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Published on June 19th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley

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What Does A Fired Cartoonist In Pittsburgh Have To Do With Clean Tech?

June 19th, 2018 by  


Until a few hours ago, I had never heard of Rob Rogers, an editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He worked for the paper for 25 years, penning cartoons about the news of the day from Bill Clinton’s escapades in the Oval Office to “Mission Accomplished” moments during the Bush Lite years. But his latest cartoons that zinged Donald Trump proved too much for the paper’s new executive editor. Rogers is now the former editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch.

A Voice Of Protest Is Stilled

The newspaper says it had nothing to do with Rogers’ cartoons. It simply asked him to sign a new employment contract, one which severely limited his freedom of expression. When he refused, he was fired. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Below are some of Rogers’s most recent cartoons, several of which the newspaper refused to publish.

Now, no one is suggesting that Rogers’ cartoons are not strong stuff. Clearly, some people will find them offensive. Particularly this one.

But isn’t that the point? “Suppressing voices in any situation is bad,” Rogers tells The Guardian. “You want to have as many voices as you can and they are starting to have only one voice of the paper, and I think that goes against what a free press is all about — especially when silencing that voice is because of the president.”

Should Have Seen It Coming

In an op-ed piece published by the New York Times, Rogers wrote, “I should’ve seen it coming. When I had lunch with my new boss a few months ago, he informed me that the paper’s publisher believed that the editorial cartoonist was akin to an editorial writer, and that his views should reflect the philosophy of the newspaper. That was a new one to me. I was trained in a tradition in which editorial cartoonists are the live wires of a publication — as one former colleague put it, the “constant irritant.” Our job is to provoke readers in a way words alone can’t. Cartoonists are not illustrators for a publisher’s politics.”

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Paduto, who has been the object of more than one Rogers cartoon, was outraged by the firing. In a statement, he said, “This is precisely the time when the constitutionally protected free press — including critics like Rob Rogers — should be celebrated and supported, and not fired for doing their jobs. This decision, just one day after the president of the United States said the news media is ‘our country’s biggest enemy’, sets a low standard in the 232-year history of the newspaper.”

Satire Through The Ages

The Madhouse Effect dust jacket from Tom TolesSatire has a been a staple of literature since time immemorial and has often been used to expose the hubris and hypocrisy that underpins oppressive regimes. The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most enduring plays. It is set in Japan, but it is a thinly disguised send up of the British government during the reign of Queen Victoria. Gulliver’s Travels, Alice In Wonderland, and Tom Jones — all of which are taught to American children as examples of great literature — were all vehicles for exposing the foibles of various British monarchs.

Much of the writings of Charles Dickens had political themes. Most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in foreign countries — Italy and Denmark were two of The Bard’s favorite locations — but those settings were merely artifice designed to permit the playwright to criticize the contemporary government without being thrown in jail for sedition.

Cartoonists like Tom Toles and Matt Wuerker carry on the tradition of lampooning the powerful today. Both have made Donald Trump the subject of some deliciously subversive drawings. Toles’ work is featured on the editorial pages of the Washington Post and Wuerker’s on Politico.

The MSM And Climate Change

What does any of this have to do with you? Everything. In the United States and many other nations around the world, access to information is under attack in ways never before experienced in the course of human history. Rather than setting information free as envisioned by the pioneers who created the internet, the digital age has made it easier than ever before to capture and control the narrative.

In the days of the Third Reich, tens of thousands had to leave their homes and travel to giant stadiums to hear the messages so carefully crafted by Josef Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl. Today, those messages from tyrants come straight into our homes and onto our smart phones thanks to the wonders of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and YouTube.

More than half of all Americans are represented in Congress by avowed climate change deniers whose seats at the table were bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute, the Heartland Institute and others who want to extract and burn every molecule of fossil fuel available anywhere on planet Earth in order to enrich their already bloated coffers.

In order for the clean tech revolution to move forward, people need to hear the message and develop a sense of trust in the messengers. But Bill McKibben recently conducted a review of all 660 op-ed pieces published this year by the New York Times and found only 6 dealt with the issue of climate change. The clean tech message is not getting out and the ramifications of that lack of information does not bode well for confronting the deterioration of the Earth’s climate in any meaningful way in order to avert the pending disaster.

The Gathering Storm Over Free Speech

The walls are closing in on journalism. Donald Trump’s hand-picked leader of the Federal Trade Commission has taken a wrecking ball to policies meant to preserve open and unrestricted access to information. Not only has he used a sledgehammer to sweep away net neutrality, he obliterated the long-standing rule that limited the ability of one company to own multiple media outlets in a single market.

The result is that Sinclair Broadcasting — a hard right conservative organization — is now close to owning 74% of all newspapers, radio, and television stations in the United States. People working at those stations are now required to read pro-fossil fuel, anti-climate change messages crafted at company headquarters on air during every broadcast. Freedom of the press? Not in your wildest dreams.

A lack of net neutrality means media giants like Disney, Time-Warner, and Comcast will soon decide which news you should see and which will be inaccessible. How is that a good thing for clean tech advocates? Will your world be better when CleanTechnica takes so long to download that people decide to go elsewhere for their news and get steered by oh-so-helpful algorithms to places like Breitbart and Fox News?

The firing of Rob Rogers is more than a tragedy for him personally. It is a blow to anyone who seeks access to the truth in an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world. It means it is getting easier to suppress any meaningful discussion of the climate emergency confronting us all and strategies to combat it.

It is said that the role of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Satire — even the biting, hard-hitting cartoons Rob Rogers is famous for — is an essential part of a functioning government. What happened to Rogers should be a warning to us all. The best defense would be a public campaign to de-fund news outlets like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by organizing a boycott of its advertisers. The same could be said for Fox News, the most virulent purveyor of false information in the history of the world.

Many years ago, during the dark days of the Bush II administration, I was moved to try my hand at cartooning. All I came up with was a few badly done Photoshops. One is still relevant today, I am saddened to say. Good thing I didn’t quit my day job!


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may take him. His muse is Charles Kuralt -- "I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what's around the bend?" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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