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