Within the last several months, we’ve seen a broadcasting company that owns several Pennsylvania stations agree to exchange positive coverage for access to the president.
Last month, a Pittsburgh City Paper editor claimed he was fired for criticizing a conservative.
This week, an award-winning political cartoonist confirmed his work has been silenced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
While many journalists can expect to have disagreements with their editors, the recent and more heavy-handed influence from above has some wondering whether liberal voices are being driven out of even traditionally left-of-center outlets.
Longtime cartoonist Rob Rogers, whose work has appeared in the Post-Gazette for 25 years, had several drawings rejected over the last two weeks.
“I think it is fairly obvious that the paper and editorial page in particular has shifted its slant,” Rogers told CNN on Wednesday. “It was always a liberal paper and now it is shifting. And it has happened more dramatically since Trump was elected.”
— Eric Jankiewicz (@EricJankiewicz) June 6, 2018
And the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists pulled no punches in its statement released earlier this week in support of Rogers:
The longtime cartoonist for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has gone missing. Actually, we know exactly where Rob Rogers is—at his desk creating the excellent award-winning editorial cartoons he is famous for. But it’s those cartoons that have been missing for over a week from the Post-Gazette editorial pages, though we know Rob is drawing them because new cartoons are being posted on the web.
It doesn’t take much to connect the dots between the absence of Rob’s left-leaning cartoons and the recent arrival of a Trump-supporting editorial page editor. We would take this opportunity to remind all editorial page editors that their responsibility is to the readers (among whom in Pittsburgh, Rogers cartoons are wildly popular) and to the open and ongoing search for truth in contending opinions. The editorial pages are a public forum, not a members-only private resort in Florida.
Keith Burris, the Post-Gazette’s editorial director, told KDKA the issue with Rogers was a personnel matter and many other executives at the paper have declined to comment further.
But Rogers is only the most recent example of editorial decisions that seem to have been influenced from outside the newsroom.
Former Pittsburgh City Paper Editor Charlie Deitch said he was abruptly fired in May after refusing to back off from his criticism of state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, whom Deitch had described as a bigot unfit for office.
His comments upset his general manager, who asked Deitch to “redirect your anti Metcalf [sic] efforts toward let’s say maybe Pittsburgh politics.”
Deitch’s former bosses denied politics played a role in his firing.
The confirmed deal between Sinclair Broadcast Group and then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in 2016 may have set the tone for some of these later editorial disputes.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner acknowledged the Sinclair agreement that would allow the president’s message to reach a wide audience without commentary or pushback.
Some employees fought the “must-run” commentary. One producer, Justin Simmons, wrote about his experiences and what finally led him to quit, though he said he worried about his colleagues whose contracts could make finding another job more difficult.
For his part, Rogers announced on Twitter he was using some of his vacation days while he works out issues with the Post-Gazette.
On Tuesday, The Incline’s Colin Deppen reached out to media business analyst Rick Edmonds, of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, who said rejected cartoons and killed stories aren’t always censorship.
But he acknowledged the role the president has played in recent media decisions:
“Cartoonists are subject to editing and sometimes rejection of their submissions, same as anyone else. This is not, as it is sometimes called, censorship, though it may come close since the disagreement is likely to be over the opinion expressed and edginess rather than craft or documentation. Not sure it is more [than that] (remember Doonesbury?) though it can be a big step down the path to divorce in an instance like this,” he said, adding, “And maybe it goes without saying … the temper of Trumpian times makes clashes over this sort of content all the more likely.”