VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A journalist on Canada’s east coast is now the subject of international news coverage after he was let go from his paper, apparently over a Donald Trump cartoon.
Michael de Adder implies on Twitter that his cartoon — depicting Donald Trump in golf gear asking two drowned migrants if he can “play through” — cost him his job at Brunswick News Inc.
“Does it matter if I was fired over one Donald Trump cartoon when every Donald Trump cartoon I submitted in the past year was axed?” one of de Adder’s tweets reads.
The long Twitter thread also implies de Adder’s cartoons critical of New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs were also scrapped because Higgs is a former Irving Oil executive, and most newspapers that province are run by the Irving family.
The Premier of New Brunswick Blaine Higgs is a former Irving Oil executive and any cartoon I drew that was slightly critical of him was systematically axed. You want to know why I was let go? I wanted to do my job as an editorial cartoonist, and they wanted me to do their job.
— Michael de Adder (@deAdder) July 1, 2019
“You want to know why I was let go?” de Adder tweets. “I wanted to do my job as an editorial cartoonist, and they wanted me to do their job.”
The cartoonist says he eventually stopped submitting his cartoons of Trump and Higgs for fear of being fired.
A sign of the times
Jeffrey Dvorkin, who heads up the journalism program at the University of Toronto, says in a changing media landscape, newspapers in particular are afraid of alienating the readers they still have.
That, he notes, is a problem.
“Part of the role of journalism is not so much to annoy people, but to get them to think,” Dvorkin says, adding a lot of newspapers have now started putting editorial cartoons by the wayside.
“It seems to be something of a trend. The New York Times just announced that it would no longer run editorial cartoons after its international edition ran a cartoon from a Spanish cartoonist that was deemed anti-semitic, so the Times responded by saying, ‘alright, we’re not going to run anymore, anywhere, anytime.'”
Dvorkin believes large, “confident”, news organizations backing away from running editorial cartoons shows anxiety and fear these entities have in a new digital age.
“Where the goal is to aggregate but not annoy audiences,” he says.
For its part, Brunswick News Inc. says the decision to replace de Adder with a different cartoonist was made long before his Trump cartoon went viral.
In a statement, the company says it’s “entirely incorrect” to say that Michael de Adder was fired over the image.
Please see the attached statement issued today by Brunswick News Inc. regarding incorrect information on social media about BNI's freelance contract with cartoonist Michael de Adder. pic.twitter.com/173SSPMJYs
— Telegraph-Journal (@TJProvincial) June 30, 2019
So why are cartoons a target? Dvorkin says political cartoons have always been “pointed.”
“They can pack a punch in ways that writing 2,000 words may not be able to do in quite the same way,” he explains. “There’s a long tradition of political cartooning annoying people in power. It’s a great journalistic tradition that unfortunately, in this digital age, we seem to be losing and I think that’s really too bad.”
When political cartoons are increasingly lost, Dvorkin says it’s just evidence that we’ve become “perhaps overly sensitive to what may cause offence.”