Political cartoons are some of the oldest forms of commentary and dissent of humanity. They have had transformative effect on politics and policies, often highlighting important issues through satiric or absurd images. Indeed, a cartoon can often say in a single image what some of us struggle to explain in hundreds of words. Legendary figures from Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Nast advocated such forms of commentary. They are visual narratives that continue to be valued by readers but have been curtailed by small groups of well-organized critics. It is for that reason that the recent announcement by the New York Times is so distressing. After a controversy over a cartoon denounced as anti-Semitic, the paper will cease running political cartoons. It is the perfect embodiment of our humorous, hyper-sensitive environment of the age of rage.
The decision follows the controversy over a cartoon by Portuguese artist Antonio Moreira Antunes that depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind, yarmulke-wearing President Trump.
On July 1st, the New York Times will cease running daily political cartoons in its international edition. Editorial page editor James Bennet said in a statement said that the decision follows a mover in the domestic side of the paper.
The curtailment of cartoons follows a domestic trend where cartoonists are being fired and pages being scrubbed of edgy cartoon commentary. The decision of the New York Times however is a critical moment for political cartooning. This is widely viewed as our premier news publications and is the source of many of the most famous and transformative single-panel cartoons in history.
Gone will be the single-panel cartoons that are so associated with historical periods going back to the Revolutionary War.
The termination of daily political cartoons is the ultimate CYA moment for the NYT. No one can criticize them about such cartoons if they run no cartoons. They can achieve even greater insulation from criticism by just running cut-out coupons on the opinion page . . . well . . . coupons without pictures.