The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Has No Sense of Humor

When it comes to publications that want to suck up to Trump, it’s time to turn the page.

To quote the old Fleetwood Mac song, it’s not that funny.

No, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ’s decision to whack progressive editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers after a quarter-century is not censorship in the strictest sense of the word: there is no direct evidence that Donald Trump urged the paper’s owners to strike down upon Rogers with great vengeance and furious anger. However, the ouster of Rogers is tacky, to say the least. The newspaper has all but admitted that it gave Rogers the Eddie-Murphy-through-the-window treatment for ideological reasons:

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 began overseeing the Post-Gazette’s editorial pages in March after the paper’s owner, Block Communications, combined them with the editorial pages of its other newspaper, The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. He was formerly the editorial page editor for The Blade and now splits his time between the two cities.

He acknowledged that he is “more conservative” than past editorial page editors and that even prior to Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, the owners of the newspaper had been trying “to right the ship” to reflect less liberal views.

Mr. Rogers said he began to feel “a lot more pushback” about his work after Mr. Trump announced his run for office in 2015.

But few of his cartoons were killed until Mr. Burris took over the editorial page, he said. Since March, nine cartoon ideas and 10 finished cartoons were killed, he said…

When he came to Pittsburgh in March, Mr. Burris said he met Mr. Rogers for lunch and told the cartoonist, “Obviously, we don’t think that Trump is the worst president in history.”

“It was an agonized conversation on both sides,” said Mr. Burris.

After that, the two exchanged frequent emails about Mr. Rogers’ cartoons in which Mr. Burris said he was trying to address “the tone and frequency” of his drawings about Mr. Trump…

On some occasions, he spiked Mr. Rogers’ cartoons and ran others from different artists on the same topics “with a little more humor,” Mr. Burris said.

Burris probably thinks Mallard Fillmore is funnier than Richard Pryor in his prime.

The low-class nature of Rogers’ termination shocks the conscience. It seems that Burris was personally offended by Rogers’ criticism of the 45th President, and decided to do something about it. Hope he’s happy. Of course, if, say, Tom Steyer bought a newspaper with a right-of-center cartoonist or columnist and made it clear to that individual that his or her services were no longer needed, conservatives would start a virtual riot.

Former Los Angeles Times cartoonist Ted Rall notes the fundamental cowardice of Rogers’ firing:

If there’s a class about how to fire people at any decent business school, they should probably use the Rob Rogers firing as an example of exactly what not to do. Look, it’s their paper. They can publish or not publish whoever they want. Maybe it’s crazy for a city like Pittsburgh to have a pro-Trump newspaper but that’s their prerogative if they want to go under. They had the right to fire him.

But why do it that way? Why not simply call him into the office, explain the fact that the editorial orientation of the newspaper had changed, and offer him a generous severance package (I would think two or three years salary would be sufficient) along with full retirement? And send him out with a little bit of glory and dignity, allowing him to say his goodbyes in cartoon form and perhaps showcasing a few pages of his best cartoons over the years? 25 years of loyal service earned him that. More than that, Rob is a fixture in the community. He is always front and present, organizing and hosting cartooning-related panels and shows at art galleries. Disappearing him like a Soviet apparatchik airbrushed out of photos from the top of Lenin’s tomb is a little insane.

Alternatively, why not simply make clear that he could stay on board as a liberal cartoonist even though the editorials would be conservative? My former employer the Los Angeles Times did that with cartoonist Mike Ramirez in the 1990s, but in reverse. The paper had a liberal editorial orientation but Mike was very conservative. Many newspapers with a specific editorial orientation run columns by columnists whose politics disagree with them.

The folks who ran the Times weren’t as petty as the folks who run the Post-Gazette. There were presumably plenty of left-leaning newspapers that ran syndicated columns from Charles Krauthammer over the years for purposes of ideological balance, and resisted the urge to discontinue the publication of his columns even when he wrote clearly offensive stuff (i.e., the 2003 column accusing opponents of the Iraq War of having “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” or the 2008 column about the supposedly religious overtones of climate activism). It doesn’t happen the other way around.

Of course, people can vote with their wallet, doing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette what it did to Rogers. When it comes to publications that want to suck up to Trump, it’s time to turn the page.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.