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Perspectives on Heston and heaven

April 15, 2008 | 10:46 am

Bob Smith of Glendale calls him Chuck Heston -- he knew the man for 20 years and spent time with him at the L.A. Tennis Club -- and was horrified to see the Matt Wuerker cartoon in The Times' opinion pages on April 8.

The drawing, which ran in black and white in The Times, showed Heston at the Pearly Gates hoisting a rifle and wearing an NRA shirt while St. Peter says, "I don't care if the guy says he's Moses! Pry the gun from his cold, dead hands, or he isn't going nowhere..."

In a phone message, Smith called the cartoon "unbelievably tasteless." In a conversation later, he added, "I was horrified to see that caricature in The Times. He was one of the fairest-minded people you'll ever see on this planet. And it's cheap to go after his image after he's passed away."

Many other readers who didn't know Heston personally also raised concerns.  Eric Cooper of Santa Monica also thought the cartoon was in "extremely bad taste": "No matter what his or your views ... the week he passes away is not the time to make him the butt of a joke. Why ridicule someone who can now no longer respond? He lived over 80 years. Ya had plenty of time." Cooper added he doesn't happen to share Heston's perspective on guns.

In a note that he sent back to one reader, Editorial Pages Editor Jim Newton said that he was sorry that readers were so offended by the cartoon, but he offered as well his thinking on the opinion pages as a forum.

Wrote Newton in response to those objecting to the drawing: "It was, obviously, intended to be provocative, and thus sure to offend some. That said, Heston was a controversial figure who staked out a view on guns that offended many people over many years. The cartoonist obviously saw that as fair game, and while we paused over it before publishing it, it seemed to fall within the realm of spirited debate to go ahead.

"As I'm sure you recognize, cartoons, like other works of opinion journalism, are meant to provoke and even offend. That's a dicey business, as everyone has their own line between legitimate provocation and unacceptable offense. Paul Conrad, this paper's longtime cartoonist, regularly offended supporters of Israel and many political conservatives. Michael Ramirez, Conrad's wonderful successor (and a winner, this week, of the Pulitzer Prize), regularly agitated liberals with his barbed conservatism. Both generated many notes such as the one you sent me this morning.

"Obviously, this piece crossed the line between provocative and offensive for you, and I'm sorry that it caused you such anger. I received a number of other emails yesterday and today from readers who appreciated it, so they obviously processed it differently."

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