A Scary and Shortsighted Decision
June 11, 2019
New York Times to Stop Publishing Political Cartoons
After the cartoon controversy in April, when the international edition of the New York Times ran a cartoon featuring Trump and Netanyahu that was widely criticized as being antisemitic, the NY Times decided to stop running cartoons from the CartoonArts International syndicate.
Now, they have decided to stop running political cartoons altogether, ending contracts with their two regular cartoonists, Heng and Chappatte. Chappatte has written an eloquent, thoughtful and insightful piece about this decision on his website, which we recommend you go read.
Although the NY Times says the decision to stop running cartoons has been in consideration for well over a year, Chappatte and many other cartoonists feel this decision can be directly linked to the publication of the Netanyahu cartoon.
That makes it a scary and shortsighted decision.
Cartoons provide valuable input for public debate by condensing complex issues into one single panel. And sometimes we mess up. We use stereotypes that go too far or symbols that are needlessly hateful or offensive. And arguably the Netanyahu cartoon, made by Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Antunes, crossed the line.
In a healthy public debate (which a newspaper like the NY Times should facilitate) what then follows is a discussion about why this cartoon crossed the line. Why do many people find this cartoon so offensive? What is allowed when we criticize Israel and what isn’t? Which symbols can we use, how far can we take a caricature of a Israeli politician? All meaningful questions that would foster a debate that would lead to stronger, better and less needlessly offensive (I include ‘needless’ because sometimes cartoons need to be offensive) cartoons.
What shouldn’t happen is a complete silencing of this branch of visual journalism. Because it takes away from the public debate. It is, for lack of a better word, censorship. I use the word censorship not because of the decision itself (it is every media outlet’s prerogative to decide what they will and will not publish, however strongly I may disagree with it), but the apparent argumentation behind it.
Chappatte writes: 'I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions.'
So it is a decision out of fear. And no good journalism ever came from fear. Democracy requires public debate. Media should have the courage to provide a platform for a broad range of opinions to be heard and discussed. In doing so, mistakes will happen, and sometimes a platform will be given to an opinion that does not deserve it. If this happens, we should cry foul, discuss it and hopefully learn from it. We should not use it as an excuse to silence all opinions.
Image by Falco
A dreadful, myopic decision by an incompetent New York Times.
Here is the official statement from the NCS:
June 12th, 2019
Re: Response to Editorial Page Editor, James Bennet’s statement: June 10th, 2019.
On behalf of the membership of the National Cartoonists Society, the NCS board express our great dismay at the decision announced to cease running daily editorial cartoons in all international editions of the New York Times as of July 1st, 2019 as they have also done for the domestic edition.
Editorial cartooning is an invaluable form of pointed critique in American newspapers that dates back to the 19th-century work of the legendary Thomas Nast, as well as to pamphlet images published by Benjamin Franklin. The history of our great nation can be read through the pens of our editorial artists and cartoonists. Journals of record are the conduits to this history.
The cartoonists that contribute to your publication are not mere hobbyists, but deeply committed life-long devotees to the art of political commentary. It is not a job that is taken lightly, nor done with ease. It is a passion that not only feeds the national and international conversation, but just as importantly, feeds their families.
The contribution of cartoonists to your publication are as important and viable as those of op-ed contributors, and yet you would never consider dropping the op-eds.
We find ourselves in a critical time in history when political insight is needed more than ever, yet we see more and more cartoonists vanishing from the pages of our publications. If we are to dull the voices of our most valued critics, satirists, and artists, we stand to lose much more than the ability to debate and converse; We lose our ability to grow as a society. We rob future generations of their opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
We would implore the management of the New York Times to reconsider their decision, and reinstate daily editorial cartoons to both the domestic and international editions of The New York Times in print and online.
The National Cartoonists Society
Posted by: Jason Chatfield | June 13, 2019 at 08:10 PM
Perhaps if there had been a debate about Antonio's controversial cartoon we had come to the conclusion that the author is not an anti-Semitic cartoonist, and that the cartoon does not have the meaning that the ignorance of its context of production (and publication) attributed to him.
Posted by: Paulo Fernandes | June 14, 2019 at 10:05 PM