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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fires anti-Trump cartoonist, and mayor says it sends ‘wrong message about press freedoms’

IN RECENT WEEKS, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spiked numerous cartoons by Rob Rogers that were critical of President Trump, as The Washington Post reported Friday.

On Thursday, Post-Gazette management resolved the matter by firing Rogers, who had been the paper’s political cartoonist for a quarter-century.

Rogers tweeted word of his dismissal Thursday afternoon.

Neither the Post-Gazette publisher, John Robinson Block, nor Rogers’s supervising editor, Keith Burris, immediately replied to Washington Post requests Thursday for comment.

The paper’s editorial page had increasingly shown support for Trump, according to Rogers and the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, among others.

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto reacted to the sacking of Rogers with a sharp statement Thursday, saying, “The move today by the leadership of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to fire Rob Rogers after he drew a series of cartoons critical of President Trump is disappointing, and sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege.”

The National Cartoonists Society, which represents hundreds of member cartoonists and other comics-industry professionals, said Thursday in a statement that it “is saddened by the news that our friend and fellow member, Rob Rogers, was fired from his longstanding job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The NCS supports Rob in his efforts to maintain his integrity in expressing his ideas and viewpoint, and stands against any form of censorship or suppression of free speech.”

During his 34 years as a political cartoonist in Pittsburgh — including a career at the Post-Gazette spanning four supervising editors — Rogers had two to three cartoons a year, on average, killed by his editors.

But Rogers told Comic Riffs last week that he had 19 cartoons or cartoon ideas spiked this year, under new supervisor Burris. And between May 25 and June 4, not a single one of his cartoons was deemed worthy of publishing in the paper. The Post-Gazette instead published cartoons by Kirk Walters of the sister paper Toledo Blade and syndicated cartoons.

Rogers’s cartoons continued to be distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication.

Last week, The Post asked Rogers whether he might be dismissed. “I can’t really talk about that aspect,” said Rogers, who at that point was taking personal days off and awaiting a resolution with management.

Meanwhile, Block, the Post-Gazette’s publisher and editor in chief, told The Post last week in a statement: “This is an internal, personnel matter we are working hard to resolve. It has little to do with politics, ideology or Donald Trump. It has mostly to do with working together and the editing process.”

The Post-Gazette reported Thursday that the newspaper’s chief human resources officer, Stephen Spolar, said in a statement: “The Post-Gazette does not provide details about employment matters, but in light of Mr. Rogers’ public comments [Thursday], we do want to acknowledge his long service to the newspaper and our community.”

The Pittsburgh mayor spoke to the larger political backdrop of Rogers’s firing: “This is precisely the time when the constitutionally protected free press — including critics like Rob Rogers — should be celebrated and supported, and not fired for doing their jobs. This decision, just one day after the President of the United States said the news media is ‘Our Country’s biggest enemy,’ sets a low standard in the 232-year history of the newspaper.

“I’ve known Rob a long time,” Peduto’s statement continued. “That has never stopped him from publishing cartoons that are critical of me, of my policy positions, or of my actions (or inactions) in office. He’s even made fun of my weight. But he is one of the best in the world at his time-honored craft, and I know people of all political persuasions stand with me in support of him, even if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette regrettably does not.”

The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh said that “Rob Rogers is a true talent we were honored to know as a colleague and friend. He deserved much better treatment.”

The guild said in its statement that the only apparent transgression by Rogers — a past Pulitzer Prize finalist — was “doing his job.” The union also pointed to “the new order of the Post-Gazette editorial pages” reflecting the “pro-Trump, pro-conservative orthodoxy” of the publisher and editorial director.

“The firing of Rogers and the absence of his cartoons from the editorial pages is a blow to free expression and to the existence of a free and open marketplace of ideas,” the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists said in a statement, adding: “It’s as simple as this: Rogers was fired for refusing to do cartoons extolling Trump. Let that sink in.”

The NCS said that Rogers is “a very talented cartoonist and we’re confident that he’ll find a new home for his art at a publication that will appreciate his unique gifts.”

This post has been updated.

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