Apparently tired of selling newspapers to the legions of Kentucky fans in their market, the Lexington Herald-Leader published an incendiary cartoon in Tuesday's edition blasting coach John Calipari.
Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Joel Pett drew "Coach Cal's Trophy Shelf" with a dollar sign-laden 2012 national championship trophy and empty spaces for his vacated Final Four appearances at UMass and Memphis. Pett also references the recent flap over Calipari insisting on not playing Indiana at campus sites anymore by including a "Lose at IU, take my ball and go home award."
The cartoon not surprisingly has drawn the ire of many Kentucky fans, some of whom are even calling for a boycott of both the paper and the companies who advertise in it. Wrote one Kentucky Sports Radio commenter: "I don't have a HL subscription, but I'm going to call and cancel anyways."
Whether the Herald-Leader made the proper decision publishing Pett's cartoon or not depends on whether it's viewed from a business or journalistic perspective.
There's no doubt the Herald-Leader alienated a percentage of its readership, a very risky move considering the sobering state of the newspaper industry these days. Outrage from Kentucky fans was inevitable because of the timing of the cartoon and the gratuitous shots it takes at a coach who just delivered the Wildcats' eighth national title last month.
At the same time, the Herald-Leader deserves credit for not censoring a cartoonist in his 28th year at the paper just because the opinion he expressed in his work will be unpopular. A columnist or cartoonist should be able to express political opinions without fear they'll be censored by a right- or left-wing leaning editor or publisher. The principle here is the same even though the subject matter is far more frivolous.
Ultimately this is an issue summed up best by Evelyn Beatrice Hall's famous quote on freedom of speech in her biography of Voltaire: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Alas, just like the Herald-Leader has every right to print the cartoon, Kentucky fans have every right to disagree with it. And that's why the phones in Herald-Leader Customer Care Center even now are probably ringing off the hook.
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