In one of the biggest non-surprises of the year, University of Virginia student newspaper cartoonist Grant Woolard has been fired from the Cavalier Daily student newspaper for authoring two cartoons published in recent weeks (as I discussed previously in The Torch, and thanks to a Torch reader for the tip). Woolard’s future with the paper had been in jeopardy since protests about his cartoons began, leading the newspaper to start “working with” administrators to deal with the fallout from the cartoons (and, undoubtedly, with the 65 “bias reports” against Woolard that stemmed from the newspaper’s publishing of the cartoons).
Student newspapers have the right to fire columnists and cartoonists for nearly any reason, as they should. Whether it is wise to fire a controversial columnist or cartoonist at the first sign of trouble, and just what the ramifications might be for journalistic independence and integrity, are separate questions altogether. But just to give a taste of what the environment for political cartoonists can be like today, here’s a segment of the Washington Post article I linked above that quotes the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, the American publication perhaps best known for its cartoons that touch on political and societal themes:
“The New Yorker magazine would not have published it,” Mankoff said. “It doesn’t sound on the face of it that his intention was to offend, but there is liability there by not being aware of these issues. We live in a very polarized society in which there are long-running grievances.”
So how does an artist make a funny cartoon about Ethiopian famine? “You might make fun of people and models who aspire to this emaciated look and show their fatuousness,” Mankoff said. “It’s a more sophisticated approach.”
So in order to depict the misery and starvation of Ethiopians, you need to depict someone other than Ethiopians. Even Thomas Nast never had it this tough.