The End Times of the Political Cartoon

POLITICO Magazine | 7/1/2019 | JACK SHAFER
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Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

The reaper came for another editorial cartoonist over the weekend.

Brunswick - News - Newspaper - Group - Canada

The Brunswick News newspaper group in Canada canceled Michael de Adder’s contract a couple of days after he distributed a cartoon on Twitter depicting Donald Trump on the fairway, golf club in hand, asking two face-down, drowned migrants, “Do you mind if I play through?”

Essays marking the decline of editorial cartooning have been perennial since 1954, when the Saturday Review’s Henry Ladd Smith declared the form trite and exhausted. But we are now really entering the end times of the editorial cartoon. At the beginning of the last century, about 2,000 editorial cartoonists worked for American newspapers. By 1957 the number of full-time newspaper cartoonists had fallen to 275. As recently as 2007, they numbered 84, but the decline has continued to the point that the number of salaried cartoonists has reached about 30. Even freelance editorial cartoonists are feeling the pain—just last week, Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media ended its funding of the editorial cartoon site The Nib.

Cartoons - Dynasties - Thomas - Nast - Boss

Cartoons were once so powerful they could bring down political dynasties, as Thomas Nast’s brought down Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall in 1870s New York. In the 1960s, Richard Nixon understood that a single cartoon of him by Herblock was powerful enough to block his political comeback. “I have to erase the Herblock image,” Nixon said. Just a generation ago, readers delighted in celebrating or damning the acerbic cartoons by Paul Conrad or Pat Oliphant. But somewhere along the line, editorial cartoons lost their cultural primacy. Who do we blame? And do we have a good reason to root for their return?

Some of the reasons for the cartoon crackup are economic. The newspaper industry has been in steady decline since the advent of radio and then television;...
(Excerpt) Read more at: POLITICO Magazine
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