One of the areas of the newspaper that I get the most questions about is the editorial cartoons on the Opinion page.
Often, those conversations include a reader demanding to know if I really think the opinion expressed in the cartoon is funny.
That answer is simple: No, generally, I do not.
While there is a humorous tone to some cartoons, the panels are much more about conveying a message — on politics, society or whatever the subject — than making us laugh. There’s a reason they are published on the Opinion page and not the Comics page.
While I don’t find them “funny,” typically, I do find them thought-provoking, layered and often scorching with satire. Sometimes I agree with the sentiment conveyed, and sometimes I do not. That’s because the editorial page is intended to encompass a vast array of perspectives on various topics.
Examples of controversial editorial cartoons exist throughout history, going back to the days of Benjamin Franklin, who published cartoons about the “dis-united state” of the colonies. The cartoon “Join or Die” is credited with helping stir public support for a unified country.
But in recent years in particular, a backlash against the medium has some newspapers panicked about public reaction.
That concern prompted The New York Times last week to stop publishing the work of editorial cartoonists in its international print edition and on its website. This follows The Times’ decision to discontinue its weekly roundup of syndicated cartoons, similar to the TH’s “Drawing Conclusions” each Saturday.
The Times employs two cartoonists, and I think losing their voices on the editorial page is a shame.
Papers our size don’t employ editorial cartoonists but instead purchase cartoons by artists from bigger publications or freelancers. As more papers go the route of the Times and fire their cartoonists, the world will see their profession continue to shrink. That’s a loss.
TH readers don’t have to agree with every editorial cartoon. In fact, they can’t because we publish cartoons expressing diametrically opposing viewpoints. That’s intentional. We make a calculated effort to publish cartoons expressing opinions on both sides of issues.
Most readers who complain about our cartoons do so because of the way the president is depicted, and indeed, President Trump is often satirized.
But this has been the trend regarding cartoons and presidents long before Trump took office. (Even Abraham Lincoln was not spared.)
Just as late-night comedians tend to pick on whoever occupies the White House, Republican or Democrat, so do editorial cartoonists. That trend has picked up for Trump, whose non-stop tweets and actions breaking the “presidential mold” provide plenty of fodder for cartoonists.
We’ll keep seeking to find balance on our editorial page. But I hope readers will try to appreciate the artistic value and incisive opinions that editorial cartoons bring.