Cartoonist, Columnist Dropped for Making Political Donations; SPJ Responds

By: E&P Staff An editorial cartoonist was dropped by his home newspaper and a syndicated columnist was dropped by one of his client papers for giving political contributions, according to a story by investigative reporter Bill Dedman.

Meanwhile, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) issued a release today praising Dedman's article.

Dedman wrote that the cartoonist is Paul Fell of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star and the columnist is "On Ethics" writer Randy Cohen of The New York Times and Universal Press Syndicate. Cohen's feature was canceled by The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.

Also, Dedman's story said KPTM-TV in Omaha reporter Calvert Collins lost her job for giving $500 to Democratic congressional candidate Jim Esch, posing with him for a photo posted on, and urging her friends to vote for him. Collins said her father made the donation in her name.

They were three of 143 journalists (from newspapers and other media) who Dedman named in his original June 21 article as giving political contributions.

Dedman reported that Fell, who did freelance cartoons for the Journal Star, gave $450 to Democratic congressional candidate Maxine Moul. "They don't pay me enough money to be able to dictate how I conduct myself in political campaigns," Fell told Dedman. "I generally do not donate to political candidates, but Maxine Moul is a longtime friend and former newspaper publisher where I got my start as a cartoonist back in 1976."

Cohen gave a $585 donation to, which he said he had thought of as "nonpartisan," according to the story. The columnist told Dedman in an e-mail: "We admire those colleagues who participate in their communities -- help out at the local school, work with Little League, donate to charity. But no such activity is or can be non-ideological.

"Few papers would object to a journalist donating to the Boy Scouts or joining the Catholic Church. But the former has an official policy of discriminating against gay children; the latter has views on reproductive rights far more restrictive than those of most Americans. Should reporters be forbidden to support those groups? I'd say not."

Cohen did later add: "Times policy does forbid my making such donations, and I will not do so in the future."

SPJ National Ethics Committee Chairman Andrews Schotz said: "Contributing to a political cause clearly damages the credibility of anyone who professes to be a detached reporter of events. It's less of an ethical violation for opinion writers, who can and should tell readers their allegiances."

And SPJ President Christine Tatum, an assistant features editor and multimedia editor at The Denver Post, added: "Journalists who insist on supporting political causes should publicize their contributions and not work on relevant news stories."


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