The work of Rob Rogers, longtime political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has been notably absent from his paper’s opinion page during this past week. Aside from a cartoon criticizing the trade war posted on Tuesday, June 5, the most recent of Rogers’ drawings appeared last Thursday, May 24.
So where was Rogers all of last week? He did not simply “have the day off,” as printed in last Tuesday’s issue of the Post-Gazette.
Keith Burris, the Post-Gazette’s editorial director since March, when it merged its editorial board with the co-owned Toledo Blade, refused to publish six of Rogers’ cartoons in a row. Four were directly critical of President Donald Trump, and two alluded to racism.
Despite not being published in the Post-Gazette, Rogers continued posting these cartoons on Twitter, as he does with all of his work.
May 25’s cartoon portrayed a referee calling penalties for exercising free speech, disrespecting the troops and eliciting Trump tweetstorms, in light of the NFL’s announcement of their new rule dictating players must stand during the national anthem:
His Memorial Day sketch depicted a caricature of Trump placing a wreath on the grave of Truth, Honor and the Rule of Law:
The June 1 cartoon criticized Trump for his immigration policies…
None of these cartoons appeared in the Post-Gazette, despite Rogers being the paper’s full-time staff political cartoonist.
Burris frequently writes in support of Trump for the Post-Gazette’s opinion section. In “Can Roseanne Restore Our Sense of Proportion?” (4/8/18), Burris referred to “Trump-hate” as “a mania, a fever, a hissy fit by the self-anointed guardians of all that is good and enlightened in America.” He argued:
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God help you if you actually like some of what Mr. Trump does and dislike other things that he does or says. You are, in the words of a church lady who confronted me one day, “complicit.”
Burris wrote an editorial in January (1/15/18) headlined “Reason as Racism,” which defended Trump’s description of developing nations as “shithole countries,” and likened being called racist today with being labeled a Communist during the McCarthy Era.
The paper’s publisher, John Robinson Block of Block Communications, which owns both the Post-Gazette and the Blade, insisted that the piece be printed, according to Post-Gazette reporter Michael A. Fuoco (CJR, 1/22/18). Fuoco went on to describe the dread he and the other newsroom employees felt in the wake of the piece’s publishing.
Block is an open Trump supporter, who (accompanied by Burris) met with Trump on his private plane in 2016 following a campaign rally, tweeting it was “a more than memorable experience” (9/22/16). He also suggested at a community forum on racism in 2013 (Toledo Blade, 9/17/13) that people of color should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” like they did in the “old days”. The Post-Gazette also came under fire in Nov. 2016 for their piece, “A Guide to Decide: Twelve Tests to Choose Between Clinton and Trump,” which was read by many as a crypto-endorsement of Trump.
Burris’ article was so incendiary that the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which noted it does not, as a rule, comment on editorials, felt the need to denounce the piece, calling it “repugnant.” One hundred and fifty of the Post-Gazette’s newsroom employees signed the letter.
The paper did not publish the Guild’s letter, or another signed by 23 Post-Gazette staff members (CJR, 1/22/18)–omissions that seem to foreshadow the paper’s new editorial director’s distaste for dissenting opinion.
The Blade, however, ran Burris’ response to the backlash against his piece in a column headlined “The Left’s War on Thought” (1/26/18).
When a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter (6/4/18) reached out to Rogers for comment, Rogers said he was unable to speak of the incident, but confirmed he was still employed by the paper. The piece also noted Burris did not respond.
This morning (6/6/18), in a series of three tweets, Rogers thanked his readers and colleagues for their support, but announced he would be taking some time off from the Post-Gazette while the issue is being resolved. “I love what I do,” he tweeted:
Now, more than ever, I believe in the power of satire and the public dialogue that it can create. Thank you for being part of that dialogue.
The paper ran the latest Rogers cartoon without an acknowledgement of the cartoonist’s absence over the past week. Rogers’ supporters denounced the censorship with comments on the paper’s website like:
So, the Toledo editors CENSORED Rogers’ cartoons!!!!!!!!!!!! Where are we? 1930’s Berlin! This Fascist Conservative Brown Shirt stuff is VERY DANGEROUS.
It’s so stupid that the PG board would weaken the paper and insult we readers by suppressing Rob Rogers’ great work.
Newsday cartoonist Matt Davies came out in support of Rogers on Twitter (6/5/18), saying good editors publish that which they disagree with. This would seem to echo the lessons Burris himself (Post-Gazette, 3/4/18) says he learned from John Craig, the editor who first hired him for paper, who said that a good journalist “has no side or tribe,” and that an opinion writer “must have roots but no permanent alliances.”
Local outlets like the Inquirer and CBS Pittsburgh (6/4/18), as well as CNN Money (6/4/18), have picked up on the story of Rogers’ censorship, but it has yet to appear on larger national sites like the New York Times or NPR.