The Fixable Decline of Editorial Cartooning

Lamb, Chris
December 2004
Nieman Reports;Winter2004, Vol. 58 Issue 4, p18
This article discusses the decline of editorial cartooning in the U.S. The terrorism attacks of September 11, 2001 changed the rules of engagement for U.S. editorial cartoonists. Amid the chaos, most U.S. citizens believed it was inappropriate, even unpatriotic, to criticize U.S. President George W Bush. Soon after the terrorist attacks, however, a few cartoonists returned to social satire, believing that giving our leaders a free pass during times of crisis undermines our democracy. Still, most editorial cartoonists condemned U.S. enemies but refrained from questioning the Bush administration. Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes scolded those in her profession for being pro-government. As social critics, cartoonists should keep a vigilant eye on the democracy and those threatening it. Scott Stantis, then the president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, said that cartoonists found themselves under scrutiny after September 11th. But nothing is more patriotic than social criticism. The First Amendment does not exist so people can praise the public officials: it exists so people can criticize them. Newspapers who give their cartoonists the freedom to express their views, as free as possible from editorial restraint, reinforce the message that an exchange of opinions not only strengthens but also maintains the democracy. The sad state of editorial cartooning is a result of the economics of the newspaper industry and of editors who have little appreciation for political satire. As the newspaper industry has declined in both readership and influence so has journalistic decision-making by editors, many of whom opt for publishing generic syndicated cartoons over provocative, staff-drawn cartoons. They do this because the cartoons are cheaper, and they generate fewer complaints from readers. Too many editors want editorial cartoons to be objective. But that is not what editorial cartoons are supposed to do.


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