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Cartoon in Times Prompts Inquiry by Secret Service

July 22, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

An editorial cartoon in The Times that depicted a man pointing a gun at President Bush prompted a visit to the newspaper's offices Monday by a Secret Service agent, who asked to speak to cartoonist Michael Ramirez.

The agent was turned away.

A Secret Service official said the inquiry was routine, according to Karlene Goller, an attorney for The Times who met with the agent and later spoke to an official in the agency's Los Angeles office. The government asks questions of anyone publishing material that might be construed as a threat against the president.

Goller said she met with the Secret Service agent, Peter J. Damos, in the newspaper's security office and told him he could not speak to Ramirez. After some discussion, Damos left.

Reached later by telephone, Damos declined to discuss the incident with a Times reporter.

Ramirez said Damos had called him earlier in the day and asked if he could visit. Ramirez said he assumed the call was a hoax, and jokingly said yes. "So when he showed up," Ramirez said, "I was completely surprised."

The cartoon, which ran in Sunday's Opinion section, was intended to defend the president, according to Ramirez. It is a takeoff on a famous photograph from the Vietnam War that showed Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong lieutenant at point-blank range. In the cartoon, the man with the gun was labeled "politics" and was pointing a gun at a caricature of Bush. The background is labeled "Iraq."

Ramirez said he was not advocating violence against Bush.

"In fact, it's the opposite," he said. Ramirez said he was trying to show that Bush is being undermined by critics who say the president overstated the threat posed by Iraq, and lied in his State of the Union speech about Saddam Hussein's alleged effort to illegally obtain uranium from Africa for nuclear weapons. The president has since acknowledged that the uranium accusation was based on faulty intelligence.

"President Bush is the target, metaphorically speaking, of a political assassination because of 16 words that he uttered in the State of the Union," Ramirez said. "The image, from the Vietnam era, is a very disturbing image. The political attack on the president, based strictly on sheer political motivations, also is very disturbing."

Times spokesman David Garcia said Ramirez's cartoons reflect the opinion of the cartoonist, not that of the newspaper.

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