Two weeks ago, Rob Rogers, an award-winning and beloved editorial cartoonist who’d been working for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years, revealed that a number of his recent cartoons had been “killed”—which is what happens when an editor decides not to publish a journalist’s work. This is not a particularly uncommon occurrence; the relationship between content creators and the editors they report to is a symbiotic ballet of mostly positive negotiations. And sometimes, for whatever reason, an editor will decide not to run a piece.
What made this uncommon in Rogers’ case, however, was the frequency at which it happened. According to a statement made to the Post-Gazette, Rogers claimed that since March, nine cartoon ideas and 10 finished cartoons were killed. This is a lot. Not coincidentally, each of the cartoons killed was critical of conservatives and/or conservative policy.
This change in editorial policy coincided with a change in the paper’s leadership. In March, Keith Burris became the new editorial director of the Post-Gazette, appointed there by the right-leaning Block Communications, which owns the Post-Gazette. For context, Burris was the author of the article “Reason as Racism: An Immigration Debate Gets Derailed”—a bizarre and transparently racist essay I called in January the worst editorial you’ll read in 2018 (it still is).
Rogers’ plight became a national story as journalists across the country were outraged that a paper—even one with right-leaning management—would shutter a talented and respected journalist for being critical of President Donald Trump. He was even featured on a segment with CNN.
Rogers eventually used some of his vacation days to take a leave. When he returned from that, he was fired.
Perhaps you’re wondering why you should care about a cartoonist having an issue with management and then management deciding to let him go. This happens everywhere. If you have a job and you don’t do what your bosses tell you to do, you may very well lose that job. And it’s within the Post-Gazette’s rights to do that. From what I understand, they broke no laws here.
But this is happening at a time when the hysterical hypotheticals about the Trump administration and its powerful friends attempting to limit and control and perhaps even end the free press are no longer hysterical or hypothetical. This is happening right now.
This is the Sinclair Broadcast Group ordering each of its network anchors to read a script filled with right-leaning propaganda. This is anything that’s not favorable to the right being considered “fake news.” This is the White House press secretary pulling shit so far out of her ass that her press conferences are nothing but colonoscopy prep. This is the president of the United States openly fantasizing about our media being more like the media in North Korea. And this is half of the Republican Party agreeing with him.
Again, this is happening right now.