A Cartoonist Spins in his
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
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 Slate.com, 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.