Opinion: Cartoonist Rob Rogers’ firing a blow to free press

Posted on Jun 17 2018 - 3:12pm by Jake Thrasher

The press is only as free as publishers and editors allow it to be. In the age of Trump, there has been a frightening trend of self-censorship from some news organizations and associations. From the White House Correspondents’ Association considering no longer featuring a comedian, a tradition since 1983, to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s firing of editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers, the rights of political satirists are looking slim.

Rogers had been with the Post-Gazette for over 25 years, and during his time there he won 12 Golden Quill awards, the Thomas Nast award, the National Headliner award and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Rogers is considered one of the best editorial cartoonists and has been serving his community and the nation for longer than I have been alive.

In March of 2018, the Post-Gazette hired a new editorial page editor, Keith Burris, an unwavering Trump defender. Between Burris and Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block, also a Trump defender, 19 of Rogers’ cartoons have been rejected in the past three months. This past week 6 of his cartoons were rejected with no explanation, but they were all cartoons critical of Trump. Having cartoons rejected happens, but only 2 or 3 times a year. Even under my most heavy-handed editor, I can only recall having 3 or 4 cartoons rejected.

After a week of being rejected and being given a set of guidelines putting new conditions on his work, Rogers was fired on June 14. Block issued a statement saying the rejection of the cartoons and firing had “little to do with politics, ideology or Donald Trump,” but that seems hard to believe given the circumstances Rogers’ was fired under. In an article just released by the Post-Gazette on the firing, Burris said he never told Rogers not to cartoon on Trump, but was then quoted saying “I asked for broader topics and could they be funnier?” which is an indirect and insulting way for the editor to tell Rogers not to cartoon about Trump.

The Post-Gazette’s decision to fire Rogers was a choice made based on self-censorship in order to have a paper, specifically the opinion section, that supports Trump. While some Trump supporters are thrilled by this censorship, having news outlets that blindly support Trump, or any leader, should be criticized– not celebrated. When we create media outlets that only praise those in power, we are participating in propaganda, not journalism.

The role of the media is to be the watchdog of those in power. Editorial cartoonists play a special role in holding politicians accountable for their actions. Cartoons are visual, powerful and easy to digest. Pretty much anyone can understand the message that political cartoons convey which is an effective way to get more people involved in politics. Sure, in any good opinion section there are going to be opinion you do not necessarily agree with or right out detest, but that is the beauty of an opinion page and the free press. Reading articles or seeing cartoons we do not agree with gives us different perspectives on the issues our country faces. It opens us up to new ideas, and makes us reevaluate what beliefs we hold, making us more informed citizens.

When the sitting president of the United States declares that the free press is the biggest threat to America, you think the press would do its job and fight because against the ridiculous assertion that the first amendment endangers our country. As time has passed since the 2016 election, we have seen a big threat to a free press come from within.

Instead of putting out great journalism, we have anchors on Sinclair-owned news stations reciting scripts that echo Donald Trump’s “fake news” sentiments. We have the White House Correspondents’ Association compromising traditions to please the GOP. We have enablers of authoritarianism, like Keith Burris and John Robinson, turning the gun on their own publication to please the very president attacking their profession.