On March 25, a visitor to nytimes.com's Cartoons page could find the latest cartoon from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pat Oliphant: an image of a headless, sword-carrying Nazi-like soldier marching a Jewish star into Gaza -- a clearly anti-Israel statement from the cartoonist who the NYT once described as "the most influential cartoonist now working."
The cartoon was widely denounced last week by Jewish groups as anti-Semitic.
But as of today, Diane McNulty, a NYT spokeswoman, has not only disowned the cartoon -- insisting it "was not and will not be published by the New York Times" -- she's also claiming that it "did not appear on our Web site." McNulty made this fairly preposterous claim despite the fact that the cartoon appeared directly under a NYT logo, and the word "Cartoons" appearing above it in the NYT's familiar font.
The NYT has also added this Editor's Note to the Cartoons page today:
Editors' Note: A cartoon by Pat Oliphant depicting Israeli actions towards Gaza that appeared March 25 gave offense to many readers. The political cartoons that are reachable by clicking on buttons of the artists' names on this page are not selected or commissioned by editors of The New York Times but distributed by contractual arrangement.
McNulty's rather illogical position is essentially this: while a visitor to nytimes.com's "Cartoons" section can click on an Oliphant button -- which takes them to a reprint of his most recent cartoon, on a page with the NYT's logo clearly visible -- that depiction of the cartoonist's work doesn't "appear" on the NYT website.
But as any visitor to the NYT's cartoons section on its website well knows, readers can choose from a select few of the nation's top cartoonists, and see their work on a page that has the paper's logo on it -- and today, at least, a flashing NYT house ad for print subscriptions.
The NYTPicker has contacted McNulty to ask for elaboration on just exactly how she justifies the NYT's deniability in this case. She clearly wants to distance the paper from the content of Oliphant's cartoon -- thinking, perhaps, of the ongoing controversies created by the New York Post's Sean Delonas -- but it's a form of hair-splitting that doesn't seem to apply when a link takes a reader to a page clearly marked as a part of the NYT's website.
We'll update if and when we hear from McNulty.
Here's the text of McNulty's letter to one NYT reader who complained:
Dear Ms. Wolinsky,
The offending cartoon by Oliphant was not and will not be published in The New York Times. It did not appear on our Web site either. What did appear there, by a long-standing contractual arrangement, is an "Oliphant" button. This button on the cartoons page took people who clicked on it on March 25 to that cartoon, which is now relegated to the Oliphant archive.
Nobody at The Times, therefore, made any decision to "publish" the cartoon. But, though the click gets you to a page that is not a Nytimes.com page, the banner on the page says "The New York Times .....Cartoons."
We are currently reviewing those arrangements.
Thank you for contacting The New York Times. We appreciate your readership -- and your taking the time to write.
Executive Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations