For all the good that it’s done, the New York Times sometimes makes decisions that stoke the anger or disappointment of its readers. The announcement on Monday that the Times‘s international edition will no longer publish daily political cartoons, thus cutting ties with two contracted cartoonists, seems to have done both.
The move is the surprising conclusion to nearly two months of controversy. In April, the International print edition ran a political cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dachshund, a Star of David dangling from his leash, as he led a blind, yarmulke-wearing Donald Trump. The Times leadership was immediately accused of anti-Semitism, and less than a week later, the global edition announced that it would stop publishing syndicated cartoons entirely.
Today in a written statement, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel implored the Times to get through the criticisms and give political cartoons another shot. “Free speech and open discourse demands an understanding that mistakes and offenses will occur,” Nossel wrote, “and a determination that these not be answered by shutting down expression to avert future lapses.”
Nossel’s diplomatic call was echoed in the opinion section of The Guardian, with cartoonist Martin Rowson calling the decision a “gross overcorrection” and “particularly irksome in its intoxicating combination of cowardice, pomposity, over-reaction and hypocrisy.”
To be sure, Nossel and Rowson aren’t alone in their condemnation.
This is a horrible decision by the NYT. https://t.co/wRuSbIRpsU
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 10, 2019
— Liza Donnelly (@lizadonnelly) June 12, 2019
— Kevin Siers (@KevinSiers) June 11, 2019
“The possibility of offense must not be reason to shut down valued channels of speech.” By retiring political cartoons, @nytimes is silencing a necessary form of political expression. Read @penamerican’s statement on the matter: https://t.co/6z6MYVYopY @CartooningPeace @CRNetInt pic.twitter.com/fWxwFXCZ8Q
— ARC (@AtRiskArtists) June 12, 2019
Though criticisms of the Netanyahu/Trump image were resounding, the decision to cease the publication of political cartoons outright has been interpreted as brash and overly sensitive, an unthinking concession to any and all forms of outcry.
In a statement of his own, editorial page editor James Bennet boasted, with pretty odd timing, that the Times won its first ever Pulitzer Prize for political cartooning in 2018, for Jake Halpern and Michael Sloan’s nonfiction series illustrating the journey of one Syrian family to the United States.
Congrats, I guess?