Critical Thinking: Several Newspapers Have Stopped Printing Editorial Cartoons Due to Criticism. Did Those Publications Respond Correctly?

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Critical Thinking - Editor & Publisher - September 2019

Recently, the New York Times stopped printing editorial cartoons in its international edition due to a cartoon’s anti-Semitic imagery. Other editorial cartoonists have been fired for their depictions of President Trump. Did those publications respond correctly?

Bridget Higdon, 21, senior, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.   

Higdon is pursuing a degree in English with a writing concentration. She is the editor-in-chief of UVM’s student-run newspaper, the Vermont Cynic. 

In the United States, it is a constitutional right to be able to express opinions freely, without fear of censorship or reprimand. Protected by the First Amendment, the freedoms of speech and of the press are essential to a functioning democracy. Questioning, critiquing, and praising are how we hold our political leaders and our system of government accountable.

History shows us that editorial cartoonists have long been combining social and political criticism with art.

Benjamin Franklin’s cartoon, Join, or Die, which urged the American colonies to join the independence movement, was published in 1754 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. American artist Thomas Nast supported Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for president in several of his cartoons, published in 1864 in Harper’s Bazaar.

British artist James Gillray often ridiculed George III and Napoleon Bonaparte, turning them into caricatured buffoons in the late 18th century. The New Zealand cartoonist David Low produced a cartoon mocking the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in 1939 for the Evening Standard.

Cartoons and newspapers have been linked for decades. Their relationship is part of what makes reading a newspaper an enjoyable experience. Cartoonists can bring imagination, humor, or seriousness to a variety of issues.

Firing editorial cartoonists for their controversial art not only violates their right to free speech, but it robs the public of the full story.

What newspapers choose to publish, or not to publish, matters greatly. When one voice is censored, a side of the story, a piece of the puzzle, goes missing. It is the job of the media to present the truth, to share all voices and stories, even those that some individuals will disagree with.

 

Kyle Barr, 25, managing editor, TBR News Media, Setauket, N.Y

 After attending Stony Brook University’s journalism program, Barr rose through the ranks of TBR News Media from reporter, to editor, and now serves as managing editor.  

We, as newspapers, are losing the impactful and often poignant statements of political cartoons, and while some cartoons have crossed the line into racism and anti-Semitism these longtime functions of our newspapers is being extricated for what seems to be the sake of “taste.”

Because taste is really a nebulous thing, and it partially goes against the purpose of journalism. Journalists split the difference between articles people enjoy and articles that will garner a negative reaction. The latter are the information people don’t necessarily want to know, but the stuff they need to know.

So why is it we suddenly look at editorial cartoons as if they were somehow different from the above?

Recently, cartoonist Michael DeAdder published a story on NBC’s website about how he was recently fired because, as he said, “My editorial cartoon satirizing Trump and the border crisis went viral. Then I lost my job.”

People were shocked to see the picture of an immigrant father and child dead near the Rio Grande while trying to cross the border. The discussion became “What are the current immigration policies that lead to this horrific episode?”

But when DeAdder publishes a cartoon depicting President Donald Trump trying to golf near said bodies, that is apparently too far for taste’s sake?

On the other end, a political cartoon published by the New York Times shows Trump and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a leash, all using classic anti-Semitic imagery of the Star of David as a collar while Netanyahu’s nose enlarged to a caricature state.

But that is wrong not for the purpose of taste, it was a display of obvious bigotry. It was an attempt to examine the powerful not through their actions but through their ethnicity and religion.

For the New York Times to turn around and eliminate its entire cartoon section in its international edition goes beyond sense. If editorial cartoons these days are more “uncouth,” such as the case of DeAdder’s, it is more because of the times we live in. If the injustices are greater, and the politics more corrupt, then the editorializing pictures that go in our papers must reflect that.

3 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Several Newspapers Have Stopped Printing Editorial Cartoons Due to Criticism. Did Those Publications Respond Correctly?

  • September 13, 2019 at 6:14 am
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    I think that you have missed the mark on this one, “If the injustices are greater, and the politics more corrupt, then…” Arguing that it is OK to get in the gutter because that is the perceived accepted norm makes no sense to me. When an editorial cartoon creates an opinion about how the opinion is shared, it detracts from the message, i.e. a debate within a debate – no need to go down that rabbit hole. Opinions can be shared without creating controversy about the method in which they are presented.

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  • September 13, 2019 at 7:30 am
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    Political cartoonists have no special rights above any other employee. Employers have a right to terminate employees, cartoonists included. A greater threat of abusive power threatening freedom of speech and first amendment rights are social media platforms and their current behavior of policing who is permitted to use their platform and who is not.

    Reply
  • September 13, 2019 at 7:55 am
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    My monthly paper, Campus News, runs one political toon we get through a wire service. We use the same artist every time for consistency. He usually pokes fun at Trump, but I figure — being in New York and serving a college audience — 80% of our readers probably don’t think much of Trump. The other 20% are adult enough to realize it’s just satire. Our editorial coverage is generally non-political. The cartoonists are expected to be edgier.

    I live in a rural town, and one of the weekly papers goes the other way, publishing anti-Democratic cartoons. I don’t unsubscribe, even through the ideology of the publisher is apparent. They also publish little non-partisan stories that have some value.

    I’m unsure why the culture is at a point where people on the far right and far left refuse to look at anything contrary, even if that information is in a publication that is generally useful.

    This new mindset must have something to do with the confirmation bias created by social media.

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