (gag) Kevin McCarthy (15th time’s the charm) stands by Santos, who also voted for his speakership, by the way. McCarthy says the voters sent Santos to Congress, but they didn’t know who they were sending to Congress when they voted for that guy. They voted for Art Vandelay and got George Costanza.

There’s an active bipartisan bill in Congress right now that would ban members and their families from trading individual stocks, but even the Republicans who support that don’t have an issue with a Republican president engaging in business with foreign nations.

Republicans are really interested in discovering if President Biden ever engaged in foreign business through his son, Hunter, and I would be too if there was some there there, but Republicans didn’t care about Trump’s hotels and resorts collecting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars from foreign nationals. They don’t care about Jared Kuchner collecting $2 billion from murderer Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. They’re not going to form a select committee to investigate the NRA collecting Russian money. They closed their eyes to the millions of dollars Javanka made while working in the White House, but want to investigate Hunter using his dad’s name to make business deals.

Republicans have literally created a select committee to investigate political weaponization that they’ll use to attack their political opponents on a strictly partisan basis. They plan to investigate investigations and protect criminals. For Republicans, it’s a crime to go after Republican criminals.

Ethics are important and it’s something journalism has always taken seriously because politicians don’t. Chris Cuomo doesn’t have a job right now because he violated journalism ethics. Goons at Fox News who did the same exact same thing as Cuomo still have their talk shows, which shows that Murdoch outlets don’t much care for ethics…like Republicans.

The Society of Professional Journalists and the Poynter Institute both have programs about ethics. My own organization, The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) does not. Why don’t cartoonists want to talk about ethics? Political cartoonists are journalists and most of us who’ve worked for newspapers have had to sign ethics policies in the past, though now there are more and more cartoonists who’ve never seen one of those. Ethicalhoobitywhatty now?

Cartoonists don’t want to talk about ethics because quite frankly, ethics can be hard. Isn’t it easier to ignore them? Republicans would agree. Also, it gets you in trouble to talk about them and makes enemies. We don’t want to go to war with each other over something as minuscule as accountability, right?

I don’t want to go to war with any colleagues either and it’s probably not good for my career, but I’ve done it. I know I’m no more qualified to talk about ethics than any of my colleagues who’ve ever worked for a newspaper (well, most), but at this point, I’m the only one willing to talk about it. Although, a few of my colleagues love when I talk about ethics and piss people off because, hey, get the popcorn. To be fair, I may also be the only one dumb enough.

My concern isn’t to target a specific individual or to have a dispute with someone I dislike. Heck, some violators are really nice guys. I actually like most of my colleagues. I’m afraid if cartoonists do away with ethics then at some point, we won’t be considered journalists anymore. At what point do we get replaced with memes and AI art? Some editors have actually proposed that.

When the Pulitzer Prizes combined our division with graphic artists, the AAEC sent a letter signed by numerous Pulitzer winners and finalists. I do respect the herding-cats part of it, but while arguing that we should have our own category for a journalism award, we included the signature of the guy who now works for Sputnik, a Russian state-owned propaganda outlet, NOT a journalism outlet. he was also fired by the Los Angeles Times for making shit up in his column., which is probably how you go from the L.A. Times to Sputnik.

A syndicate that sells cartoons to news outlets has started distributing an anonymous political cartoonist. We’re not talking about a pen name like Tom Tomorrow (This Modern World) or Ruben Bolling (Tom the Dancing Bug). Their names are public and they’re not hiding. I’m talking about a cartoonist whose syndicate bills him as a “she or he” who “works anonymously”. The syndicate is selling him as an “anonymous” cartoonist. The Daily Cartoonist picked this up, which I believe I instigated because I’m a pain in the ass. This is a violation of every credible news outlet’s ethics policy. Yet, cartoons by “Rivers” have run in Politico, The Week, and even The Washington Post (I’ve yelled at each of them for this. Told I’m a pain). There is no debate that this is unethical. The owner of the syndicate, who makes his living selling content to newspapers, told me that he has no problem syndicating an anonymous cartoonist. The most frustrating thing here is that a syndicate, that’s actually operated by a political cartoonist, is telling every publisher and editor in the country that we’re not journalists, just to make a buck.

Because of journalism ethics, I can’t out the “anonymous” cartoonist here because I’m only 99 percent sure of his identity.

And then, there’s the issue of cartoonists who base their opinions on outright lies, conspiracy theories, and bullshit. Spin is justifiable to an extent as long as you’re not telling lies. Creative license is a tool in satire, but we’re not discussing talking elephants and donkeys here. I’m talking about spreading untruths about voter fraud, immigrants voting, and what’s on Hunter’s laptop (it’s all dicks) just to push your right-wing talking points. There are syndicates selling this stuff to newspapers without any accountability, and they’re being published. Lazy racist lies are NOT a counterpoint.

What’s not for certain, but has been discussed occasionally is tracing. Several years ago, a cartoonist was busted tracing characters from another cartoonist’s work (and it was his second time), and everyone pretty much agreed that was wrong. In fact, the tracer was fired twice. But what about tracing photos? There are several cartoonists who are tracing photos that don’t belong to them. I’m not talking about looking at a photo for reference, which we all do. I’m talking about placing a sheet of paper (or a layer for those drawing digitally) over a photo and tracing it instead of drawing a proper caricature. I didn’t realize until recently that this is pretty common in the business. But is it unethical?

I talked to an ethics expert and he believes what’s more concerning is the legality of it. Is the tracer plagiarizing from a photographer? Other cartoonists, who don’t trace, don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it while others think it’s a violation. So, it’s not really settled, but I think the tracers have answered it for us. Is it ethical to trace from photos? If it is, why hide it?

None of the cartoonists who trace admits it that I’m aware of. Hell, some even go to great lengths to hide it. They’ll post photos of their hand holding a pen over the drawing as if saying, “See? I really drew it.” Others will post videos of them crosshatching after the outline of the face is done. Some will try to hide it by enlarging and reducing the photo while they trace, so if anyone does a layer on top of another layer in Photoshop to compare, they won’t get a perfect match. Tricky.

I know of a few cartoonists who’ve made hobbies of doing the Photoshop comparison of suspected traced cartoons. There’s a club.

What I found really ironic was that a few days ago, a cartoonist shared his latest work, which was traced from an Associated Press photo, and added the hashtags “liar” and “ethics.” What really made this ironic is that the cartoon was on George Santos. I’m sure Tracey was oblivious to the irony.

I’ve heard some readers defend the tracers saying it’s just a method to the end result. Who can argue if it looks good? And some of the stuff really does look great. But, if that’s the case, and it is legitimate, then be transparent. Admit you trace and it’s part of your “process.” What are you afraid of? Honestly, I don’t think any journalism outlet will care at this point. Maybe the tracers are afraid readers will believe they can’t draw. I used to believe the George Santos hypocrite was a phenomenal artist and envied his skill but after looking at his tracings for the past few years, I realize he really can’t draw.

If tracing isn’t an ethical violation, is hiding it one? Is it ethical to sell it to outlets without informing the editor it was traced? Is it ethical when people compliment you on your amazing art skills not to tell them you didn’t actually draw it? is it ethical to sell the original without telling the buyer you traced it? I don’t think any of it’s ethical. Hiding it is dishonest and tells me the tracers agree with me that it’s unethical.

My main point is that all journalists have to be transparent because we can’t trust politicians to be. I believe my association should at least have a discussion about this because we are journalists…or at least we used to be. If we’re not willing to talk about ethics in journalism or have a policy on it, then are we still journalists? Adhering to ethics will maintain our status as journalists. And the AAEC did talk about creating an ethics policy in 2011 when the last big plagiarism scandal hit…and then it quietly went away.

All journalists, unlike Republicans, are required to subscribe to ethics. That includes political cartoonists.

Music note: I listened to Nirvana’s “Bleach” album.

Facebook Suspension Update: My suspension is over and I want to thank everyone who shared my cartoons, blogs, and videos on the platform during my absence. Since I only had about ten days between 30-day suspensions, some of my readers are talking about having a pool on how long until my next suspension.

Signed prints: The signed prints are just $40.00 each. Every cartoon on this site is available. You can pay through PayPal. If you don’t like PayPal, you can snail mail it to Clay Jones, P.O. Box 3721, Fredericksburg, VA 22402. I can mail the prints directly to you or if you’re purchasing as a gift, directly to the person you’re gifting.

Notes on my book, Tales From The Trumpster Fire: There are 19 copies of my book in stock, which go for $45.00 each, signed. Also, I have copies of my first book from 1997, Knee-Deep in Mississippi available for $20.00.

Tip Jar: if you want to support the cartoonist, please send a donation through PayPal to You can also snail it to P.O. Box 3721, Fredericksburg, VA 22402.

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  1. Best summary of ethics I have ever read. To be fair, I am comparing your essay to the AICPA code of conduct. The AICPA have a phrase – ‘acts discreditable to the Professional’
    Even appearance over form, you can loose your CPA license.
    Maybe there need to be licenses. Something to think about and ask Transparency International on their take.
    PS my friend Charles posted when you went to FB jail. You netted a new reader

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Al Franken was always my absolute idol in the Senate.

    However, I never resented it much when he was forced out, somewhat inequitably. Setting a flawless example is underrated.

    Even Saint George was kind of a jerk. He made the dragon wear woman’s undergarments before he killed it.I guess that was especially humiliating for a dragon. (For MAGAts, Saint George and the Dragon are fictional.)


  3. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Ethics, ethics, ethics … “I don’t think enough people care about ethics. Most of the time when someone acts like ethics is something important to him, what’s really important is catching the other guy for violating them. Yeah, we’re talking about Republicans.”


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