Comic Strip of the Day: Press Freedom, if you can keep it

Kevin Siers offers the most iconic cartoon on this day, when editorial writers and editorial cartoonists have been called upon to voice their support and concern for the free press.

A few editor’s notes of my own: I decided ahead of time that I would feature six cartoons from however many came across my desk, because it didn’t seem like “fair use” to simply run them all.

But “best” is a subjective concept and I’d encourage you to poke around and see what else is out there. A lot of good work is not shown here today.

I’d also encourage you, if you haven’t done it already, to start a bookmark file of cartoonists to follow. I offer a link to each cartoonist whose work I feature, and I hear from time to time from people saying they’ve found new artists here. That’s much of the point of the feature.

The Free Press isn’t free. Cartoonists and other journalists have rent and groceries and families just like the rest of us. It costs very little to join GoComics and Comics Kingdom, and, while you can’t afford to support everyone who has a Patreon or subscribe to every newspaper, you can certainly afford some of each.

When Jefferson famously wrote ” The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” his next sentence was “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

That second sentence matters, and Jefferson endowed the University of Virginia to help address the second part of that second sentence. How well we educate people, and, specifically, how well we promote media literacy, is part of today’s topic.

But it’s up to you to address the first part: People won’t receive the papers — either analog or on-line — if nobody digs into their pockets to support them.

So that’s my sermon for the day. Let’s look at those other five cartoons:

Jimmy Margulies echoes Jefferson’s thoughts.

The “tumults” Jefferson speaks of was Shay’s Rebellion, and, as that letter reminds us, he was in Paris during the writing of the Constitution. He had some input, but was not one of the authors.

Still, his belief that a well-informed public will act as a restraint on the government is central to the First Amendment and certainly relevant at this moment in our history, and Margulies captures the fundamental rule of democracy: Information matters.

 I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution.

Sweet jayzus, Tommy, but I hope you were right.

Then again, so far you always have been.


Paul Fell makes that point, and we need his optimism as we navigate the current crisis.

So far, it’s always worked out in the end, and we’ve been through some hard times. It’s difficult, for instance, to believe that Eugene Debs was jailed for criticizing our involvement in World War I.

Yet he was, and the Supreme Court confirmed that “The delivery of a speech in such word and such circumstances that the probable effect will be to prevent recruiting, and with that intent, is punishable under the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917” and that the First Amendment did not apply.

Somehow, things righted themselves and Debs had the last six years of his sentence commuted by Warren Harding, who, I would be remiss if I did not note, was a newspaper publisher.

But I’m not sure “it’s always worked out in the past” is a practical philosophy today. We can’t judge military threats by the weapons that existed a century ago and we can’t judge threats to information and press freedom by the elements of the past.

Debs, after all, lived in a world of print — radio was still a tinkerer’s hobby when he went to jail — and it was a world in which keeping a low profile was a good deal easier than it is today.

We’ll come back to that.


Meanwhile, Bill Day lays out the current crisis, and I suppose there’s a set of jesses ready as well, to bind that eagle, his beak blunted, to the arm of the Master.

It’s daunting to see how the First Amendment gets twisted such that Freedom of Speech empowers corporations to out-shout regular citizens, and Freedom of Religion means freedom to be Christian and nothing else.

And it’s particularly daunting to see that, while Republicans are not a majority of the total population, a majority of Republicans support muzzling that Eagle.

They vote, in case you hadn’t noticed.

Dave Granlund notes that “the enemy of the people” is not a phrase invented by Donald Trump. He’s not the first to point it out, but he’s got the most impressive lineup I’ve seen, and this isn’t a point that can be made too often.

I often find myself torn between my belief in the free press and my wish that more people had at least studied history, even if they’d never read Locke or Hobbes or Rousseau and had no background in Post-Enlightenment government.

Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but in a nuclear world, and one in which monitoring the public is easier than in Orwell’s worst dream, there’s a question of how many times you can repeat the worst moments of history and still emerge at the other end intact.


Scott Stantis notes the “Fake News” within the fake news lie: For all that Dear Leader claims the media is suppressing his viewpoint, he sure keeps his face on every screen every day at every hour.

Big Brother was hardly less present in the lives of his people.


And this Stantis bonus, from his strip, Prickly City, expresses the position of a thinking conservative in a world in which that increasingly seems an oxymoron.


But Wait! There’s More!

The Consoling Truth

Miss Columbia: “How is it that there are so many Defalcations and Betrayals of Trust?”
Uncle Sam (Chief of US Police): Every thing comes to the Surface in our Country; but on the other side of the Atlantic they have the Power of keeping their Press in the Dark.”
                                                                                                          — Thomas Nast, 1873


I’m well over my self-imposed word limit for the day, but the New York Times has, first of all, a good editorial, while, if you scroll down from there, you’ll also get a good look at who else has taken up the flag of press freedom.

Or get the list, with links to their editorials, from CNN.

It’s encouraging. It matters.

Again, the Free Press is not free. You can’t support them all, but you must support some.


Now go see Steve Brodner’s graphic explanation of how we got here. 

And, if that’s not dismaying enough, stream this movie on Amazon.


49 Years Ago Yesterday — Are we there yet?



4 thoughts on “Comic Strip of the Day: Press Freedom, if you can keep it

  1. If you search real hard, you may be able to find Walt Kelly’s (Pogo) fable about a dog named Freespeech. It’s worth the effort.

  2. Would have liked Granlund’s cartoon (which was VERY good) a lot more if he had left the names off. He did a good job of the caricatures for each well known figure, so it just dumbed it down unnecessarily. When it comes to editorial cartooning, cartooninsts need to presume the intelligence of the readers.

  3. @Wiley: I agree. Would have been so much stronger. But then, who was it who said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”?

    I ran across a 100-year-old cartoon recently in which Kaiser Wilhelm addresses a German Everyman character as “Fritz.” Even though there is nobody else in front of Mr. Hohenzollern, the cartoonist still found it necessary to label the guy “Fritz.”

  4. I didn’t know this until a few months ago when someone pointed it out to me, but Granlund cuts and pastes his caricatures from previous cartoons. But he does draw them really well…even if it is just once.

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