I have posted the week in political cartoons on Sundays for many years. One of the “toonists” who regularly appears in our Sunday editorial cartoon lineup is Rob Rogers, the long-time editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A 1999 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rogers has won numerous awards for his work, which is syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate.
On Thursday, this talented “toonist” was fired by his new Trumpkin editorial page director at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Cartoonist Fired as Paper Shifts Right:
The firing is the latest controversy involving the newspaper’s editorial pages. In January, The Post-Gazette and its sister paper, The Toledo Blade, published an editorial titled “Reason as Racism” that defended President Trump’s stance on immigration despite his profane description of countries like Haiti or those in Africa when discussing the issue. Mr. Burris, then the editorial page editor of The Blade, was the author of the editorial, which drew condemnation from the Post-Gazette newsroom, some members of the Block family and from outside critics.
In March, the papers’ owner, Block Communications, merged the editorial pages of the two publications, appointing Mr. Burris as editor, vice president and editorial director. He has since written several editorials praising the president, part of a rightward shift by the once-liberal editorial page.
But on the Post-Gazette’s Friday editorial page, a statement attributed to the editorial board professed “gratitude and affection” for Mr. Rogers. “There has never been any intention to silence or suppress Mr. Rogers. Nor would we ever ask him to violate the dictates of his conscience. Rather, we have sought to engage in the necessary journalistic practices of editing, gatekeeping and collaboration.”
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“The firing of Rogers and the absence of his cartoons from the editorial pages is a blow to free expression and to the existence of a free and open marketplace of ideas,” Pat Bagley, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, said in a statement.
The New York Times gave Rob Rogers space for an op-ed about his firing. I Was Fired for Making Fun of Trump:
After 25 years as the editorial cartoonist for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I was fired on Thursday.
I blame Donald Trump.
Well, sort of.
I should’ve seen it coming. When I had lunch with my new boss a few months ago, he informed me that the paper’s publisher believed that the editorial cartoonist was akin to an editorial writer, and that his views should reflect the philosophy of the newspaper.
That was a new one to me.
I was trained in a tradition in which editorial cartoonists are the live wires of a publication — as one former colleague put it, the “constant irritant.” Our job is to provoke readers in a way words alone can’t. Cartoonists are not illustrators for a publisher’s politics.
When I was hired in 1993, The Post-Gazette was the liberal newspaper in town, but it always prided itself on being a forum for a lot of divergent ideas. The change in the paper did not happen overnight. From what I remember, it started in 2010, with the endorsement of the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, which shocked a majority of our readership. The next big moment happened in late 2015, when my longtime boss, the editorial page editor, took a buyout after the publisher indicated that the paper might endorse Mr. Trump. Then, early this year, we published openly racist editorials.
Things really changed for me in March, when management decided that my cartoons about the president were “too angry” and said I was “obsessed with Trump.” This about a president who has declared the free press one of the greatest threats to our country.
Not every idea I have works. Every year, a few of my cartoons get killed. But suddenly, in a three-month period, 19 cartoons or proposals were rejected. Six were spiked in a single week — one after it was already placed on the page, an image depicting a Klansman in a doctor’s office asking: “Could it be the Ambien?”
After so many years of punch lines and caricatures, skewering mayors and mullahs, the new regime at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decided that The Donald trumped satire when it came to its editorial pages.
This has been my dream job. It makes the experience of buying a coffee or checking out at a grocery store a thrill. I go to pay and the person looks at my credit card, sees my name, asks me if I’m the Rob Rogers and then tells me about a particular cartoon he or she loved. The outpouring of support I have received in recent days from the people of this city, including its mayor, has been overwhelming and uplifting.
The paper may have taken an eraser to my cartoons. But I plan to be at my drawing table every day of this presidency.
Rogers said his work would continue to appear in syndication and on social media. He also has plans for other projects.
Ann Telnaes, a “toonist” for the Washington Post alongside her fellow “toonist” Tom Toles, and a past president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists writes, An American editorial cartoonist has been fired for skewering Trump. He likely won’t be the last. (excerpt):
[W]ith the firing of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers, we now see that suppressing a free press can be accomplished without an authoritarian president’s orders. Michael Cohen isn’t the only “fixer” Trump has at his disposal.
Rogers has been the editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for more than 25 years. Most working cartoonists have had an occasional idea spiked by his or her editor. But in the past few weeks, editorial director Keith Burris and publisher John Robinson Block have refused to publish six of Rogers’s cartoons, all criticizing Trump or his policies. Block and Burris have also rejected many of Rogers’s rough sketch ideas for several months.
This wasn’t the first time Block has used his position to defend President Trump’s actions; in January he demanded an editorial run in the Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade (where he is also the publisher) supporting Trump’s use of the term “shithole countries.”
I realize now I didn’t recognize this other danger of an authoritarian president: his enablers and the willing supporters who squash dissent and help attack the free press and subvert the Constitution. The fact that Trump will use any opportunity to spread lies and whip up hatred toward journalists only enables his powerful supporters in the media to do his dirty work for him.
In April, another disturbing example of journalistic manipulation was exposed when a video surfaced showing news anchors from 45 Sinclair-owned stations reciting word for word the same script criticizing the mainstream media and spouting the “fake news” accusations that Trump uses in his diatribes. While Trump used the opportunity to blast its critics and offer his support for the “superior” Sinclair Broadcasting, he hadn’t orchestrated this abuse of journalistic integrity. He didn’t have to; there were others willing to do it for him.
Through satire, humor and pointed caricatures, editorial cartoonists criticize leaders and governments that are behaving badly. The purpose of an editorial cartoonist is to hold politicians and powerful institutions accountable — and we all know how little President Trump thinks he, his family or his sycophants should be held accountable. Rogers was the first American editorial cartoonist to lose his job as a result, but he won’t be the last. Trump has many “fixers.”
Tucson’s treasured “toonist,” David Fitzsimmons of the Arizona Daily Star, is frequently the target of conservative hatred in letters to the editor, and in comments sent directly to him by the haters. I have to assume that these conservative haters are unfamiliar with the extensive amount of charitable works and good will Fitzsimmons does in the Tucson community in addition to his editorial cartoons.
Conservative haters frequently refer to the Daily Star as The Red Star, even though the Daily Star stopped being a “liberal” newspaper many years ago when Lee Enterprises bought the newspaper and began running it into the ground. No, these conservative haters hate David Fitzsimmons for his satirical editorial cartoons in the Red Star — and I would add, his frequently funny and sometimes moving columns in the Saturday newspaper. (With the Trumpsters’ full embrace of Vladimir Putin and Russia, this lame Red Star thing is now passé).
I have long feared that the feckless Lee Enterprises might terminate David Fitzsimmons. In fact, “Fitz” caused a bit of a panic among his loyal readership a few years ago when he announced that he was retiring — on April Fool’s Day. Good one Fitz! Always the jokester.
David Fitzimmons addressed the firing of his friend and fellow “toonist” Rob Rogers in a recent column, The travails of a fellow ink slinger silenced for doing his job (excerpt):
At the turn of the last century, America’s press employed thousands of political cartoonists. Today, as our nation slides into the grip of an authoritarian nationalist who despises the press, there are fewer than 40 of us inking truth to power. And as newspapers perish, and news deserts form and well-funded partisan propagandists fill the void, the old school ink slingers, muckrakers and watchdogs continue to shrink in number.
These are perilous times for voices like Rob Rogers; times that moved the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists to issue this statement: “We take this opportunity to remind all editorial page editors that their responsibility is to the readers (among whom in Pittsburgh, Rogers cartoons are wildly popular) and to the open and ongoing search for truth in contending opinions. The editorial pages are a public forum, not a members-only private resort in Florida.”
As the president’s ratings creep up, the lickspittles in Congress line up to kiss Trump’s ring, the right-wing media machine beats its mighty chest and the president’s satirical critics are hammered, I wish the talented Mr. Rogers continued success in spite of the terrible challenges ahead. The same goes for our democratic republic.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for this quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.