It is time to blow the whistle on newspaper editors who claim that they rid themselves of their editorial cartoonist for ‘budgetary’ reasons. It is a dishonest, disingenuous, and duplicitous assault on the truth. That is not to say that there are not budgetary problems facing newspapers across America, just that it is not the reason they are laying-off their cartoonists. The sad truth of journalism today is that there are editors who lack the guts–the most polite way I can express it–to have a cartoonist.
The public accepts their ‘budgetary’ excuse because it knows newspapers are having a tough time, unknowingly buying into these editors’ falsehoods. It is their ‘cover letter’ to shield themselves and thus be forgiven the sad decision ‘they had to make.’ Baloney.
It takes a courageous editor to have a staff cartoonist. Cartoonists give editors a big headache if they are doing their jobs well. That means that editors must pick up their phone, or answer their emails, or otherwise have their ears bent by readers, politicians, advertisers, or newspaper publishers who complain to them about ‘that damned editorial cartoon on the page today.’ I always thought this was part of their job, along with fielding complaints about mistakes in news stories. Surely that is why they are paid so well, or so I thought.
When it comes to cartoonists, there are two kinds of editors.
One kind thinks that a cartoonist causes them trouble, so they rid themselves of that trouble. Often, they inherit a cartoonist when they first arrive from another paper. They are the editors who feign concern for the editorial page, but would rather hire a new sports reporter with the money saved by shedding their trouble-making cartoonist. That is exactly what they do, too. Entertainment is the watchword for this brand of editor. Some of them are even afraid of Presidential endorsements, lest they may alienate a large segment of their readership. My last editor was so worried, that in 2008 he proposed to endorse both candidates. He thought it was a good idea to endorse Obama in the City Edition (majority of black readers) and endorse McCain in the Suburban Edition (majority of white readers). Believe it. In 2012, he refused to make any Presidential endorsement.
The second kind of editor is one who possesses the belief that a newspaper editorial page should have a cartoonist to express a strong point of view, stir the pot, point out the glaring ineptitude of some politicians, and get the public to think. Think? Imagine that. This kind of editor must possess a tough skin. What is more important, this editor must have courage and a professional calling. These are old-school thinking editors with moral strength. They know that the visual impact of a cartoon has a valuable place in journalism. They would never sacrifice the one person at their newspaper who puts opinion down in visual form any more than they would sacrifice their mother to a gang of thieves.
There are still many brave editors who have not forgotten their role as protectors of the First Amendment, and continue to support their cartoonist. They know the truth about the phony ‘budgetary’ excuses passed out by the pretenders posing as editors. Having said that, there is one editor, (perhaps I should say ex-editor) in America who stands out above all the rest for his courage. One editor who went to the mat for his belief in his cartoonist and his editorial page. To me, he is a hero of the highest order. His name is Brad Warthen, former Editorial Page Editor of the The State in Columbia, South Carolina.
In 2009, Brad talked his Executive Editor out of laying off cartoonist Robert Ariail on several occasions. He never told his cartoonist to lay low by being careful with his ideas. One morning Robert gave Brad a cartoon idea on the trend of cartoonists losing their jobs. Robert asked Brad to use it instead of killing it, so Brad made the principled decision to run the cartoon, since it was a worthy topic and true. The Executive Editor was furious and called Brad on the carpet. Brad stood up for his decision and for Robert. Not long thereafter, Robert AND Brad were laid off. He and Robert paid the price for standing up to a bully. Even worse, it sent a chill through every editorial page in America. Those editors who still have a cartoonist are showing that they will not be frightened into submission by this shameful act. They are proof that proud and professional editors still do exist in the ‘Fourth Estate’.
It has been a difficult four years since Brad Warthen’s courageous stand for his cartoonist and for his profession. Brad now writes a blog while holding a job outside of newspapers. If you would like to visit it, please see www.BradWarthen.com . It is full of insight and humor. Brad has a knack for finding ironic humor while being serious at the same time. Robert Ariail found a job in a nearby city. His cartoons can be seen at http://www.gocomics.com/robert-ariail . He has also won a few national and international awards following his layoff. I am proud of you, Robert. They are earned, well-deserved, and they were achieved against all odds.
For his heroic stand, I am offering Brad Warthen a very belated award for his ‘Valor, Professionalism, Courage, and Lifetime of Journalistic Excellence’. I have named it The ‘Best Editor in America’ Award. With it, he might get a free cup of coffee offered by his favorite breakfast hangout. Of course, ethics would prevent him from ever accepting it. Also, he would never agree that anything he did was ‘heroic’, anymore than a bystander, who happened upon a fire, ran into a burning building and saved lives, would claim to be a hero. They always say they only did what anyone else would do in the same circumstances. Yeah, right.
Thank you, Brad. America needs more editors like you.