Rob Rogers Fired For Drawing Too Many Anti-Trump Cartoons

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial cartoonist is out after twenty-five years.


CBS (“Rob Rogers, cartoonist who clashed with Post-Gazette editors, says he’s been fired“):

A longtime newspaper cartoonist who says his work has been banished from the editorial page lately because of “political differences” with his editors says he’s been fired. Rob Rogers tweeted Thursday he’s been fired after 25 years as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s editorial cartoonist.

The paper has declined to run many of his cartoons in recent months.

Rogers told CBS Pittsburgh political editor Jon Delano last week that 19 of his ideas and cartoons have been rejected since March.

Rogers said he was willing to cooperate with the publisher “to a degree,” but he wouldn’t draw cartoons he disagreed with, the station reported.

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists recently issued a statement linking Rogers’ situation to “the recent arrival of a Trump-supporting editorial page editor.”

Keith Burris became the paper’s editorial director in March. Burris did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment. A message left with publisher John Block wasn’t immediately returned.

Block told The Washington Post last week the matter “had little to do with politics” or Mr. Trump but primarily involved the editing process.

Poynter (“Pittsburgh paper fires longtime editorial cartoonist after dispute over Trump work“):

Rob Rogers says he saw it coming.

A new editorial page chief had come to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with the support of the newspaper’s owner, a supporter of President Trump. Rogers, the paper’s highly regarded editorial cartoonist for the past quarter-century, suddenly started seeing his cartoons being rejected for print.

On Thursday, he was fired. “Fired … for doing his job,” tweeted the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists — a view shared by targets of his cartooning from the left and right.

“I don’t know if anything could have been changed,” Rogers said in an interview. He said he asked if his cartoon could be moved to the Op-Ed page opposite the Editorial Page of the paper. (One page offers political views from around the nation; the other represents the view of the paper’s editorial board.)

He said he could not avoid cartooning Trump; nor stop drawing off the news in ways that some might find critical of the historically unpopular leader. Nor should Rogers, wrote supporters from Democratic mayor of Pittsburgh (often lampooned by Rogers) or a spokesman for the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania (another frequent target).

“This is precisely the time when the constitutionally-protected free press — including critics like Rob Rogers — should be celebrated and supported,” Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement, “and not fired for doing their jobs.”

From the former gubernatorial aide and journalist Dennis Roddy: “When I worked in the Corbett administration, he did his darnedest to make me unemployed. God knows I’ve wanted to choke Rob on more than one occasion. He’s opinionated, unrestrained, and a wisenheimer of the top chop. In short, he’s doing his job. He is the indispensable irritant that keeps us scratching and thinking.”

Rogers said he knows the Post-Gazette is a privately owned newspaper, his position was not union protected and the owner, John Robinson Block, ultimately can do what he wishes. Nonetheless, he says, “I gave 25 years of hard work here, and in the process of doing this, I was disrespected, pushed out the door.”

Rogers is a talented cartoonist and will hopefully find work soon. Still, this is a shame.

The Post-Gazette has long tended to lean right editorially and its owner is not only a vocal supporter of President Trump but frequently campaigned with him. It’s hardly surprising that he would not want his paper to publish anti-Trump cartoons on a regular basis—let alone drawn by the cartoonist whose salary he pays. And, at least by their own accounting, they did try to reach an accommodation between firing Rogers and forcing him to draw pro-Trump cartoons.

Post-Gazette (“Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fires editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers“):

In a statement, Stephen Spolar, the Post-Gazette’s chief human resources officer, said: “The Post-Gazette does not provide details about employment matters, but in light of Mr. Rogers’ public comments today, we do want to acknowledge his long service to the newspaper and our community. Any further discussions will be conducted with Mr. Rogers as a private matter.”

In recent weeks, a number of his cartoons, including some on President Donald Trump, were killed by the paper’s editorial director, Keith Burris.

Mr. Burris said Mr. Rogers, 59, was offered a deal in which he would be an independent contractor and produce two cartoons per week for the paper’s op-ed page along with his weekly strip, “Brewed on Grant.”

“We tried hard to find a middle way, an accommodation to keep him at the paper,” said Mr. Burris.

He said he did not “suppress” Mr. Rogers’ cartoons but that Mr. Rogers was unwilling to “collaborate” with him about his work and ideas.

“We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons,” said Mr. Burris. “For an in-house staff cartoonist, editing is part of it. Rob’s view was, ‘Take it or leave it.'”

Pat Bagley, President of the Association of American Cartoonists, issued a scathing statement:

Management of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just demonstrated disdain for their readership and lack of concern about declining circulation by firing their cartoonist of twenty five years, Rob Rogers. Rogers is one of the best in the country and his cartoons have been a wildly popular feature of the Post-Gazette. Readers looked forward each morning to opening their papers to see Rogers’ latest pointed commentary.
Rogers’ fortunes recently took a turn when Trump acolyte, Keith Burris, was hired as the new editorial page editor. Burris promptly started killing Rogers’ cartoons that were critical of Trump. The publisher, John Robinson Block, issued a statement that spiking Rogers’ cartoons had “little to do with politics, ideology or Donald Trump” when obviously it had everything to do with all three and in its brazenness, displayed a penchant for Trump-like lies.
Expect the Post-Gazette to issue a statement listing their reasons for Rogers’ dismissal. Expect it to be filled with more lies. It’s as simple as this: Rogers was fired for refusing to do cartoons extolling Trump. Let that sink in.

The firing of Rogers and the absence of his cartoons from the editorial pages is a blow to free expression and to the existence of a free and open marketplace of ideas.

The city’s Democratic mayor weighed in as well:

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto criticized the paper for firing Rogers, calling the move “disappointing” in a statement in which he also called out President Trump without using his name.

“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,” Peduto said. “This decision, just one day after the President of the United States said the news media is ‘Our Country’s biggest enemy,’ sets a low standard in the 232-year history of the newspaper.”

I commend Rogers for sticking by his guns and not drawing cartoons that violated his moral compass. But this isn’t a free expression issue: he’s not entitled to publish his views in someone else’s paper. Ultimately, as the saying goes, freedom of the press is reserved to those who own one.  Indeed, he was able to publish the rejected cartoons on his personal site.

Beyond that, here was the last Rogers cartoon published by the Post-Gazette:

That’s not exactly a pro-Trump stance! The ones they rejected were a little more severe. The most recent (“Summit,” dated June 13):

The June 3 edition, “Pardon”

The May 31 edition, “Ambien”

For my personal tastes, “Summit” is fantastic, “Pardon” meh, and “Ambien” very good if perhaps too edgy for a family paper. “Summit” is a spot-on commentary on Trump’s rhetoric, “Pardon” a bit oblique and not all-that-great as political commentary, and “Ambien” perhaps too on-the-nose.

UPDATE: Readers point out that “Ambien” was a response to a Roseanne Barr incident about which I’d forgotten. Out of context of the daily news flow, it brought to my mind the mini-brouhaha over then-White House physician Ronny Jackson handing out Ambien willy-nilly aboard White House flights. I guess that pink socks should have clued me in. I’ve edited the last two sentences of the post accordingly.

FILED UNDER: Humor, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. teve tory says:

    Rob Rogers, Tom Toles, Ted Rall, Mike Luckovich, Signe Wilkinson, Joel Pett, XKCD, and Clay Bennett. Those are the cartoonists I check religiously.

  2. teve tory says:

    here’s a classic from two weeks ago

    https://www.gocomics.com/robrogers/2018/06/01

  3. Kathy says:

    It’s hard to do a pro-Dennison cartoon, seeing how his normal actions and rhetoric are mostly caricature.

    3
    1
  4. Mister Bluster says:

    The organization of our press has truly been a success. Our law concerning the press is such that divergences of opinion between members of the government are no longer an occasion for public exhibitions, which are not the newspapers’ business. We’ve eliminated that conception of political freedom which holds that everybody has the right to say whatever comes into his head.
    Adolf Hitler

    source
    ——–
    “it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.”
    REPUBLICAN President Pud

    http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-trump-follows-up-nbc-threat-it-is-1507746214-htmlstory.html

    2
    1
  5. teve tory says:

    @Kathy:

    on the other hand, Pro-Trump cartoons are the funniest thing in the world.

    Spend a few minutes browsing those. They’re not just stupid, they’re Young-Earth-Creationist-level stupid.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    and “Ambien” perhaps too on-the-nose. Equating the sitting President of the United States and/or his closest staff with the Ku Klux Klan is dangerous territory; I wouldn’t at all blame an editorial board for declining to run that one.

    For starters, it was Roseanne Barr who did the racist/ambien thing so that cartoon is hardly a direct shot at trump or his staff, only indirectly at them and their use of racism for political benefit. That said I have to confess that I find your apparent acceptance of cowardice in the face of power a little disappointing.

  7. MBunge says:

    Anybody remember Dr. Drew Pinsky getting fired from HLN? Do you want a bunch of other examples? These are the rules and they’re not the exclusive creation of Trump, Republicans, or conservatives.

    Mike

    3
    12
  8. Kathy says:

    @teve tory:

    More like Pravda propaganda level stupid.

  9. teve tory says:

    Yeah it wasn’t about the Prez. After Roseanne Barr made a tweet about Valerie Jarrett:

    “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,”

    people got angry about the racism, and Roseanne then claimed it was because of ambien. CNN:

    “guys I did something unforgiveable so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — i went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but…don’t defend it please.”

    She cited Ambien again in a later tweet, saying, “Not giving excuses for what I did(tweeted) but I’ve done weird stuff while on ambien — cracked eggs on the wall at 2am etc.”

  10. teve tory says:

    @MBunge: Whatabout Drew Pinsky? That’s a new one.

  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Breaking:
    The Chairman of the Dennison Campaign is in jail.
    Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

  12. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Yep. Just saw that.

  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:
    Holy false-equivilancy, Batman…another piece of hit-and-run nonsense from Bunge…for which he will not have the balls to stcik around and answer for.
    Pinsky is a known quack…he’s the Jerry Springer of TV Medicine.
    Claiming to be a medical expert and saying that Clinton has brain damage is a wholly different thing than an editorial cartoonist.
    You’re dumb.

    9
    1
  14. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    For starters, it was Roseanne Barr who did the racist/ambien thing so that cartoon is hardly a direct shot at trump or his staff, only indirectly at them and their use of racism for political benefit.

    Post updated to reflect this. I’d forgotten about that and thought it was about Ronny Jackson.

    That said I have to confess that I find your apparent acceptance of cowardice in the face of power a little disappointing.

    I don’t think this is that. The paper’s owner was an ardent supporter of Trump during the campaign; it’s not unreasonable that he doesn’t want to pay to run anti-Trump cartoons.

  15. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Those cartoons bring new dimensions to the word “pathetic.” Suffering as I do from vicarious embarrassment, I’m almost sorry I looked at them.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    OMG, you just committed murder!

    @MBunge: Whaddabout Cain?

    7
    1
  17. teve tory says:

    Those cartoons bring new dimensions to the word “pathetic.” Suffering as I do from vicarious embarrassment, I’m almost sorry I looked at them.

    Huh. I too have a problem with vicarious embarrassment. Something like Borat is painfully unwatchable for me. But for some reason the Ben Garrison cartoons don’t trigger it in me. Maybe I don’t perceive Trumpers as capable of being embarrassed. That requires self-awareness. Just a guess.

    1
    1
  18. JKB says:

    Management of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just demonstrated disdain for their readership and lack of concern about declining circulation by firing their cartoonist of twenty five years, Rob Rogers.

    So firing a guy, who has ridden the decline in circulation for 25 years and refuses to adapt is a sign of “lack of concern for declining circulation”?

    Some advice from an old machinist. If you don’t own the machine you are working on, you can be replaced. Ironically, in the last 10 years, this cartoonist could have developed a distribution independent of the paper. Or he could have adapted to producing a product that his employer wanted to pay him to produce.

    Years ago, I noticed in particularly partisan times Jon Stewart would hammer Republicans but after a while, he’d swing back to the middle and maybe hammer Democrats a bit. It seemed likely that the ratings numbers were coming in. He rode that edge quite well. The spin off hosts haven’t and have the ratings to show it.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think this is that. The paper’s owner was an ardent supporter of Trump during the campaign; it’s not unreasonable that he doesn’t want to pay to run anti-Trump cartoons.

    Agreed, it’s not unreasonable, but you said,

    “Ambien” perhaps too on-the-nose.

    the meaning of which is it was a dead on accurate portrayal of what is going on, and is not a news organization, whether left or right supposed to be dedicated to the truth? Not alternate facts? If the owner of this paper wants to sell his soul to the devil, I mean trump, that is his choice but we have the right to call it out for what it is.

    1
    2
  20. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    It’s more an issue on being embarrassed on behalf of someone who ought to be embarrassed himself.

    But it’s not universal with me. I really enjoy watching Trump make an ass of himself.

  21. James Pearce says:

    @MBunge:

    Anybody remember Dr. Drew Pinsky getting fired from HLN? Do you want a bunch of other examples?

    I don’t remember Pinsky, but I do remember Kevin Williamson.

    (And thank God the efforts to remand Bari Weiss to the Phantom Zone were unsuccessful. She punches your boy pretty hard here.)

    1
    1
  22. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    In a country where the “President” (who wasn’t elected by the majority of citizens) demands that people stand and place their hands over their hearts for the National Anthem, and that says:

    He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.

    …it isn’t surprising that an editorial cartoonist who goes against the Dear Leader would be summarily fired. Mr. Rogers should count himself lucky. After the mid-terms, if Dems don’t take both houses of Congress, he would likely be executed.

    3
    2
  23. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory: @CSK: I remember back in 2004 reading a fawning Baltimore Sun article about two local conservative comics, and it illustrated well the problem with most of the right’s attempts at “humor”:

    “Not all comedians are angry, bomb-throwing, left-wing types, like Moore, Bill Maher or Janeane Garofalo,” he says. “That’s a myth. Lots of intelligent, educated Americans respect President Bush as a man of strong values and above-average smarts who has dedicated himself to protecting them.

    “And what’s funnier, anyway, than [Democratic presidential candidate] John Kerry saying, in that self-important voice, `I voted for the $87 billion [in support of the Iraq war] before I voted against it?’ Liberals are hilarious. Sometimes they just skewer themselves. You don’t have to write their material.”

    Peterkofsky speaks with the rapid-fire delivery of a stand-up comic and has a jokester’s knack for turning a phrase. For example: “Liberals don’t let the facts interfere with a good emotion, while conservatives don’t let emotions interfere with the facts.” ….

    “People have been brainwashed to think conservatives can’t be funny,” says Gorin, who has always felt like a contradiction in terms…. She made a name for herself in the Journal not long after Bill Clinton left office. When the ex-president’s dog was run over and killed outside his Chappaqua, N.Y., home, Gorin’s piece, “Buddy’s Dead; Is Anyone Surprised?” outraged Clinton supporters.

    It’s pretty clear when you read this that these two so-called comedians are brimming with so much contempt for liberals you can practically see the spittle dripping from their jaws. What they’re doing is essentially the Rush Limbaugh playbook: use their stale talking points and narrow stereotypes to turn liberals into such cartoon villains they become ridiculous. It’s hatred disguised as humor, and has a much closer relationship to schoolyard taunts than to grownup comedy. It also happens to be the overwhelmingly predominant form of “humor” found on the right, to this day.

    5
    1
  24. Kylopod says:

    Please rescue my comment from moderation.

  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:

    The paper’s owner was an ardent supporter of Trump during the campaign; it’s not unreasonable that he doesn’t want to pay to run anti-Trump cartoons.

    This is true. Look at the editorial page of the WSJ. Or the Sinclair TV stations. Same thing.
    I’m certain Mr. Rogers will find another outlet…and the Republican snowflakes in S.W. PA won’t be forced to confront views that State TV has told them not to agree with.

    3
    1
  26. teve tory says:

    After the mid-terms, if Dems don’t take both houses of Congress, he would likely be executed.

    meth is a hell of a drug.

  27. Franklin says:

    I hope this talented guy finds a new gig. I am a bit curious about how many newspapers actually attempt to ‘edit’ their in-house cartoonists. My guess is very few if any, but I’m basing that on scant information.

  28. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    the meaning of which is it was a dead on accurate portrayal of what is going on, and is not a news organization, whether left or right supposed to be dedicated to the truth? Not alternate facts?

    Again, out of context I thought the cartoon an allusion to the Ronny Jackson micro-scandal; I’d forgotten about the Roseanne thing. (Although, even in context of Roseanne, being a racist crank doesn’t make one a Kluxer.)

  29. James Joyner says:

    @Franklin:

    I am a bit curious about how many newspapers actually attempt to ‘edit’ their in-house cartoonists. My guess is very few if any, but I’m basing that on scant information.

    I don’t know, either but I gather that even the top papers (NYT, WaPo) do some editorial oversight of their columnists in a fact-checking sense. Presumably, the same is true of cartoonists. Otherwise, there’s a risk of defamation lawsuits.

  30. Moosebreath says:

    @James Joyner:

    “The paper’s owner was an ardent supporter of Trump during the campaign; it’s not unreasonable that he doesn’t want to pay to run anti-Trump cartoons.”

    So you would have no issue if the Washington Post decided to fire all of its right of center columnists?

  31. Scalia says:

    It’s a private newspaper. If they want a cartoonist who reflects the editorial board’s political slant, that’s their business.

    2
    2
  32. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The Post-Gazette has long tended to lean right editorially and its owner is not only a vocal supporter of President Trump but frequently campaigned with him. It’s hardly surprising that he would not want his paper to publish anti-Trump cartoons on a regular basis—let alone drawn by the cartoonist whose salary he pays.

    As Thomas Sowell used to say in capitalism you don’t earn money by doing what you want to do, you earn money by doing what others want you to do. One could argue that The Post-Gazette has a conservative readership and that it did not like these cartoons. On the other hand a newspaper firing a cartoonist for his political decisions is a horrible business decision – here the readers should be more important than the owner, a newspaper is a business, not a toy.

  33. Lynn says:
  34. Charon says:

    @teve tory:

    Not just stupid, mental illness level stupid.

  35. teve tory says:

    @Lynn: Steve Sack is good, I forgot about him! Adding him to the bookmarks.

  36. Matt says:

    @Kylopod:

    People have been brainwashed to think conservatives can’t be funny,

    I wonder if they’ve ever actually thought about that statement in any sort of depth. Something like oh I dunno why bother brainwashing people to think conservatives aren’t funny when they could be brainwashing people to vote Democratic? What would be the point of “brain washing” people to think conservatives aren’t funny when the brain washing technique would be so much more useful for other activities???