Michael De Adder penned this brilliant cartoon back in late August, and I wish it had gone out of date but it is more relevant by the moment.
I also wish, I suppose, that fear of the mob were the only thing motivating media moguls, because, when it is conflated with their own Murdockesque goals, it's hard to know when you have a bean-counting coward who fears losing profits and when you have an ambitious political operative who wants to build a supportive, one-note chorus.
The impetus for this look back at de Adder's piece is a new bit of repression, in which the owners of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have stopped printing the work of their staff editorial cartoonist, Rob Rogers.
Specifically, they have, since May 24, spiked each of his cartoons, so far these:
As you can see, these are decidedly progressive cartoons, but Rogers has a civilized touch and is not nearly as abrasive as some other cartoonists.
And I haven't been in touch with him, so I can only rely on what he was said on his Facebook page, where the comments are interesting but the insights are not overly surprising: His fans are not happy, his employer is a Trump fan and his newspaper has a strong union which apparently prevents an out-and-out firing.
All of which calls to mind A.J. Liebling's observation that "Freedom of the Press is guaranteed only to those who own one."
The only cowardice in this case a matter of hiding from the union, not the readers: Robinson seems unwilling to face off with the Guild, which is actually kind of encouraging, though I suppose that only in an old steel town like Pittsburgh can you find a union anybody fears anymore.
Which brings us to another recent silencing, which may have a bit more of de Adder's "hiding under the bridge" quality to it:
Back in November, David Horsey did a combined cartoon-and-column about Sarah Huckabee Sanders' ability to deliver Trump's news the way Trump wanted it, not sniveling and back-tracking like Sean Spicer, but with an unapologetic lack of candor and honesty that mirrored his.
It was a solid takedown, but he began it by pointing out that, while Trump generally surrounds himself with female eye-candy, Sanders did not fit that stereotype, the rest of his column explaining how her abilities made her incredibly valuable.
These opening paragraphs have since disappeared from his archived column:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not look like the kind of woman Donald Trump would choose as his chief spokesperson. Much like Roger Ailes when he was stocking the Fox News lineup with blond Barbie dolls in short, tight skirts, the president has generally exhibited a preference for sleek beauties with long legs and stiletto heels to represent his interests and act as his arm candy.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka and wife Melania are the apotheosis of this type. By comparison, Sanders looks more like a slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids’ games. Rather than the fake eyelashes and formal dresses she puts on for news briefings, Sanders seems as if she’d be more comfortable in sweats and running shoes. Yet, even if Trump privately wishes he had a supermodel for a press secretary, he is lucky to have Sanders.
Disclaimer: I coached youth soccer for several years and the moms there were often more comfortable than fashionable. Since I had a couple of young kids myself, I admired and appreciated their ability to keep everyone rounded up and get the snacks ready, too.
Disclaimer #2: I'm well aware that it is wrong to only describe executives as grandmothers, never as grandfathers, or women in general as blonde, svelte, etc. when you would not describe men in such terms. But Horsey was making a relevant point about Trump's obvious and noted penchant for putting beauty and fashion sense above professional experience and competence.
Poor Horsey -- a genuinely nice guy -- was beset on both sides by horror-stricken people who apparently never coached youth soccer or otherwise found themselves valuing competence over looks but knew that you're not allowed to ever, ever mention looks.
Which his editors bravely dealt with by having him apologize, bowdlerizing his column and putting him on suspension, then letting him come back only as an artist, never a columnist, until he finally left for the Seattle Times, where we find him today.
I said at the start that "it's hard to know when you have a bean-counting coward who fears losing profits and when you have an ambitious political operative who wants to build a supportive, one-note chorus," but, in the two cases here, it's easy: The LA Times is in the first category, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is in the second.
And the rest of us are wandering around in a world in which the WHCA dinner speaker was accused by rightwingers of "body shaming" Sanders for mentioning her eye shadow while, among progressives, Samantha Bee is being defended for use of an absolutely forbidden misogynistic term because she's one of us and Ivanka isn't and, besides, people in Australia don't think it's crude.
Which I think means that all the rules of fair commentary have been reduced to one: "Don't piss me off."
And everybody is pissed off.
Those with lots of money can enforce the rule by stifling commentary in the pages of their newspapers.
Those without a lot of money can enforce it by participating in the troll wars on Facebook and Twitter.
As for editorial cartoonists, well, there's another Liebling quote that applies:
The pattern of a newspaperman’s life is like the plot of "Black Beauty." Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings.
There are damn few editorial cartoonists with dry stalls these days and not all that many who even get potato peelings.
This isn't the funny part. There isn't a funny part.