Following a social media backlash after an anti-Semitic cartoon featuring Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu was published in its international edition, The New York Times has decided to stop running all political cartoons.
Cartoonist Patrick Chappette, who drew the header cartoon after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, revealed the decision on his blog.
All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.
In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they’ll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon – not even mine – that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.
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. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in.
The New York Times tweeted out their response.
Chappette was behind the push to get political cartoons in The New York Times in the first place.
In 1995, at twenty-something, I moved to New York with a crazy dream: I would convince the New York Times to have political cartoons. An art director told me: “We never had political cartoons and we will never have any.“ But I was stubborn. For years, I did illustrations for NYT Opinion and the Book Review, then I persuaded the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (a NYT-Washington Post joint venture) to hire an in-house editorial cartoonist. By 2013, when the NYT had fully incorporated the IHT, there I was: featured on the NYT website, on its social media and in its international print editions. In 2018, we started translating my cartoons on the NYT Chinese and Spanish websites. The U.S. paper edition remained the last frontier. Gone out the door, I had come back through the window. And proven that art director wrong: The New York Times did have in-house political cartoons. For a while in history, they dared.
Kevin Siers, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, tweeted out a statement as well.
Sites such as The Nib have popped up as homes for political cartoons, but it’s difficult to get the reach that The New York Times had. Hopefully it isn’t too long before they realize their mistake and allow political cartoons back into the newpaper.