“One small paper has stopped running political cartoons after a controversy. What if others follow?” was the headline on a piece published Tuesday by The Washington Post.
Selecting a political cartoon to run on the opinion page in this newspaper has become a task fraught with peril, as it apparently has with other small newspapers across the country.
Why, you may ask? The cartoon might offend someone. Someone old. Someone young. Someone who supports Trump. Someone who doesn’t. You get the point.
The easy solution? Pick the least offensive cartoon from the day’s small group of syndicated offerings.
But that’s not so easy these days. Political cartoonists have no shortage of material right now, given America’s politically charged state. And they’ve seized upon the opportunity to create sharp, elbow-throwing cartoons. Ones that make you stop and think. Ones that elicit a visceral reaction. Ones that make some people pick up the phone and cancel their newspaper subscription.
And that’s something small-town newspapers can ill afford.
The Washington Post piece cited Bailey Dabney, regional publisher of the Morning News in Florence, South Carolina, who wrote in a recent column that the paper would, for the foreseeable future, forego political cartoons and fill its editorial page with other content. The stoppage was announced after the outlet apologized for running a syndicated Gary McCoy cartoon this month about Black Lives Matter protests and abortion that was decried as racist, sparking a “firestorm of emotion” among its insulted and angered audience.
It was the latest in a series of controversies in recent weeks in which small papers apologized for publishing cartoons some readers called racist, according to The Washington Post.
A Tom Stiglich cartoon earlier this month mocking the “defund the police” movement — in which a darker-skinned assailant is robbing a lighter-skinned woman — resulted in executive resignations at small papers in Roxboro, North Carolina, and Washington, Missouri, that ran the self-syndicated work, The Post reported. On June 10, the Seneca (South Carolina) Journal apologized for a self-syndicated Al Goodwyn cartoon that satirized the “black community” as being in an unhealthy relationship with the Democratic Party.
The Star didn’t run the controversial Stiglich cartoon (or any of the others mentioned above). Instead of the Stiglich cartoon, we chose a different cartoon with a similar theme — but one with softer edges and a less confrontational delivery. Even still, a reader was offended by the choice and wrote a brief letter to the editor stating her displeasure.
Any cartoon that pokes fun or criticizes the president almost assuredly results in phone calls and emails from upset readers. Does that mean all politicians are off limits, out of fairness?
Is everything off limits?
What is lost when political cartoons, which have long been a staple of editorial pages, are sacrificed completely to avoid conflict? asks The Washington Post piece.
Cartoonists counter in the article that “small papers must not shrink from pointed opinions if they are to remain essential within their communities. Controversy is a cost of engagement.”
Some editors argue that the divisiveness created by some cartoons simply isn’t worth it.
Readers, what do you think?