CSotD: AAEC Day One

Long day, short entry.

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists annual convention got off to a start yesterday with a board meeting followed by a reception and dinner at the Columbus Metropolitan Club, which holds such forums regularly.

As such, the discussion of free speech and the status of editorial cartooning was geared to a public audience rather, as the rest of the convention panels are expected to be, to a group of professionals and knowledgeable fans.

But given the number of times we’ll be coming back to the topic over the next few days, it served as a bit of a soft entry, as local former journalist Tim Feran (recently laid off from the Columbus Dispatch, along with cartoonist Nate Beeler) spoke with laid-off cartoonist Nick Anderson, dismissed freelance cartoonist Patrick Chappatte and fired cartoonist Rob Rogers.

I have noted before that newspaper work is one of the only professions I know of where you can run into a colleague and ask, “So, you still working?” and not have it be a rude question, though the civilians in the audience, I think, only began to get that feeling as the talk went on.

However, Rogers noted early on that the woes of editorial cartoonists in this country are small potatoes, indeed, compared to those of cartoonists in places like Syria and Iran, where people are beaten and jailed, or the Charlie Hebdo case where they were killed, and Nick Anderson agreed, saying “We can still say what we want. We just may not be able to pay our bills.”

Chappatte noted that political pressure — in the sense in which Rogers was fired because of a radical shift in his newspaper’s alignment — is only a part of the pressure on cartoonists.

The economic pressure on newspapers makes editors “very cautious,” he said, and brought up the issue of “political correctness” and the pressure on editors from organized groups on social media, which was key to the New York Times decision to eliminate political cartoons from its international edition (and hence entirely).

The term came up several times and, even dismissed as a catch phrase, was acknowledged as a serious issue.

Not only had Chappatte not drawn the cartoon which got him dismissed, indicating the reach of the issue, but there was never a great deal of debate over the cartoon itself, Rogers noted: It was proclaimed by the protesters to be antisemitic and that assessment was simply accepted.

This matter of offended readers, once spontaneous, is now whipped up by organized groups, and Chappatte pointed out that he had traced back some of the tweets and emails and found them to be coming from those groups.

With so many other pressures on newspapers these days, Anderson said, his editor was not the only one who finally said, “I’ve been protecting this artist for years and it’s just not worth the effort.”

To which Chappatte noted that editors are often bowing to pressure from outside their circulation area. “Social media are not their audience,” he said, and yet the situation prevails.

What it leads to is a reluctance to run anything slightly even potentially offensive, he said. “I think we’ve invented a new term: ‘Preventive self-censorship.'”

Nick Anderson injected a level of good news, however, pointing out that an essay he wrote on the issue when Rogers was fired — which Jake Tapper had posted at CNN’s website — caught the eye of a financial angel and, as noted here before, led to the start of Counterpoint, an emailed collection of first-run political cartoons.

That format of three from conservatives, three from liberals, brought a bit of bemused commentary from Chappatte, who said, such labels don’t exist among international cartoonists, who are “expected to look at the world with two eyes, not like this, or this” he pantomimed, holding a hand first over his left, then his right eye.

However, Counterpoint now has 130,000 subscribers (it’s free, by the way) and is expected, through ad revenues yet to be set up, become self-sustaining within a year.

And the best news may not simply be that: Anderson said that, so far, the only complaint he has heard from their financial sponsor is “Why are you playing it so safe?”

Not a phrase that’s been echoing around newsrooms for quite awhile.


Stay tuned for more from Columbus

2 thoughts on “CSotD: AAEC Day One

  1. Keith, good point -that’s why we self censor. It does me no good to draw a cartoon an editor is going to dismiss because it doesn’t fall in line w/ prevailing opinion. Especially from the conservative perspective. Everybody knows boys should compete against girls, Greta Thunberg is a saint and Trump is worse than hitler, mao and stalin rolled into one.

    -so good luck getting the opposite view published. The good news is you save a ton of money on Pulitzer and award entries because you’ll never be considered. The judges would be doxxed and milkshaked just for having nominated you.

    Luckily there’s COUNTERPOINT begun by a VC in California who knows and believes in free speech more than 90% of Americas news editors.

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