Albion Monitor /News

Radical Right Attack on Cartoonist Backfires

by John De Salvio

A Texas chapter of the American Family Association (AFA) is not getting the desired results from recent attacks on two newspapers.

In December the group sent threatening letters to 50 advertisers in the Texas Triangle, a popular gay newsweekly, saying it would broadcast the names of the offending businesses on their daily radio shows. It generated at least one letter of thanks from an advertiser for the "free publicity."

Last week Todd Camp, a former cartoonist for the Triangle who also worked as a graphics editor for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, was forced out of his job handling a children's weekly supplement for the Star Telegram because of some of the Triangle cartoons. The upshot of that was a better job with the newspaper for Camp.

The American Family Association has also attacked the Walt Disney Company, MCI, and the Charles Schwab investment brokerage

According to a January 29 New York Times news story, a woman who identified herself only as a parent sent a letter to the Star Telegram publisher including copies of what she considered offensive cartoons that had appeared in the Triangle. The letter and cartoons were forwarded to Executive Editor Debbie M. Price, who reprimanded Price for "inappropriate subject matter" and reassigned him elsewhere. Price claimed it was "absolutely not a gay issue," but was a "personnel matter independent of any outside influence."

However, the American Family Association later identified the woman as a member of the Tupelo, Mississippi chapter of AFA.

The American Family Association is a national watchdog group founded by Donald Wildmon, and aggressively attacks the media-especially television programming-for anything it deems improper, such as sex, violence, drug abuse, or "anything affecting the traditional American family," according to the AFA Legal Center. "Improper" also includes any TV show with homosexual references, innuendoes, or positive portrayals. The usual form of attack is the threat of boycott by its allegedly large following.

Last year it also attacked major corporations such as the Walt Disney Company, MCI, and the Charles Schwab investment brokerage for catering to homosexuals. They are among many corporations now aiming marketing programs at gays.

Initially major corporations took what AFA threatened quite seriously, and often pulled sponsorship from offending programs. But the fact that AFA has attacked almost every major television program and most major corporations for one reason or another, has led to a weakening of its impact on the media. Corporations that have been targeted by AFA-sponsored boycotts in recent years have reported absolutely no loss of earnings, according to polls taken by Peter D. Hart.

The recent attacks on the two Texas newspapers have been less than successful.

According to the Advocate, a leading slick national gay news magazine, only four of the 50 advertisers pulled their ads from the Triangle; and one advertiser sent AFA Texas executive director Wyatt Roberts a letter thanking him for "endow[ing] our company with free publicity."

As for Todd Camp, he likes his new job at the Star Telegram better, as a feature writer for the arts. And, according to Sebastopol resident Leroy Aarons, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association -- which Aarons founded and currently heads -- is intervening on Camp's behalf.

"Our Texas chapter sent a letter of protest to the Fort Worth paper," said Aarons. "We requested the paper meet with members of our chapter to discuss the situation, and they've agreed to do that."

Aarons said Camp is a member of NLGJA "and we've been on the case. It's a little complicated by the fact that Todd needs the job. He doesn't want to get caught up in the maelstrom here. He's trying to lay low right now."

"If they think that they can force newspapers to back off, they're going to try and do it in other places as well"

Camp did over 200 cartoons for the Triangle, both editorial cartoons and a gay social commentary strip called "Life Underground." The editorial cartoons represented both mainstream subjects and gay-related themes. He was not adverse to attacking the radical right groups for pushing anti-gay initiatives across the country, including the AFA.

Aarons expressed doubt that the Star Telegram "looked at the whole body of his work and then took a deliberate look at the whole situation before jumping to the conclusion that he had a conflict of interest." He said that at the upcoming meeting, NLGJA Texas is "going to raise some of these issues."

He has been watching the ongoing attacks by AFA. "What worries me is that if they think that they can be victorious and force newspapers to back off on these issues, they're going to try and do it in other places as well" said Aarons.

As to the action of the Star Telegram, he thinks "they acted precipitously, unquestionably." He said that the newspaper is owned by Capitol Cities/ABC, which recently gave domestic partnership benefits to all its employees. "I don't think there was a venal anti-gay conspiracy happening at the Fort Worth Star Telegram," he said. "I think they got caught in this web. They acted precipitously and made some dumb mistakes."

Albion Monitor January 31, 1996 (

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