Lessons from “Learn to Speak Tea Bag”

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“For nearly two months, the animated political cartoon sat on NPR.org virtually unnoticed. And then someone discovered it, was disgusted and launched it into the blogosphere — making it a raucous rallying point for conservatives,” writes NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard in her column on “Learn to Speak Tea Bag” by cartoonist Mark Fiore. The 90-second animation caricatures activists aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement and uses a sexual reference that was lost on Ellen Silva, the NPR editor who approved the piece, and many others, apparently. ‘[T]here are problems with the Tea Bag animation,” Shepard writes. “Chief among them is it doesn’t fit with NPR values, one of which is a belief in civility and civil discourse. Fiore is talented, but this cartoon is just a mean-spirited attack on people who think differently than he does and doesn’t broaden the debate. It engages in the same kind of name-calling the cartoon supposedly mocks.” NPR is standing by its decision to publish the cartoon. Shepard warns that NPR needs to recruit an equally funny conservative cartoonist fast: “Critics are right to take NPR to task for only representing one side using such a strong visual medium as an animated cartoon with sound and text.”

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