The New York Times Ends Publication Of Editorial Cartoons

Why I penned a Cartoon To The Editor for the paper

When I got word from my friend Patrick Chappatte that he was being let go by The New York Times International Edition, I was shocked. Patrick is one of the best cartoonists in the world, has won the Overeas Press Club of America Award three times. His cartoons are intelligent, observant, measured. I immediately wanted to write an editorial for the NY Times, as I have done so in the past on topics related to international cartooning. Unsure if it would even be considered, I wrote one of my editors there to inquire about the idea. As I suspected, she surmised that the NYTimes would not want to run an editorial on the subject, and that instead she suggested I pen a cartoon letter to the editor.

So I did, and they ran it online and in print yesterday. Here it is:

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Many editorial cartoonists are losing their jobs in the US. This is partly due to economic pressures that print is experiencing. The New York Times historically has not run cartoons or comics, instead usually running “Op-Ed art.” For a while they reprinted national political cartoons on the Sunday opinion page. Patrick Chappatte, and the cartoonist Heng Kim Song, of whom I am not aware, were the only regular editorial cartoonists the Times printed — granted only online and in their international edition — but they were there.

The Time’s Opinion editor James Bennet reported that they have been considering this change for over a year. But one is tempted to make the connection between these firings and a recent event wherein the NY Times reprinted an widely perceived to be anti-semitic cartoon by a different cartoonist. They apologized for it, but an editor somewhere at the Times made an error in judgement by chosing to print that cartoon. I wonder if this editor still has his job, while cartoonists are sacked for a cartoon they did not draw.

We know from the Danish Cartoon Controversy of 2005 and then the murders in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a deli in 2015, that cartoons can be used for evil purposes (not by cartoonists, but by outside groups using them as propaganda). And cartoons also can be misunderstood.

But to stop using editorial cartoons out of fear is wrong. We need more perspectives, not fewer.

Cartoonists provide a unique view. They provide visual, often very simple, easily grasped, nuanced approaches. Cartoons provide insight for people who don’t want to read a long article. Yes, some cartoons are strong opinions, cartoons are and never have been not fact-based jouralism. And some cartoonists use their craft for hate and viscious partisanship.

But not all.

I worry that our art form is at risk of disappearing. Historically, cartoons have done a great service in calling out corrupt leaders; we keep our politicians and leaders accountable — notably Richard Nixon being cartooned repeatedly by Herblock. But in a era where the internet and social media (of which I am a huge fan ) is full of loud voices, I fear editorial cartoons are getting lost in the loudness. We are seen as just more of the same: partisan and nasty voices.

We are not. We are committed professionals who take our job seriously and most of us just want to help.

Patrick Chappatte and I are both charter members of an organization that seeks to help the world understand each other through cartoons. Cartooning for Peace was was founded at the United Nations in NYC in 2005 by then Secretary General Kofi Annan and Le Monde cartoonists Jean Plantu. Twelve international cartoonists gathered at the UN immediately following the Danish Cartoon Controversy to discuss the vital role our work plays on the global stage. Cartooning for Peace is now a global organization with 184 cartoonist members from 63 countries.

It can be complicated, but what we do is important.

Cartoons can and do cross boundaries. It’s not always perfect, but because often what we do is without words, it is a communication tool that can help people understand one another and all our different struggles and different circumstances…..without words.

At their best, cartoons bring people together. I hope the New York Times reconsiders its wrong decision.

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