FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 18, 2018
Dismissal of Trump-satirizing newspaper cartoonist raises concerns and stirs an outcry
Find an editorial cartoon and tell how you react. Is it clear? Does it use humor or sarcasm well?
Read an editorial or opinion section column and summarize its main viewpoint.
Can you find a letter to the editor or guest column with a distinctive voice or perspective?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette didn't just report news last week – the paper made a splash of its own, reported nationwide. The publisher and a news executive he hired three months ago got rid of a longtime editorial page cartoonist whose work often criticized President Trump sharply. Before Rob Rogers was sent packing after 25 years at the privately owned paper, nine cartoon ideas and 10 finished cartoons were rejected by Keith Burris, the new editorial director, the cartoonist says. "They were trying to tamp down the voice I was having, being critical of Trump," Rogers says on CNN (see video below). He also spoke out Saturday in a New York Times guest column headlined "I was fired for making fun of Trump."
Opinion pages with editorials, columns, letters and cartoons are separate from news content, and typically reflect the political philosophy of a publication's owner – represented by the publisher. So this shakeup doesn't censor reporting, though it comes at a time when journalists and the media feel heat from the president and his supporters. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat who has been a target of Rogers' work, reacts to his dismissal: "The move . . . is disappointing and sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege. . . . This is precisely the time when the constitutionally protected free press -- including critics like Rob Rogers -- should be celebrated and supported, and not fired for doing their jobs." Others share that concern. Rogers is "fired . . . for doing his job," tweets the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists. The reality, though, is that the Constitution's First Amendment prohibits government interference with freedom of the press. It can’t protect cartoonists and other journalists from their own publisher. In that sense, press freedom belongs to those who own presses, buy ink and sign paychecks.
Still, what happened in Pittsburgh has a chilling effect. Rogers is a widely respected visual journalist who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1999 for work critical of President Bill Clinton. “I've been pretty even-handed in terms of presidents," he says. "I've drawn more cartoons about Trump than [Barack] Obama because I was more aligned with Obama's politics. I've certainly hit both sides." He also cites a tradition of presenting varied views on opinion pages: "The Post-Gazette's leadership has veered away from core journalistic values that embrace diverse opinions and public discourse on important issues."
Paper’s editorial director says: "We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons. For an in-house staff cartoonist, editing is part of it. Rob's view was, ‘Take it or leave it.'" -- Keith Burris
Cartoonist says: "They did have every right to fire me, but they didn't really have the right to try to make me draw things I didn't want to draw, and that's what I felt they were doing." – Rob Rogers
Subscriber says: "It's sad, but the publisher can do whatever he wants. So I'm going to do the only thing I can. Today's paper is the last one I will buy until Keith Burris is gone." – Terry Neary, on Facebook
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