Robot 6

Elected official presses charges over cartoonist’s gag

Wisconsin state assemblyman Steve Nass (R-La Grange) has filed criminal charges against political cartoonist Mike Konopacki, claiming that Konopacki’s use of Nass’ letterhead for a gag press release constitutes a felony.

It all started when Nass pressured officials at the University of Wisconsin’s School for Workers to cancel an arts festival, “The Art of Protest,” that would have featured cartoons and other works of art inspired by the labor protests that took place in the state last year. The school called off the festival after Nass and his chief of staff, Mike Mikalsen, threatened to cut the school’s funding. Mikalsen said upfront that Nass feels the funding for the school should be cut altogether, and added, “But we mostly reminded them that Rep. Nass and other Republicans are working closely with UW-Extension on WiscNet and some other pretty important issues, and that if this issue were to go bad and upset conservatives and our supporters around the state, we’d have a problem working together.”

In other words: Nice little school you’ve got there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to the funding.

Konopacki, a freelance cartoonist for local progressive paper The Capital Times, a part-time lecturer at the school and one of the organizers of the festival, called the cancellation “an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and is an attack on academic freedom.” And then he put together a gag press release using Nass’s letterhead (taken from a legit online press release), in which Nass claims he is working with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson to remove Wisconsin labor protest artwork from the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Capital Times posted the press release briefly before realizing it was fake and issuing a retraction.

According to Newsvine, Mikalsen contacted the local police and after some investigation, Nass decided to file formal charges against Konopacki for “misuse of letterhead,” which is a felony. Konopacki, for his part, is unrepentant:

I put words in politicians’ mouths all the time, and it’s never been a problem. Parody and satire are my stock-in-trade. Nass has used his position to attack freedom of speech, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and labor education. And he thinks I’ve done something criminal?

(via The Daily Cartoonist)

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Comments

8 Comments

Freedom of expression should not be stopped by politics. Nass should stop crying when he cannot have his way

break that stupid cartoonists hands then see how funny he is!

Republicans just love playing the villans, don’t they?

Konopacki has every right to make a political cartoon “putting words in politician’s mouths”. Agree or disagree with the cartoon, that’s fine. No foul there. What he does not have a right to do is “borrow” letterhead to rig up a false statement purporting to be from Rep. Nass. Among other things, that is misrepresentation, perhaps fraud, perhaps identity theft because Konopacki is pretending (even in satire) to be Nass or his spokesperson.

stealing letterheads is a crime on par with ripping the tag off of mattresses…

So pretending for the moment that you are in a position of power, you’d have no problem with other people making seemingly official statements in your name when they were not authorized to do so? That is exactly what Konopacki did. The issue isn’t stealing the letterhead, the issue is using it to issue statements which can easily be construed as coming from the person whose name is at the top of that letterhead.

This isn’t a free speech issue, it is an issue of misrepresentation. It isn’t trivial which is why the charges are a felony matter. Konopacki didn’t draw a cartoon of Nass saying these things. He didn’t dress up in a Nass costume and hold a pretend press conferance (if that were a felony, you may as well lock up the entire cast of Saturday Night Live), he didn’t make a sock puppet with Nass’s face glued to it. Instead he took an official letterhead and used it to make seeminly official statements which were nothing of the sort.

Brigid Alverson

March 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I think the problem here is that Konopacki should have altered the letterhead in some way, or come up with an alternate letterhead that wasn’t identical to Nass’s. The other problem—and this goes way beyond comics, frankly—is that the content of the satirical press release wasn’t all that unbelievable. Putting that on a real letterhead was just asking for trouble.

That said, intent should count for something in a case like this, and Konpacki wasn’t trying to scam or defraud anyone. Nass way overreacted, IMHO.

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