A cartoonist is jailed. Another is charged with treason. A cartoonist disappears. Another is threatened by government goons. Throngs march against a perceived cartoon’s slight.
That’s how it goes among CRNI clients around the world, but not here. In corporate America, cartoonists merely lose their livelihoods. I’m not comparing unemployment to incarceration, but with those livelihoods go the paychecks, the health care, the secure retirements, the legal protections, and a lot more.
Strident, no-holds-barred newspaper editorial cartooning, spiraling into inexorable death throes for at least two decades, bleaches into a pile of bones on a changing media landscape, all due to uncertain advertising economics, right?
But what if it’s worse? What if losing our jobs is more than a lamentable byproduct of the well-documented industry convulsions that have also sidelined armies of shoe-leather reporters, photographers, copy editors, art critics, columnists, and on and on?
What if editorial cartoonists were not just victims of economic hard times, but unabashedly discarded for challenging the country’s leadership and direction? And what if this happened to mainstream cartoonists, at big-city dailies, during an administration which has expressed admiration for thug regimes around the globe and promoted policies akin to tin-pot dictatorships?
It just happened to Rob Rogers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. CRNI board chair Joel Pett spoke to him about it.
Pett: Hey Rob, anything new?
Rogers: (laughs) Nothing much.
P: So, I need to interview you for CRNI, but haven’t the patience or training for transcription, so suppose you just share your thoughts and I’ll back-load questions to which they make reasonable answers?
R: (chortles) That sounds fine.
P: You’re familiar with CRNI, and have been a generous supporter. How much of a stretch is it to put you somewhere on the spectrum of persecuted cartoonists?
R: Well, I got the news from corporate HR drones, not jackbooted brutes. So there’s that. And I’ve been trying to explain to some of my friends and supporters that this isn’t exactly censorship.
P: Because you can still say what you want, just not in the pages of the Post-Gazette?
R: Right. I can post them on bulletin boards and staple them to telephone poles!
P: Sure, or the internet equivalents. But you see why your followers find it heavy-handed?
R: Of course, and I appreciate their backing.
P: I saw that the mayor of Pittsburgh publicly supported you, that there were protests at the paper, and, of course, the cartoonists are righteously outraged.
R: Well, according to John Robinson Block, outrage isn’t an attribute you want in a cartoonist.
P: Block is the publisher who fired you?
P: Would you like to publicly excoriate him in some deeply personal and expletive-littered manner right now?
R: (chuckles) No, but there were sure aspects of this that he deserves to be ashamed of.
R: Well, for a start there were those widely-scorned racist editorials. I knew then that this wouldn’t end well.
P: They offered you a freelance arrangement right?
R: A truly terrible one. Paid virtually nothing and required me to hatch ideas in concert with management.
P: You know, creatives do their best work when it’s pre-filtered through the sensibilities of humorless corporate lickspittles whose livings depend on not rocking the boat. Or the ship of state.
R: Ha! Right!
P: So, now what?
R: Well, I’ll still draw for my syndicate clients and I’ve had some encouraging freelance offers. It’ll work out.
P: I saw the Sunday New York Times ran a piece you wrote about all this. Since they don’t print editorial cartoons at all, but somehow just managed to garner the Pulitzer for cartooning, maybe they could use you?
R: (snickers) I’d work for half of what Tom Friedman gets.
P: You’d work for a quarter of it. Thanks for taking time. I’ll call you in a few days, when the media blitz has died down and you’re on the verge of despair.