The image was stark, disturbing and provocative.

The topic was 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide, and the bullying over his sexuality that led to it. The question was whether to publish it in The News.

After some discussion, we decided Adam Zyglis' political cartoon should run, and it did last Saturday.

The cartoon showed the simple image of a hangman and, as in the popular game of the same name, its caption was a word with letters missing -- the word was "tolerance."

Although the cartoon came close to crossing the line of acceptability, its powerful message and its effective use of a simple image argued strongly in its favor.

Predictably, and understandably, some readers were critical.

"How insensitive can you be?" one email read. "You do realize that he committed suicide by hanging himself, right? I can only hope and pray that his parents and other family members did not see this in The Buffalo News. If you have any decency, I would hope that you would print an apology in the newspaper."

To his credit, Zyglis responds thoughtfully to a great deal of his mail, including that which takes him to task.

He wrote: "I completely understand your concern, but sometimes the job of a strong cartoon is to make us feel uncomfortable about an uncomfortable topic."

He continued: "The message behind the cartoon is exactly what Jamey was trying to shine a light on. We need to show tolerance toward those who are different from ourselves -- whether it's their appearance, race, religion or sexual orientation."

Zyglis said it well. And his cartoon -- a disturbing image about a disturbing topic -- did, too.


On a far less controversial subject, I'm thrilled to report that The News' Books for Kids campaign has hit an impressive milestone -- 2 million books.

This year's drive put the number of books distributed to needy children in Western New York since 1995 at 2,062,781, with this year's total of 112,509.

The effort, which began with the brainstorm of Rose Ciotta, then a News reporter, was taken up by a multitude of local groups -- none more important than Project Flight, a literacy organization run by two inspiring women, known as "the doctors" because they both hold doctorates.

Dr. Geraldine Bard and Dr. Elizabeth Cappella took Ciotta's idea and ran with it, knowing that putting books in the hands of underprivileged children would make a huge difference to them.

"Give a book. Change a life," became the project's slogan.

There is solid research behind that claim. One recent University of Nevada study shows that the presence of books in a child's home is more important in that child's later educational success than almost any other factor -- far more important, for example, than the parents' income level. And the children of lesser-educated parents benefit from books the most.

Our drive will continue next year, with the crucial help of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Wegmans, WGRZ-TV, Barnes & Noble, Buffalo State College, the United Way and the Junior League.

Its high school effort will be run for a second year by Gabrielle Jehle, a senior at Nardin Academy. Here at The News, Deborah Patti, in our public affairs department, has worked tirelessly on the project since its start.

In Buffalo, the nation's third-poorest city, where nearly 40 percent of children live below the poverty line, the need is great. And the response has been heartening.

Thanks to all who helped make it happen -- by donating books or money, by working to collect, process and distribute them, or in many other ways.

You are changing children's lives, and increasing their chances for success in a tough world. I can't think of anything more meaningful.