MOLES AND CLOWNS:
HOW EDITORIAL CARTOONS PORTRAYED
ALDRICH AMES, HAROLD NICHOLSON AND THE CIA
Jeff Danzinger, then-editorial cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor,
penned a cartoon of a novelist exclaiming happily, "Oh, thank you, thank you,
thank you," as he hears the news that "Mr. Ames, a CIA counterespionage agent,
is accused of spying for the Russians even AFTER the collapse of the Soviet
Union...." The caption declared, "Mr. John LaCarre rescued from writer's
block." The debacle of the Aldrich Ames affair of February 1994, through which
a number of CIA contacts in the Soviet Union were identified, arrested, and
executed, also broke through "cartoonist's block" (Christian Science Monitor,
2/24/94). For a brief period, American newspapers and magazines were flooded
with CIA cartoons. In a review of Ames's version of the events (Early, 1997), a
reviewer asks, "Why is it that editorial cartoonists can make great sport of
this hang-dog covert operator who became a millionaire right in front of the
uncomprehending eyes of his colleagues in the 'intelligence' business while
journalistic accounts of the same story are inevitably so?" (Morley, 1997).
This answer, as this paper will suggest, is in the nature and the power of the
Analysis of the cartoons reveals two major themes -- Ames as mole and CIA as
clown. The former is consistent with espionage "tradecraft" and has long been a
great fear of the CIA. The latter reflects a growing perception of the CIA as
the intelligence profession's version of the Keystone Kops. The satire would be
funny had the results not been so deadly. This paper explores the editorial
message of these cartoons.
Research on political cartoons has generally focused on well-remembered images
of presidents, presidential candidates, and other political leaders (DeSousa,
1984; DeSousa and Medhurst, 1982; Grofman, 1989; Hill, 1978; Medhurst and
DeSousa, 1981; Morrison, 1969; Ursitti and Nordin, 1995). There have been a
variety of analyses of political cartoon images and content over the past years,
often involving investigations of political figures, such as images of Nixon
before and after Watergate (Goldman and Hage, 1978; Wheeler and Reed, 1975),1980
presidential candidates (DeSousa and Medhurst, 1982), Jimmy Carter's 1976
presidential campaign (Hill, 1978), Abraham Lincoln and Robert Kennedy
(Morrison, 1969), Bill Clinton (Ursitti and Nordin, 1995), Ayatollah Khomeni
(DeSousa, 1984), Saddam Hussein (Conners, 1995), and Clarence Thomas and Anita
Hill (Marley and Mello, 1995). None have examined how cartoons portray
institutions or organizations. This situation provides such an opportunity.
This study, initially prepared before November 1996, identified an array of
editorial themes in the cartoons of Ames, the CIA and the FBI. In November
1996, the CIA was struck with the treason of senior CIA official Harold
Nicholson, who allegedly spied for the Russians after Ames was uncovered (Pincus
and Suro, 1996). The ensuing editorial cartoons of Nicholson, the CIA and the
FBI permit comparisons with their Ames predecessors. The December 1996
revelation of the arrest of FBI agent Earl Pitts for selling secrets to the
Russians (Richey 1996) almost makes the issue of espionage passe'.
THE EDITORIAL CARTOON
Editorial cartoons occupy only a small portion of an editorial page, which
itself is usually a small part of the larger newspaper or magazine. Ursitti and
Nordin (1995) suggest, "The cartoons, changing on a daily basis, play a large
role in the editorial content of a daily newspaper" (p. 1). Editorial cartoons
are messages expressing opinions about the news, rather than factually reporting
the news. That is why they are placed along with editorials and opinion pieces.
"[T]he cartoon is considered social and political commentary rather than mere
entertainment" (Pieper and Clear, 1995, p. 1). "Political cartoons are a 'safe'
area to express opinions and to make accusations as opposed to news reports
which are to be factually based and not inflammatory" (Conners, 1995, p. 22).
Political cartoons are designed to convey an opinion visually, briefly, and in a
form easy to interpret by readers. Political cartoons provide a simple, usually
single, frame for a message by which complex events can be interpreted with a
single glance (Coupe, 1969; Medhurst and DeSousa, 1981; Morrison, 1969).
While the messages of cartoons are often open to interpretation (Carl, 1970),
they are usually laden with metaphors and symbols common to the readers'
culture, enabling the readers to understand the message. DeSousa and Medhurst
(1982) describe political cartoons as attempts to tap "the collective
consciousness of readers" (p. 85). Cartoons are a form of journalistic
commentary designed to influence readers, as might editorials and opinion
commentaries. Readers sometimes seek simple interpretation and cartoons provide
this. Editorial cartoons can insinuate subtle cues, and, thus, say what others
dare not. Humor, albeit negative and dark, concerning a serious issue can help
alleviate the painful truth of the situation. The editorial cartoon is a
significant form of political and social communication (Harrsion, 1981; Marley
and Mello, 1995; Press, 1981; Reeves, 1991).
Medhurst and DeSousa (1981) identified four techniques used to simplify complex
events or ideas: 1) "political commonplaces," every day topics in modern
politics; 2) allusions, either literary or cultural, from folklore, media,
literature, and the arts; 3) caricature, personal traits of the subject of the
cartoon, often in an exaggerated form; and 4) timely situations during the time
of the cartoon. These techniques, especially the last, can cause difficulty in
interpreting historical cartoons in current times.
Editorial cartoons are primarily a visual medium, with verbal (or textual)
content supplementing or enhancing the visual message. Pieper and Clear (1995)
argue, "imagery is stock in trade for anyone visually communicating a message"
(p. 1). Political cartoons, as Conners (1995) found, make frequent use of
allusions and symbols. With regard to the Persian Gulf war, Conners found bad
guys are dressed in black, while good guys are dressed in white, and time
deadlines are symbolized by hourglasses and calendars. Hoff observed that "an
editorial cartoonist must constantly look for symbols in his work" (1976, p.
189). Editorial cartoons are filled with symbols to represent concepts and to
simplify more complex events or ideas. Symbolic politics (Sears, 1993) suggests
these symbols do influence people, and therefore there should be some effect
from editorial cartoons. Political symbols are powerful devices for evoking
emotions (Conners, 1995; DeSousa, 1984; Nir, 1977). Based on her study of
Saddam Hussein's portrayal during the Persian Gulf war, Conners (1995) asserts,
"Powerful symbols which may appear in political cartoons, as well as other forms
of mass media, may evoke emotion to the degree that there is some influence on
attitudes or behaviors" (p. 11). As Conners (1995) found in her study of the
portrayals of Saddam Hussein, "political cartoons are clearly an important
resources for rhetorical images..." (p. 21). Medhurst and DeSousa (1981) and
Conners (1995) found that cartoons make use of references, such as "political
commonplaces" (Conners, p. 23), such as references to contemporary persons,
events, or issues.
Political cartoons are generally a negative medium (Pieper and Clear, 1995;
Steicher, 1967; Thorkelson, 1979). Most every person or group portrayed is
usually done so in a highly negative manner. Primary techniques involve use of
stereotypes, caricature, or exaggeration. According to Hoff (1976), "an
editorial cartoonist must constantly look for symbols in his work" (p. 189).
These negative or stereotyped portrayals help construct the reality to which the
readers create. Pieper and Clear (1995), in their comparison of Jeff MacNelly's
comic strip Shoe and his editorial cartoons, found reaffirmation of the
negativity. MacNelly's editorial cartoon "nastily depicts political figures
plotting America's future, with little concern for their constituents -- and
perhaps deceiving even themselves" (p. 1).
The impact of cartoons has not been studied extensively. Coupe (1969) argues
that cartoons cannot change attitudes or beliefs because the impact and
understanding of a cartoon can differ from individual to individual. DeSousa
and Medhurst (1982) suggest the importance of cartoons lies in "how readers use
cartoons to understand their culture or maintain their sense of identity within
it" (p. 90).
Editorial cartoons are part of a filtering system that helps construct social
reality. Boulding (1956) argued, "for any individual organism or organization,
there are no such things as 'facts.' There are only messages filtered through a
changeable value system" (p. 14). Edelman (1988) argued that media help
"construct the social reality to which people respond" (p. 34). Anderson and
Meyer (1988) suggest, "Meaning is not delivered in the communication process,
rather it is constructed in it" (p. 47) . They add, "Meanings arise in the
intentions of the producer, in the conventions of the content, and in the
interpretations of the receiver" (p. 48). Ursitti and Nordin (1995) suggest,
"Each cartoonist, by his drawing of the president, presents an image to his
region..." (p. 1). Viewing editorial cartoons from a social construction or
'social action' (Anderson and Meyer, 1988) perspective permits a reader to
investigate, describe, and understand the social reality that editorial cartoons
help construct. Political cartoonists are social judges interpreting the news.
They give meaning to 'facts' as they artistically construct the social reality
responded to by those who view the cartoons.
Contrary to the thesis of social construction of reality, Ursitti and Nordin
(1995) suggest, in their preliminary study of the relationship between the image
of President Bill Clinton in public opinion polls and in newspaper editorial
cartoons, that editorial cartoons reflect public opinion. In effect, the
cartoons are mirrors of society.
Political cartoons have had a long history in American politics and their
popularity continues. The popularity even extends to using political cartoons
for classroom teaching (Rothwell, 1996).
THE ALDRICH AMES AND HAROLD NICHOLSON CASES
The decline, fall and betrayals of Aldrich Ames are now widely known (Hulnick,
1995; Weiner, Johnston, and Lewis, 1995b). At least four books have been
written about Ames, who sold untold American secrets, including the identities
of Soviet agents recruited by the C.I.A., to the Soviets (Adams, 1995; Maas,
1995; Weiner, Johnston, and Lewis, 1995a; Wise, 1995). Likewise, the betrayals
of Harold Nicholson are becoming widely known (Johnston, 1996; Smith and Suro,
1996). Ames was arrested by the FBI in February 1994, pled guilty to selling
secrets to the Soviets since at least April 1985, and is now imprisoned at the
federal penitenary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. Nicholson, arrested in November
1996 when attempting to board a plane for Switzerland, is the highest-ranking
CIA official ever to be charged with espionage. He is accused of selling
secrets to the Russians since at least June 1994, although he has pled not
guilty and trial is set for March 1997 (Grier, 1997; Thomas and Vistica, 1996).
Aldrich Ames, the Soviet "mole" in the CIA, is depicted in the American press
as a bumbler, a fool, a drunk, or an incompetent who would easily have been
caught if not for the failure of the CIA and the FBI to cooperate. Two
organizations have responsibility for seeing these cases did not occur. The
first is the internal security or counterintelligence division within the CIA.
This body is responsible for security within the agency. Clearly, they goofed,
badly (Buckley, 1995; Harper's Magazine, 1994; Time, 1994; Waller and Thomas,
1994). And, they did it again with the Nicholson case (Gertz, 1996; Hall and
Smith, 1996; Landay, 1996a; McCarry, 1996). The second organization is the
Counterintelligence Division of the FBI, responsible for monitoring the KGB's
activities in the United States. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, both the
name and the duties of this division have changed. The FBI is generally
credited as the hero in both the Ames (Duffy, 1995) and Nicholson (Landay,
1996b; Pincus and Suro, 1996; Smith and Suro, 1996) cases. The subsequent
internal CIA investigation of the Ames affair appeared laughable (Cooper, 1994;
Schorr, 1994; Shannon, 1994; Waller and Thomas, 1994). It was the height of
folly and "unwitting humor when [CIA] Director [James] Woolsey told reporters
that the unmasking of three dozen agents by the Russians testified to the CIA's
success in penetrating Soviet intelligence. Who had penetrated whom?" (Schorr,
1994) The internal fallout from the Nicholson affair may prove more damaging
While there is debate over the extent of the damage caused to American national
security (Corn, 1995; Corry, 1996), Ames' betrayal was clearly harmful in terms
of human lives. A number of Soviet double agents, Soviet intelligence officials
recruited by the Americans, were arrested an executed. Some argue that these
agents provide significant information to the United States (Shannon, 1994;
Time, 1995; Van Voorst, 1995)
According to public reports, the CIA should have known something was horribly
wrong. "Everything pointed toward a human penetration. A mole.... Among the
senior officials at the directorate of operations, there was a presumption that
no colleague could be a traitor. Still, the possibility of a mole could not be
discounted." (Wise, 1995) Midway through his career as a Soviet agent, "Ames
was, astonishingly, assigned to the CIA counterintelligence center.... The
master mole was now working in the very CIA component designed to protect the
agency against penetration: the center was supposed to find moles." (Wise, 1995)
ALDRICH AMES CARTOONS
This study attempted to identify and collect as many editorial cartoons related
to the Aldrich Ames case as possible. The editorial pages of several major
newspapers (the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago
Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington
Post, and the Wall Street Journal), the contents of the leading news magazines
(Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report), and weekly collections of
editorial cartoons (Newsweek, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition) were
studied for the month following the first news about the case. The Newspaper
Abstract Database subset of editorial cartoons was searched for years of
1994-1996 for references to Ames, "spy," "spies," CIA or FBI. A specific
request for cartoons was sent to the members of the Intelligence Studies Section
of the International Studies Association. Additional cartoons were collected
over the following 18 months. Because of the nature of syndication of editorial
matter, including editorial cartoons, many of the cartoons collected from
different sources were duplicates. The study was supplemented with several
cartoons about other CIA incidents, including disclosures of CIA links to
murders in Guatemala, the CIA proposal to use journalists as covers, and plots
to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Eventually, 29 editorial cartoons were identified for study. The cartoons
originated from fifteen artists in twelve different newspapers. The two most
prolific cartoonists were Herb Block, known by his pen name of Herblock, in the
Washington Post, and Jeff Danzinger in The Christian Science Monitor. Each
cartoonist drew six relevant cartoons. Bok of the Akron Beacon-Journal drew two
cartoons. Each of the following drew one each: Auth (Philadelphia Inquirer),
Conrad (the Los Angeles Times), Engelhardt (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), MacNelly
(Chicago Tribune), Ohman (The Oregonian), Siers (Charlotte Observer), Smith (Las
Vegas Sun), Summers (Orlando Sentinel), Toles (Buffalo News), and Wright (Palm
Beach Post). Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post used editorial
cartoon-style art work to accompany feature story about the Ames case. Clearly,
the Ames case was editorialized throughout the nation -- Northeast, South,
Midwest, West Coast. The cartoons were reprinted in other newspapers and in the
major weekly news magazines. The reading public could not escape.
The cartoons represent a diversity array of styles. Most of the cartoonists
have won or at least been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes in editorial cartooning.
Thematically, the cartoons can be categorized into six groups. The largest
group, of twelve cartoons, portrays the CIA or FBI as bumbling or ineffectual
investigators. This category could appropriately be called "Keystone Kops."
Two cartoons, one each by Herblock and Danzinger, form a specialized subcategory
of CIA as "clowns." The second largest category, with seven cartoons, utilizes
some animal, usually a mole, associated with espionage. Other animals in the
"mole" category include rats and worms. One category, two by Herblock and one
by Danzinger, places the Ames case in context of wider CIA problems. In
comparison to this "general critique" of the CIA is another category, of two
cartoons, that identifies the Ames case as part of an on-going though unexpected
competition with the Russians. The final category, with only one cartoon by
Conrad of the Los Angeles Times, is the most sober. It poignantly depicts the
victims of the Ames betrayal shot dead by a firing squad. Only one individual
was ever identified -- Aldrich Ames. All the other individuals were
stereotypical representatives of the three key organizations -- the CIA, the
FBI, and the KGB.
Keystone Kops. The largest number of editorial cartoons portrays the CIA as
bumbling investigators, hence the category of "Keystone Kops." A typical
example is a Herblock cartoon of a Sherlock Holmes character, with pipe and
magnifying lens, following his own footprints in a repeating circle. The
footprints read "CIA spy case," and the caption declares, "Hot on the trail"
(Washington Post, 2/23/94). The only cartoon with a Keystone Kops character
features a policeman James Woolsey politely tipping his hat to a man, labeled
"irresponsible agents," who has just driven his car, with the license plate
"CIA," into a house with the address "USA." The policeman, with bald head and
glasses, holds a ticket book titled "Woolsey Reprimands." Officer Woolsey
tentatively asks, "I hope it won't bruise your morale if I write you a parking
ticket." Littered across the path of the careening car are bodies labeled "Ames
case victims" and "national interest" (Washington Post, 10/13/94).
The remaining Keystone Kops are clearly CIA officials, denoted either by name
tags of "CIA" or dressed in trenchcoats and fedoras. Most of the cartoons
imply, or directly state, a blindness on the part of the agency to Ames'
behavior. The first in this series, a Danzinger cartoon captioned "Look out,
Sherlock," shows a bumbling CIA investigator walking with a "bonk" into a giant
column announcing "CIA Agent Ames on a salary of $70,000 cash, drove a Jaguar,
and spent millions of dollars that came from...um...somewhere...who knows...oh,
well...." (Christian Science Monitor, 2/28/94). Appearing within a few days in
The Oregonian was Ohman's drawing of a palatial mansion, fountains, Lear jet,
hot air balloon, swimming pool, and Jaguar. Two agents lead off an unidentified
spy in trenchcoat, who asks, "What tipped you guys off?"
Siers, in the Charlotte Observer, showed three men, two in dark glasses,
fedoras and trenchcoats, while the third is in tuxedo, top hat, diamond stud and
ring. One fedora-topped man said to the other, "I was suspicious at first too,
until agent Ames explained how he saved green stamps!" Summers, in the Orlando
Sentinel, drew two CIA officials watching an agent, trailing money from his
briefcase, get out of a chauffeur-driven limousine with KGB flags. The
pipe-smoking man said to the other, in trenchcoat, "Call it intuition, but I
think we should run a check on Fenwick in a year or two."
Two of the cartoons are direct in their references to blindness. Herblock used
a regular motif of blind man staring at an optometrist's wall chart. In this
cartoon, men are picking the pocket of a person labeled "CIA," who tells the
doctor, "It's just real close up that I can't see very well." The wall chart
reads, "Spy cases within the agency" (Washington Post, 7/20/94). Toles, in the
Buffalo News and reprinted in the Washington Post, drew a reporter, microphone
in hand, busting into the CIA office. An agent in fedora and trenchcoat is
reading the "Senate CIA Report." The reporter asks, "Any reaction to the
report's conclusion that you were grossly incompetent in your inability to find
a spy right under your nose?" The agent replies, "What report?" Using a style
similar to Pat Oliphant, Toles has a side mini-cartoon, with the reporter
retorting, "that one," and the agent responding, "Oh, this one! Is that what it
says?" (Washington Post, 8/7/94).
This category includes the two jabs at the FBI, one by Herblock in the
Washington Post and the other by Jeff Danzinger in The Christian Science
Monitor. Herblock drew two men in fedoras and trenchcoats, standing on opposite
sides of the same column and simultaneously reporting into their walkie-talkies,
"We're keeping a close watch on the enemy, chief" (Washington Post, 5/5/94).
Danzinger has two CIA agents, identified by their fedoras, trenchcoats, and tool
bag labeled "CIA," breaking into an office. Each drawer in the file cabinet is
labeled "FBI." One agent holds a camera above a document, while the other
agent, hand filled with files, announces, "Hah! Here's proof they've been
breaking in and spying on us." Danzinger, as he often does in his cartoons,
takes the opportunity to poke at other targets. On the walls of the office are
two signs, "Keep files neat even if spying," and "FBI policy: 1. no spying
(except on CIA), 2. no crackers in bed, 3. no J. Edgar Hoover jokes" (Christian
Science Monitor, 4/8/94). Herblock had an earlier cartoon of a security agent
as a jester (Washington Post, 3/3/94).
The final cartoon in this category, done by Bok of the Akron Beacon-Journal,
utilizes the most embarrassing spy in American popular culture, Maxwell Smart of
"Get Smart." The caption states, "Aldrich Ames case closed." Shadows of ten
bodies litter the background. Smart, with a CIA name tag, reports into his shoe
telephone one of his most famous lines, "Sorry about that, Chief."
Clowns. Clowns are a derivation of Keystone Kops. Shortly after the CIA
released its report on the Ames case in late fall of 1994, both Herblock and
Danzinger drew their clown cartoons. With the exclamation, "Now we know what
all the secrecy was about," Herblock has a man -- his John Q. Public figure --
pulling a trenchcoat, labeled "CIA," and fedora from a character who is just a
clown (Washington Post, 11/3/94).. Danzinger used the famous clown gag with
nine clowns, a sleeping dog named "Security," and a tiny car named "CIA."
Holding a paper labeled "Report on Ames Case," one clown announces, "The
Congress wants to know how we get so many of us into that little car...."
Another clown whispers the answer, "...deep cover...." (Christian Science
Moles and other animals. Perhaps the most frequent character in the menagerie
of espionage animals is the mole, which appeared in five of the cartoons. Genn
accompanied a Los Angeles Times article on the Ames case with a mole fedora and
trenchcoat, pinned with a KGB medallion, and holding a magnifying lens. In the
mole's coat is the butt of a pistol and in its hat band is a tiny transmitter.
Smith, also in the Los Angeles Times, pictured Ames as a dapper mole seated at a
desk with a view of Washington, D.C. On the floor is a "Moscow Phone Book."
The caption reads, "For several years, no one at the CIA noticed that employee
Aldrich Ames was a mole." Bok, in the Akron Beacon-Journal, drew a giant
stuffed mole situated in the middle of a large office, labeled "CIA
headquarters," filled with men at desks. Two men peer at an explanatory poster
attached to the stuffed mole. One says to the other, "It's about time they
posted a guide to spotting moles."
Some months later, two more mole cartoons appeared. Wright, in the Palm Beach
Post, drew two worried officials at the entrance to the "Headquarters, Central
Intelligence Agency" looking at mole mounds weaving across the front lawn. One
official calms the other, "Relax, from now on our bad mole is being tailed by
our good mole." Auth, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, includes the CIA in a
collection of four "Cold War Anachronisms" (which include the arms race, bomb
shelters, and maps of the Soviet Union). The CIA is depicted as a large mole in
trenchcoat sitting in a easy chair, martini on the side table, sound asleep.
Around his feet little moles in dark glasses and trenchcoats cavort. Two carry
off bags of money; one runs off with a woman; the fourth is tapping into a
Two other animals appear in the cartoons -- a rat and worms. The rat, dressed
as a Washington bureaucrat, is grouped on a giant chair with other men who are
reacting to the sight of the tail of a rat. They are unaware that the tail is
one of their own. The cartoon, without byline accompanied a Washington Post
review of the four recent books on the Ames case. The other cartoon, by
Danzinger of The Christian Science Monitor, has more than a dozen merry worms
wearing fedoras coming out of a giant can labeled "CIA." The worms are waving
good-bye and putting up the sign, "Job Posting, Director" (Christian Science
General critique. These two cartoons were penned by Herblock and Danzinger.
Published around Halloween 1994, Herblock utilized a Halloween motif. He has
two agency "good old boys" sitting in comfortable chairs in a sitting room,
surrounded by eight skeletons in trench coats and fedoras. On the wall is
tacked a sign, "CIA HQ." Outside a bat flies across the moon. The skeletons
carry briefcases, folders, and banners emblazoned with criticisms (some not so
recent) of the agency: "old-boy ethic," "support for dictators," "wrong guesses
on USSR," "mystery building funds," "boners in Haiti," "political boner in
Japan," "sex discrimination charges," and "Ames case boners." With worried
looks, the two officials share, "This place is getting a little too spooky"
(Washington Post, 10/21/94). A year later Herblock penned an axe befalling a
badly tarnished CIA (Washington Post, 12/10/95).
Danzinger's general critique, appearing nearly a year later, featured a
bureaucrat holding a folder stuffed with papers entitled "CIA budget request."
Surrounding the bureaucrat is a trash heap of paraphernalia of the Cold War --
missiles, jeeps, old globes, Russian bears, file drawers, airplanes,
helicopters, and a discarded picture of "Wm. Casey." As with Herblock, and
following one of his own oft-used approaches, Danzinger labels many of the
items: "another successful operation" on the bumper of a trashed jeep,
fifty-five gallon drums (associated with toxic waste) labeled "policy," a spy in
silhouette reading "Clam-Toncy," "no girls allowed" on the side of building with
a CIA flag, file drawers labeled "secritz" and "confusion," a globe with "UR
here," an airplane labeled "you never say this airplane," a "spy schedule --
Tuesday Joe, Wednesday Fred," and a memo announcing "Mr. Ames will be back in
five minutes." The bureaucrat, standing in the foreground, announces, "See the
problem is, we need more money."
Still spying! Two of the editorial cartoons, by Engelhardt in the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch and MacNelly in Chicago Tribune, lampooned public, political and
editorial outrage that the Russians were still spying on the United States.
Engelhardt drew two giant castles, one flying the American flag and the other
flying the Russian flag (with the word Russia on the flag to make it clear),
with two giant telescopes aimed directly at each other. Behind the American
telescope a man in trenchcoat and fedora exclaims to another similarly attired,
"Can you believe it? They've been spying on us!" MacNelly used the
contemporaneous Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Olympic skating match to portray
Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin as two over-weight skaters in "Cold War II."
Yeltsin carries a Russian hammer and Clinton's left foot is in a cast labeled
"CIA spy." Clinton complains, "Ouch! That really hurt, Boris...," and Yeltsin
replies, "Is just practice, Billie." The cartoons appeared simultaneously in
the February 25, 1994 editions of their respective newspapers. The day before
Danzinger published his cartoon in The Christian Science Monitor of "Mr. John Le
Carre' rescued from writer's block."
Spy story. Unlike the other cartoons, which employ some style of humor, albeit
generally quite black, Conrad's cartoon labeled "Spy Story" uses no humor. It
is the most sober and poignant of the collection. Using perspective, Conrad
arranged twelve pillars in front of a wall, pock-marked from prior firing
squads. On the ten pillars passing into the distance are the slumped bodies of
ten victims. In the foreground are two empty pillars, labeled respectively
"His" and "Hers." There is no overt reference to the Ames or his wife, or to
the CIA. If it were not for the words "spy story" hand-lettered at the feet of
the victims, the cartoon may have referred to victims of war crimes. Originally
for the Los Angeles Times, the cartoon was reprinted elsewhere, including the
HAROLD NICHOLSON CARTOONS
This portion of the study attempted to identify and collect as many editorial
cartoons related to the Harold Nicholson case as possible. The editorial pages
of several major newspapers (the New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor,
the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Los Angeles Times, the
Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal), the contents of the leading news
magazines (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report), and weekly collections
of editorial cartoons (Newsweek, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition)
were studied for the month following the first news about the case. The
Newspaper Abstract Database subset of editorial cartoons was searched for
through December 1996 for references to Nicholson, "spy," "spies," CIA or FBI.
Eight cartoons were identified for study. Each of the following cartoonists
penned a relevant editorial cartoon: Block (2)(the Washington Post), Engelhardt
(the Hartford Courant), MacNelly (Chicago Tribune), Markstein (Milwaukee Journal
Sentinel), Peters (Dayton Daily News), Toles (Buffalo News), and Wright (Palm
Beach Post). Like their Ames predecessors, these cartoons were reprinted in
nationally distributed newspapers and news magazines. Five of the cartoonists
participated in the lampooning of the CIA and FBI in the Ames affairs. Although
Markstein and Peters are new to the list, they may have drawn cartoons not
found, hence included, in the Ames portion of this study.
The eight cartoons parallel their predecessors in that only one person is
specifically identified in any of the cartoons--Harold Nicholson. As shown in
his well-publicized mugshot, Nicholson is drawn with his neatly shaped and
trimmed beard. To make the identification unmistakable, the nameplate on the
desk reads "Nicholson."
Four of the cartoons portray the CIA (either directly or as policemen) as
ignorant. Englehart has police cars surrounding a store, with spotlights
blazing into the night sky to attract business. The neon billboard
overshadowing the store announces, "Mom & Pop's Spies R Us." The proprietors,
hands in the air, ask the cops (as an accompanying man in fedora and
trenchcoat), "How did you know?" Markstein has Nicholson, wearing a fuzzy
Russian hat, dancing the classic Russian dance on his desk, with a box of Vodka
on the floor and to sacks of money in his In basket, appropriate tagged "all the
best--Moscow." A man in fedora and trenchcoat, holding a book entitled "How to
spot a security breach," tells a colleague, "I've got a funny feeling about
Nicholson." Wright has a series of people working busily at computer terminals
in front of a map of the world labeled "Central Intelligence Agency Clandestine
Operations Service." One unoccupied worker, beaming with an idiotic smile,
wears the button "Buy Me!" Another worker whispers into a telephone, "...other
than that, he seems perfectly normal." MacNelly, creator of Shoe, the cartoon
about birds as journalists, depicts a man smuggling an oversized letter I under
his trenchcoat. The letter has been ripped from the wall of the CIA. He tells
a CIA security agent, "Keep an eye on things while I'm gone." The agent
replies, "Don't worry, sir. Have a good time in Zurich." The reference to
Zurich is a clear association with Nicholson, who was caught boarding a plane to
Peters, the cartoonist of Mother Goose and Grimm, about the wise-cracking dog,
shows a grinning man holding the neck of his own jacket and sheepishly
announcing, "First the good news...we caught a spy!" In contrast, Herblock has
two sinister clocked agents whispering, "We found another mole in the State
Department--this one was slipping information about us to the U.S. government."
In their hands is a sheet of paper announcing the subject, "Nuccio disclosure of
CIA agent's link to Guatemala murder." In the background is a caricature of the
CIA shield, with the eagle blindfolded, the compass points rearranged, and the
slogan, "uber alles." The cartoon, coming on the heels of the Nicholson arrest,
lampoons the revelation of CIA involvement in the Guatemalan murders, which lead
to the stripping of Nuccio's security clearance. The seventh cartoon, by Toles,
has four spies in a row. The first spy, in fedora and trench coat has the
caption, "The CIA is spending a lot of time lately following its own agents."
The agent watches another through a looking glass. The caption continues,
"Because CIA agents are still selling CIA secrets to the Russians." The second
agent, in fedora and trench coat, is handing secrets to a third agent, in
Russian winter hat and fur coat. The caption continues, "The Russians are
buying the secrets because they want to know what the CIA is doing." The fourth
agent, in fedora and trench coat, watches the Russian with a looking glass. The
caption concludes, "The US government would also like to know what the CIA is
doing, so it pays the CIA to spy on the Russians, so if they ever find out what
the CIA is doing, then we can find out too." In a little postscript (a Toles
trademark) the fourth agent asks the Russian, "Anything in there about us
running drugs for the contras?"
This study has examined 37 editorial cartoons, from a wide variety on
cartoonists in a variety of newspapers and reprinted in news weeklies, of two
major fiascoes for the CIA, the discovery of Soviet or Russian sponsored "moles"
within the heart of the American intelligence community. The cartoons reveal
much about how we feel about the CIA (and spies in general) and how editorial
Only two individuals were specifically identified -- Ames and Nicholson. All
the other individuals were stereotypical representatives of the three key
organizations -- the CIA, the FBI, and the KGB.
The failure of CIA security is metaphorically used to condemn the entire agency
and, perhaps, the entire American intelligence community. Curiously, neither
Ames, Nicholson, nor the KGB are painted as the worst villains, in spite of the
fact that Ames is directly responsible for the executions of at least ten people
and destruction of numerous operations and Nicholson may have jeopardized future
Consistent with the nature of editorial cartoons, there are no truly good guys
or heroes. Even the FBI, responsible for breaking the case and stopping the
hemorrhaging of lives, gets bloodied on the editorial pages. In effect, the
editorial cartoons portrayed gradations of negative qualities -- from stupidity
and incompetence to corruption and treason. Ultimately, it is matter of who
looks worse. This is consistent with earlier studies of editorial cartoons. By
the nature of the editorial cartoon, where everyone is lampooned, cynicism must
be a natural stepchild to the social construction of reality, for the reality
that is constructed can only be negative.
It is interesting to note the parallel production of Herblock of the Washington
Post and Jeff Danzinger of The Christian Science Monitor. They published
cartoons on similar subjects within close proximity. Herblock, the dean of
American editorial cartoonists, has a straight forward style, with little
extraneous matter. Danzinger, a Vietnam veteran who bedevils his own editors,
frequently loads his cartoons with opportunities to take jabs at others
subjects. His central theme will make one point while the cartoon will be
populated with images and words speaking to additional themes. Danzinger
recently left the Monitor to remain with the Los Angeles Times syndicate when
the Monitor shifted to United Features.
The cartoons are laden with symbols, most often those associated with
espionage. The most recurring image is of the spy dressed in trenchcoat and
fedora. His identification is often confirmed by a CIA name tag or desk plate.
Spies are stereotyped by clothing, trenchcoats and fedoras for the Americans
and fur winter hats and coats for the Russians (or Soviets). The cartoons uses
extensive caricature, including Keystone Kops, clowns, and moles. The old boy
network is symbolized by pipes and easy chairs. The most recurring symbol may
be the magnifying glass, symbolizing investigation. The most recurring use of
slang is the reference to moles, consistent with the "tradecraft" terminology.
Other than as scene in Washington, D.C., such as the White House, and Russia's
Kremlin, there are not too many identifiable locales associated with these two
cases. Since locale is not available, name tags or wall plaques (such as a
symbol of the CIA) are used for identification.
Medhurst and DeSousa (1981) identified four techniques used to simplify and
present complex events or ideas: the political commonplace, allusions,
caricature, and timely situations. Of the four, the cartoons of the Ames and
Nicholson affairs use caricature most heavily, followed by allusions. The
caricatures are either of the two culprits, Ames and Nicholson, or of CIA and
FBI personnel generically. The portrayal of security agents is exaggerated
through allusion, either to spy tradecraft (the mole) or to law enforcement
humor (the Keystone Kops). Unlike other studies of other cartoons, this set of
cartoons did not use either the political commonplace (everyday topics in
politics) or timely situations to enhance or simply the messages. This may
because the most useful reference points (either political commonplace or timely
situations) accurately occurred years before. The Cold War is over and the
Berlin Wall has fallen. Any references, such as the wall for a firing squad,
are dated. This may reflect the most curious aspect of these two events. The
harms caused by these two men either missed or came too late to affect the
outcome of the Cold War.
Certainly, the editorial cartoons of the Ames and Nicholson debacles are social
and political commentary of the most biting style. Yet, they also provide
entertainment. These cartoons concern serious issues (involving the loss of
life) yet, through the dark humor, help alleviate the painful truth of the
situation. They successfully convey opinion visually, briefly, and in a form
easy to interpret. In these two situations, the cartoons are rarely ambiguous
or unclear. It is not clear whether they help construct reality or mirror
society. However, since the intelligence business is not part of general
society, the implication is that these cartoons contribute to the construction
of who the public views the CIA, as clowns and moles.
Adams, James (1995). Sellout: Aldrich Ames and the corruption of the CIA. New
Anderson, J.A. and Meyer, T.P. (1988). Mediated communication: A social action
perspective. New York: Sage.
Boulding, Kenneth (1956). The image. Binghamton, New York: Vail-Ballou Press.
Buckley, Jr., William F. (1995). Was Ames a mortal blow? National Review, July
31, 1995, 70-72.
Carl, L.M. (1970). Political cartoons: 'Ink blots' of the editorial page.
Journal of Popular Culture, 4, 39-45.
Conners, Joan L. (1995). Representations of Saddam Hussein as the enemy:
Political cartoons during the Persian Gulf crisis. Mass Communication and
Society Division, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Communication, Washington, DC.
Cooper, Matthew (1994). The blameless world of official Washington. U.S. News
& World Report, October 10, 1994, 6-8.
Corn, David (1995). A talk with Aldrich Ames. The Nation, September 11, 1995,
Corry, John (1996). Deutch treatment. The American Spectator, February 1996,
Coupe, L.M. (1970). Observations on a theory of political caricature.
Comparative Studies in Society and History, 11, 79-95.
DeSousa, M.A. (1984). Symbolic action and pretended insight: The Ayatollah
Khomeini in U.S. editorial cartoons. In Martin J. Medhurst and Thomas W. Benson
(Eds.), Rhetorical Dimensions in Media: A Critical Casebook. (pp. 204-230).
Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
DeSousa, M.A. and Medhurst, M.J. (1982). The editorial cartoon as visual
rhetoric: Rethinking Boss Tweed. Journal of Visual Verbal Language, 2, 52-61.
DeSousa, M.A. and Medhurst, M.J. (1982). Political cartoons and American
culture: Significant symbols of Campaign 1980. Studies in Visual Communication,
Duffy, Brian (1995). The Cold War's last spy. U.S. News & World Report, March
6, 1995, 48-56.
Earley, Peter (1997). Confessions of a Spy. New York: Putnam.
Edelman, Murray (1988). Constructing the political spectacle. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
Gertz, Bill (1996). Officials fear Nicholson may have betrayed U.S. earlier.
Washington Times, November 20, 1996, A3.
Grier, Peter (1997). Ex-Wife's View of Life With an Accused CIA Spy. The
Christian Science Monitor, January 27, 1997, 1, 18.
Grofman, B. (1989). Richard Nixon as Pinocchio, Richar II and Santa Claus: The
use of allusion in political satire. Journal of Politics, February, 165-173.
Hall, Charles W., and Smith, R. Jeffery (1996). A false sense of security.
Washington Post, November 22, 1996, A1, 45.
Harper's Magazine (1994). Not enough intelligence? Harper's Magazine, October
Harrison, R.P. (1981). The cartoon: Communciation to the quick. Beverly Hills,
Hill, A. (1978). The Carter campaign in retrospect: Decoding the cartoons.
Semiotica, 23, 307-332.
Hoff, Syd (1976). Editorial and political cartooning. New York: Stravon
Hulnick, Arthur (1995). The Ames Case: How Could It Happen? International
Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, 8:2 (Summer), 133-54.
Landay, Jonathan S. (1996a). End of Cold War does little to reduce trench coat
sales. The Christian Science Monitor, November 30, 1996, 3.
Landay, Jonathan S. (1996b). The thankless task of catching a spy. The
Christian Science Monitor, November 25, 1996, 4.
Marley, Christine and Mello, W. Bradford (1995). The Thomas/Hill confrontation
makes it to the cartoon page: A content analysis of political cartoons. Mass
Communication and Society Division, Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication, Washington, DC.
Maas, Peter (1995). Killer spy: The inside story of the FBI's pursuit and
capture of Aldrich Ames, America's deadliest spy. New York: Warner Books.
Medhurst, M.J. and DeSousa, M.A. (1981). Political cartoons as rhetorical form:
A taxonomy of graphic discourse. Communication Monographs, 48, 197-236.
McCarry, Charles (1996). All-American treason: do it for the bucks. U.S. News
& World Report, December 2, 1996, 36.
Morley, Jefferson (1997). The Contras, Counterintelligence and the KGB. The
Washington Post National Weekly Edition, March 24, 1977, 33.
Morrison, M.C. (1969). The role of political cartoonist in image making.
Central States Speech Journal, 20, 252-260.
Nir, Y. (1977). U.S. involvement in the Middle East conflict in Soviet
caricatures. Journalism Quarterly, 54, 697-702, 726.
Pieper, Gail W. and Clear, Marie (1995). Imagery of conflict in MacNelly's
editorial cartoons and the comic strip Shoe. Comic Art Section, Popular Culture
Association, Philadelphia, PA.
Pincus, Walter, and Suro, Roberto (1996). Rooting Out the 'Sour Apples' Inside
the CIA. The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, November 25-December 1,
Press, C. (1981). The political cartoon. London: Associated University Press.
Richey, Warren (1996). The Life, Times, and Case Against an FBI Agent. The
Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 1996, 4.
Rothwell, Jennifer Truran (1996). Politics and media: Teaching with cartoons.
Social Education, 60, 326-9.
Schorr, Daniel (1994). Doubles and dangles. The New Leader, October 10, 1994,
Shannon, Elaine (1994a). They wouldn't know a mole if it bit them. Time,
October 24, 1994, 49.
Shannon, Elaine (1994b). Death of the perfect spy. Time, August 8, 1994,
Smith, R. Jeffery, and Suro, Roberto (1996). Waiting to close the trap on
suspected spy. Washington Post, November 24, 1996, A1, 21-22.
Thomas, Evan, and Vistica, Gregory L. The Spy Who Sold Out. Newsweek,
December 2, 1996, 35,
Time (1995). Victims of Aldrich Ames. Time, May 22, 1995, 56-58.
Ursitti, Joseph and Nordin, Kenneth D. (1995). Lampooning the President: Bill
Clinton's image in American political cartoons. Comic Art Section, Popular
Culture Association, Philadelphia, PA.
Waller, Douglas, and Thomas, Evan (1994). The old boys' club fights for its
existence. Newsweek, October 10, 1994, 32-34.
Weiner, Tim (1996). Careers are among the casualties of CIA's latest security
breach. New York Times, November 20, 1996, A1, D20.
Weiner, Tim, Johnston, David and Lewis, Neil (1995a). Betrayal: The story of
Aldrich Ames, an American spy. New York: Random House.
Weiner, Tim, Johnston, David and Lewis, Neil (1995b). The enemy within.
Rolling Stone, June 29, 1995, 34-42.
Wheeler, M.E. and Reed, S.K. (1975). Response to before and after Watergate
caricatures. Journalism Quarterly, 52, 134-6.
Wise, David (1995a). Nightmover: How Aldrich Ames sold the CIA to the KGB for
$4.6 million. New York: HarperCollins.
Wise, David (1995b). The Ames spy hunt. Time, May 22, 1995, 54-61.
Van Voorst, Bruce (1995). One double agent's tale: "he saved American lives."
Time, May 22, 1995, 60.
MOLES AND CLOWNS:
HOW EDITORIAL CARTOONS PORTRAYED
ALDRICH AMES, HAROLD NICHOLSON AND THE CIA
John W. Williams, PhD Candidate
School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
304 E. Exchange St., Jerseyville, IL 62052
tel. 618-374-5230; [log in to unmask]
Prepared for Visual Communication Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1997 annual meeting, Chicago, Illinois
MOLES AND CLOWNS:
HOW EDITORIAL CARTOONS PORTRAYED
ALDRICH AMES, HAROLD NICHOLSON AND THE CIA
John W. Williams, PhD Candidate
School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
304 E. Exchange St., Jerseyville, IL 62052
tel. 618-374-5230; [log in to unmask]
Editorial cartoons have a unique and powerful position in newspaper editorial
content. They derive their power from the visual image, supplemented with
allusions, caricatures, and references to political commonplace and timely
This study examines the editorial cartoons penned in reaction to two debacles
for the American intelligence community--the discovery of the spying for the
Soviets/Russians by Aldrich Ames and Harold Nicholson. The study found,
consistent with earlier studies, that the cartoons extensively employ allusions
and caricatures. And, consistent with theories on the use of editorial
cartoons, these cartoons attempt to alleviate our painful reactions to the
treasons (which resulted in the execution of at least a ten Soviet citizens
working for the United States) through the use of negative and dark humor. The
most frequent exaggerations are of CIA counter intelligence personnel as clowns
and Ames and Nicholson as moles. None of the parties--Ames, Nicholson, the CIA,
or the FBI--are portrayed as good or bad guys, only as incompetent. Hence, the
allusions to moles and clowns appears quite appropriate.