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Again: Are Editorial Cartoonists Journalists?

Newspapers frequently receive letters about the editorial cartoons they run.

The Register-Guard in Oregon is no exception:

Of the many letters awash in admonishment are ones criticizing the selection of cartoons. A real zesty subset of these say, e.g., “The content of this cartoon is a lie! It could and probably has, led people to believe this. You should not be perpetrating lies to the public… I will not support (The R-G) if these kinds of lies are being spread by the newspaper!”

This well-seasoned rant referred to USA Today political cartoonist Mike Thompson’s take on President Joe Biden and the “banning” of red meat.


© USA Today/Mike Thompson

To which, one thinks, “Should you rely on a cartoon for news?” and  “Are political cartoons even journalism?”

“It’s journalism in the sense that you’re chronicling the events of the day,” Thompson, a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, told me. “You’re a visual columnist doing the job of what a columnist does, but instead of paragraphs, you’re working with images and a few words.”


© Jesse Springer

Closer to home, Eugene-based cartoonist Jesse Springer caught some letter heat by illustrating the vaccine disparity among affluent white Oregonians and people of color being left behind.

“It wasn’t like white people are turning away people of color at the door,” Springer told me. “That’s not what’s happening. The statistics I saw, in terms of wealth, the highest quartile, the highest 25% of the income brackets were getting vaccinated at a significantly higher rate than the lowest quartile.”

The Register-Guard opinion page editor Brendan O’Meara weighs in:

And so we circle back to the central question: Are political cartoons journalism? Are they held to the same standard as a news report — or even a column, something grounded in journalism but with the latitude to imbue the writer’s opinion?

Read O’Meara’s column where he thinks the cartoon must be based on a truth:

While the medium is highly stylized and exaggerated to make a point (often to and past the brink of absurdity), the essence is true.

Our own Mike Peterson wrote a column about this a few months ago.

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