OCT 19, 2018: It’s not just in Pakistan that a columnist, a commentator, or a TV talk show anchor gets canned by the employer for being ‘angry and obsessed’.
Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette –the largest newspaper in western Pennsylvania is one such individual, and there could be many more unreported ones worldwide — having been shown the door for various reasons: commercial, editorial, national security related, or a mix bag of some of these or all of them.
Rogers was fired by the paper in summer for his searing portrayals of President Donald Trump, his government and his policies.
Trump has been repeatedly slamming media outlets reporting against his administration, cautioned Facebook and Twitter to ‘be careful’ and blamed Google of prioritizing the news reports unfavorable towards his government.
Rogers was terminated in June by the 232-year-old liberal (now somewhat conservative) paper for which he had worked for 25 years, after six cartoons in a row were spiked and his employer tried to change his terms of working, he said. Trump or his government did not give the ‘marching order’.
A “more conservative” than past editorial page editors recently appointed by the paper fired him.
“We are supposed to be the watchdog that keeps the president accountable,” Rogers said, of the press. “In this situation [the Post-Gazette is] coddling the president and giving him cover. I’m worried about the people still working at the paper and about the readers of the largest newspaper in western Pennsylvania.”
His last cartoon depicted a bloated man representing the USA, impaled on a steel girder with “trade war” written on it, waving the Stars and Stripes and saying: “Take that, Canada, Mexico and Europe.”
After being fired, Rogers drew Trump shaking hands with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and saying: “You’re so talented and your people love you, look how they’re smiling!”
Kim is standing on a pile of skulls.
Roger lampooned the historical Trump-Kim handshake before their historical summit at Sentosa Island in Singapore. It wouldn’t probably have made it pass the new (conservative) editorial director, Keith Burris’ desj, whom the paper said “killed” cartoons by Rogers.
“We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons,” said Burris, who acknowledged that he is “more conservative” than past editorial page editors. Before Trump’s election, Burris said, the owners of the paper had been trying “to right the ship” to reflect less liberal views.
Roger’s termination came coincidentally just one day after Trump said the news media is ‘our country’s biggest enemy’.
“Things really changed for me in March,” Rogers told The Guardian, “when management decided that my cartoons about the president were ‘too angry’ and said I was ‘obsessed with Trump’.”
After a series of cartoons satirizing Trump were canceled this month, he said, he was sent a list of new working conditions he called draconian, subjecting him to an unprecedented level of oversight and “clamping down” on his power of free expression. He refused to accept and was fired, he said.
Rogers was hired in 1993. Six years later (in 1999), he became a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, for cartoons that skewered then president Bill Clinton, mostly for the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
After leaving the Post-Gazette, Rogers wrote an editorial for the New York Times headlined: “I was fired for making fun of Trump.”
“When I had lunch with my new boss a few months ago,” he wrote, “he informed me that the paper’s publisher believed the editorial cartoonist was akin to an editorial writer, and that his views should reflect the philosophy of the newspaper. That was a new one to me. I was trained in a tradition in which editorial cartoonists are the live wires of a publication – as one former colleague put it, the ‘constant irritant’.”
Fans of Rogers spoke out on Twitter, reproducing his cartoons. One said: “This is the cartoon that got Rogers fired.” It showed a drawing of a road sign saying ‘Caution’ with a silhouette resembling Trump grabbing a child as its parents fled. It was a comment on the controversy surrounding migrant families separated by US officials on crossing the southern border.
“Suppressing voices in any situation is bad,” Rogers told the Guardian. “You want to have as many voices as you can and they are starting to have only one voice of the paper, and I think that goes against what a free press is all about – especially when silencing that voice is because of the president.”
Pittsburgh Publisher and Editor-in Chief John Block said Rogers was “too angry for his health or his own good” and cited his obsession with Trump as evidence.
“I don’t believe Rob Rogers is any more obsessed with Trump than any other journalist these days…I’ve drawn President Clinton as a cockroach and President Obama as a lemon. But if our aim is to expose deceit, hypocrisy, pomposity, bigotry and corruption, the Trump administration seems to have all that in spades,” wrote Kevin Siers, the Charlotte Observer’s editorial cartoonist since 1987.