Five days after fresh accusations of plagiarism, political cartoonist Jeff Stahler has reportedly resigned from his Columbus Dispatch post.
Dispatch editor Ben Marrison told Poynter’s Steve Myers that Stahler quit Friday and “that is all we will have to say on this unfortunate matter.”
Early in the week, it came to Marrison’s attention that Stahler’s Monday cartoon was strikingly similar to a 2009 New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress. On Tuesday, the paper suspended Stahler as it conducted an “exhaustive investigation.”
Reached Saturday, Stahler had no comment on the news. On Monday, Stahler indicated that the similarity was a coincidence. (Sipress told Comic Riffs he had no comment.)
The latest case was the second time in seven months that accusations of plagiarism had swirled around the longtime Dispatch cartoonist. In May, humorist Andy Borowitz pointed to similarities between a satirical headline he wrote and a subsequent Stahler cartoon. The Dispatch decided at that time that the Borowitz/Stahler similarity was a “coincidence.”
“At some point, you have to admit that some artists have far too many ‘coincidences’ to write off,” Portland-based syndicated political cartoonist Matt Bors told Comic Riffs on Friday.
New Yorker Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff told Comic Riffs on Monday that he initially gave Stahler “the benefit of the doubt” that it was a coincidence, but later told us that there appeared to be too many coincidences in this case. The Daily Cartoonist’s Alan Gardner posted two other New Yorker cartoons — in an interesting twist, both by Mankoff — that were similar to subsequent cartoons by Stahler.
In the bigger picture, Bors thinks that too many people in journalism have historically turned a blind eye to cartoon theft of idea and image, saying that they “take the Penn State approach to plagiarism.”
“I think [cartoon] plagiarism is overly tolerated,” Pulitzer-winning political animator Mark Fiore told Comic Riffs on Friday, “but it is also harder to prove than in other forms of journalism since cartoons so often veer into the ‘homage’ and ‘tip-of-the-pen’ territory.”
Stahler’s is the second plagiarism case to hit the editorial cartooning industry in a matter of weeks: In late October, David Simpson of the Urban Tulsa Weekly was accused of serially plagiarizing the late cartooning legend Jeff MacNelly. Simpson — who was fired by the Tulsa World in 2005 for plagiarirzing a cartoon by the Hartford Courant’s Bob Englehart — announced in the wake of the latest allegations that he was “retiring from the editorial cartooning business.”
Of the two recent cartoon plagiarism scandals, Fiore tells Comic Riffs: ”It’s sad, maddening and frustrating all rolled into one.”
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