Veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers claims he was fired for criticizing Donald Trump. He penned a self-serving, whiny op-ed in Friday’s New York Times, the gist of which is that he was speaking truth to power and his bosses didn’t like it.
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.
This is the editorial in the Post-Gazette that Rogers claims is “openly racist”:
Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism. The charge is pernicious. The accuser doesn’t need to prove it. It simply hangs over the accused like a great human stain.
It has become not a descriptive term for a person who believes in the superiority of one race over another, but a term of malice and libel — almost beyond refutation, as the words “communist” or “communist sympathizer” were in the 1950s.
Moreover, the accuser somehow covers himself in an immunity of superiority. If I call you a racist, I probably will not be called one. And, finally, having chosen the ultimate epithet, I have dodged the obligation to converse or build.
Is he aware of the incredible irony? I doubt it.
Perhaps that alone should disqualify him from commenting on politics in any way, including editorial cartoons. But it’s still kind of a free country so he is welcome to his opinions.
He is not, however, owed valuable space in a newspaper to spout hatred of anyone — including the president of the United States. Nor is he guaranteed a job if he is boring, repetitive, and angry.
“He’s just become too angry for his health or for his own good,” John Block, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, told POLITICO in his first interview since the firing earlier this week. “He’s obsessed with Trump.”
The veteran cartoonist, Rob Rogers, disputed Block’s assessment as “completely inaccurate” and claimed that Block was mistaking strong opinion for anger.
Rogers maintained Saturday that he was let go for being too anti-Trump in his cartoons.
Some of his portrayals of Trump go beyond satire and are simply mean. Only the most virulent anti-Trump citizens would find them “funny” and then only in the way it’s “funny” to pull the wings off of flies.
Comedians have the same problem. They have become so strident, so hysterically anti-Trump that they are no longer funny except to a small percentage of their audience. Rogers’ obsession made him predictable and boring — and no publisher should have to employ him on those terms.