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After spiking anti-Trump cartoons, Post-Gazette fires cartoonist Rob Rogers

| Thursday, June 14, 2018, 2:30 p.m.
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The offices of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the North Shore on March 20, 2017.

After weeks of struggling with his editors over unpublished anti-Trump cartoons, longtime Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers announced that he had been fired from the paper Thursday.

A series of six spiked cartoons in late May and early June led to Rogers' extended absence from the Post-Gazette's editorial page and launched him into the national spotlight, including the Washington Post and an interview on CNN . Overall, Columbia Journalism Review said 19 of Rogers's cartoons or pre-publication ideas were shot down or left unpublished since March; he posted several of the spiked cartoons on his own Twitter feed earlier in the month and submitted another, depicting President Trump praising North Korea's Kim Jong Un atop a pile of skulls.

Rogers told CNN's Jake Tapper he got no explanation for why the last six of his cartoons — which also included critiques of Roseanne Barr and the NFL's new policy of fining players who knelt during the National Anthem — went unpublished.

"The readers had started to notice at that point, and were outraged. And that's why I'm here," he said. "They want me to be a cartoonist that I'm not."

Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block told the Washington Post in a statement prior to the firing that the dispute with Rogers was "an internal, personnel matter we are working hard to resolve. It has little to do with politics, ideology or Donald Trump. It has mostly to do with working together and the editing process."

The move was condemned by Michael Fuoco, president of the union representing the Post-Gazette's journalists.

"I barely recognize this place anymore. Rob was a talented, wonderful colleague whose only transgression was he did his job," Fuoco wrote. "What has happened to the marketplace of ideas we are supposed to provide?"

It also drew criticism from Mayor Bill Peduto, who released a statement saying the firing "sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege.

"This is precisely the time when the constitutionally-protected free press — including critics like Rob Rogers — should be celebrated and supported," Peduto said. "This decision, just one day after the President of the United States said the news media is 'Our Country's biggest enemy.' sets a low standard in the 232-year history of the newspaper."

In a statement, the union — which did not represent Rogers, but includes about 150 newsroom employees — criticized the editorial page for cutting Rogers, apparently over his leftward leanings.

"There was never a problem before but with the new order of the Post-Gazette editorial pages, it seems that those who do not follow the pro-Trump, pro-conservative orthodoxy of the publisher and editorial director are of no use," the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh statement read.

The Post-Gazette's reputation as the city's more liberally-inclined opinion section had taken an abrupt turn with the appointment of the Toledo Blade's Keith Burris to oversee the editorial pages of both papers, which are owned by Block Communications. Burris penned a controversial, unsigned editorial arguing that "racism" was being over-applied to situations like President Trump's description of immigrants coming from "shithole countries," which drew condemnation from the paper's staff and even other members of the Block family.

Burris did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Post-Gazette Executive Editor David Shribman. Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications, initially declined to comment but then had an employee take a message.

In a statement, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists said the Post-Gazette's responsibility was to its readers, "and to the open and ongoing search for truth in contending opinions. The editorial pages are a public forum, not a members-only private resort in Florida."

Rogers, who said he'd been with the Post-Gazette for more than 25 years, had taken "personal days off" while his employment status at the paper was resolved.

It was unclear whether his firing from the Post-Gazette affected his syndication deal.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or on Twitter @msantoni.

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