Firefighters protest anti-death penalty cartoon based on bombing photo

PHOENIX (AP) — Firefighters are complaining that an editorial cartoonist crossed the line by using the image of a rescuer cradling the body of a child killed in the Oklahoma City bombing to criticize capital punishment.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Benson’s cartoon was published in The Arizona Republic on June 11 and syndicated nationally while jurors were considering the death penalty for convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh.

A firefighter in the cartoon is labeled “death penalty fanatics.” The child says “Please, no more killing,” and the firefighter replies: “Oh, stop your whining!”

The cartoon mocks firefighters who risked their lives searching for victims in the rubble of the Oklahoma City federal building, said Alfred K. Whitehead, general president of the International Association of Firefighters.

“Firefighters are dedicated individuals who devote their entire careers to saving lives,” Whitehead said in a statement. “To portray them as advocates of death in a cheap commentary is not only offensive, it is repulsive.”

Paul J. Schatt, editorial pages editor for the Republic, said the cartoon doesn’t depict firefighters as advocates of the death penalty and called it a mistake to take an image in an editorial cartoon literally.

“The whole point of editorial cartoons is to exaggerate to make a point,” Schatt said.

Benson on Wednesday said he had no intention of apologizing and was only trying to “point out the ultimate irony of sentencing McVeigh to death.”

“If they want to take it literally, they have completely missed the intent of the cartoon and they don’t understand cartooning,” Benson said. “I don’t apologize to people who don’t understand cartooning.”

The cartoon is based on a Pulitzer-winning photo that showed Oklahoma City Firefighter Chris Fields holding the lifeless body of Baylee Almon.

Fields has seen the cartoon and is “real disappointed and somewhat irritated about it,” said Jon Hansen, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City Fire Department.

Hansen called the cartoon “degrading to firefighters not only in this city but across the country.”

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