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In search of fairness in a cartoon world

Herald editorial board

A year ago, the Herald went on a quest to find a new conservative editorial cartoonist. Lately, they seem outnumbered by liberal cartoonists, but after a search, we found Glenn McCoy and subscribed to the syndicate that distributes his work.

Last month, McCoy was laid off from his job at the Belleville News-Democrat in Illinois. Without warning to the many newspapers that carried his cartoons, he then abruptly retired from producing political cartoons.

We liked his work, and his absence left a void. Liberal-voiced cartoonists are rather easy to find lately and they generally outnumber consistently conservative artists. In McCoy's absence, the Herald has subscribed to a new conservative cartoonist, the Washington Post's Lisa Benson, whose work began appearing in the Herald last week.

Now, we have learned that another cartoonist whose work has appeared in the Herald has been fired by his Pittsburgh newspaper. Left-leaning Rob Rogers worked at the Post-Gazette for 25 years, but in recent months he said his drawings had been banished from that newspaper's editorial page. Nineteen of his ideas have been rejected since March, he said.

Rogers' firing elicited this response from the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists: "The (Pittsburgh) 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. ... 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."

We don't pretend to know what happened between Rogers and his managers, but we do know newspapers are able to dictate whatever voice they choose and that neither cartoonists, letter-writers nor anybody on a newspaper staff has carte blanche ability to say whatever they like. It's not a free-speech protection.

We also know that finding equal voices in today's political world is not easy, and that goes for editorial cartoons, too. Often, it's a result of whomever is in the Oval Office; presidents — whether Democrat or Republican — are easy targets for cartoonists.

The Herald, for instance, publishes two editorial cartoons per day. Some days, it's difficult to find two that portray the same passion on both sides of the aisle. We're trying, though, as evidenced by the search we conducted when the conservative McCoy stopped drawing.

Does the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists have a true beef with Rogers' dismissal? We suppose they believe so, but we also know fairness must still be a virtue to strive for on a newspaper's opinion pages. We also know it's the responsibility of editors and publishers to maintain fairness, so we are not quick to side with the AAEC when it comes to Rogers' firing.

Meanwhile, the Herald continues to seek political cartoonists who fairly represent both sides — as tough as that sometimes is to accomplish.