A Cartoonist Spins In His Grave

A Cartoonist Spins in his



Daryl Cagle

There is no institution that cartoonists despise more than The New York Times.

The editorial cartooning profession is slowly dying as more and more newspapers

decide that they can do without the expense and controversy of a local political

cartoonist. The New York Times is the biggest newspaper to go without a

staff editorial cartoonist. They don’t even run comic strips.

The Times has not employed a political cartoonist for nearly fifty years and

editors at the Times have been quoted saying that they would never hire a

cartoonist because “you can’t edit a cartoonist like you can a writer,” and, “we

would never give so much power to one man.” The arrogance with which the haughty

Times dismisses our art form really sticks in the collective cartoonists’ craw.

So, imagine my surprise when I read that The New York Times was winning

the “Herbert Block Freedom Award,” a prize bearing the name of a great

political cartoonist.

Herbert Block, better known as “Herblock,” is a beloved figure among

cartoonists; he worked as the cartoonist for The Washington Post for most

of the past century, winning three Pulitzer Prizes and contributing to

the downfall of President Nixon and Senator Joe McCarthy.

During his lifetime, Herblock quietly amassed a fortune in Washington Post

stock. When he died, Herblock left money to his favorite organizations, among

them the National Cartoonists Society, which is using a $50,000 Herblock

bequest to fund a scholarship in his name. Herblock’s estate established the

Herblock Foundation which, among other things, supports the art of editorial

cartooning and bestows a yearly Herblock Award to a top cartoonist. Herblock

left money to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, which

recently received a $150,000 grant from the Herblock Foundation to fund

efforts to facilitate use of editorial cartoons in the classroom and promote our

art form on the web.

Herblock also left $50,000 to his union, The Newspaper Guild/Communications

Workers of America, which used the legacy to start an award called the “Herbert

Block Freedom Award,” that they decided to bestow upon the evil nemesis of

cartoonists, The New York Times. The award comes with a $5,000 prize, a

drop that will be thrown into the Times’ vast, private, corporate money bucket.

Cartoonists love irony, but some irony is too much to stomach.

The Newspaper Guild never thought about how giving the Times an award,

named after a beloved editorial cartoonist, would look to Herblock’s cartoonist

colleagues.  Guild President Linda Foley writes, “We did not consider the Times’

history or relationship (or lack thereof) with editorial cartooning. It’s not a

controversy or history with which we are familiar.”

The award will be presented to the Times at a banquet on March 30th to honor the

Times’ efforts in defending the confidentiality of their sources. In particular

the award is intended to honor the Times’ star reporter, Judith Miller, who is

fighting court efforts to root out a confidential source who disclosed the

identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame.   Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joe

Wilson, accuses the White House of exposing his secret agent wife in retaliation

for Wilson’s outspoken criticism of the Bush administration.

Miller is probably best known for a series of articles in the Times that

encouraged the run up to war with Iraq in which she gave credibility to false

claims that Iraq was amassing huge, menacing, stocks of weapons of mass


Now Miller is fighting to stay out of jail and defending a slimy source who

outed a CIA agent. When we think of confidential sources, we think of frightened

whistle-blowers, putting themselves at risk to point out wrongdoing.  This case

is different.  There is no whistle-blower here; it is the leak itself that is

the crime.  The source is the bad guy and Miller is a witness to the crime.

The Newspaper Guild thinks that protecting sources is noble, even in this

case. So The New York Times gets an award … but why call it the

Herblock Freedom Award?

Guild President Foley writes, “In addition to being an ardent cartoonist, Herb

Block also was an ardent trade unionist. That’s why Herb left us the $50,000 …

Trade unions, like cartoonists, are also on the verge of extinction. Newspaper

companies like Cox, Tribune, Gannett, etc., do their darndest to eliminate the

Guild. Do you folks ever give consideration to that legacy of Herb Block when

you give your awards for cartooning? I doubt it; nor would I expect it (even

though I might wish it). And we would never, ever presume that you or any other

group (such as The Herblock Foundation) was somehow “dishonoring” Herb

Block because it gave an award to a cartoonist or publication that was

anti-union. Again, we wouldn’t like it, but it wouldn’t be our award to bestow.”

OK. They can do what they want

to do in Herblock’s name. But the irony of this award creates a great

opportunity to make the point about how terrible The New York Times has

been for cartoonists.  Readers can complain to the Times by e-mailing [email protected] 

Tell them the cartoonists sent you.

Daryl Cagle is the political cartoonist for, the opinion site

of The Washington Post.  He is a past president of the National

Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to over eight hundred

newspapers, including the paper you are reading.

By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post. For the past 35 years, Daryl has been one of America’s most prolific cartoonists.