As you may have seen in the Press Democrat, my husband, Steve, was suspended from his freelance position as Argus Courier editorial cartoonist. The New York Times which owns the Argus decided that Steve needed to be punished for doing the illustrations for four mailers created by an independent expenditure committee opposing Pam Torliatt. And to further appease those who initiated the action, his blog was being pulled from the Petaluma360 website.
This whole situation has been a major topic of conversation in our household. I believe there are some major inconsistencies in the way this was handled and since Steve has been silenced, I am going to address them.
Let me start by saying that in the six years that Steve has drawn the editorial cartoons for the Argus, he has had a great working relationship with the publisher and editor. He is grateful for the opportunity to bring the newspaper’s editorial perspective to life while injecting some humor into the subject matter.
And I think the staff at the Argus would agree that Steve adds value to the paper. While not exactly quantifiable research, people consistently say to me, “Tell Steve we loved the cartoon this week.”
But this wasn’t enough to save him when some sore losers who are having trouble coming to grips with Rabbitt’s win discovered an “ethics violation.” They are furious at the Press Democrat and Argus for endorsing Rabbitt and now that Rabbitt won, they believe somebody has to pay. So in order to placate the vocal liberal faction, the New York Times threw the cartoonist under the bus.
Did Steve violate the newspaper’s ethics policy? First of all, Steve is not a staffer of the Argus Courier, he is a freelancer and like all writers, artists or photographers who work on a freelance basis for the newspaper, he signed an agreement that prohibits him from accepting assignments from current or potential news sources.
What is a “current or potential news source?” That could be absolutely anything because who can predict when the most benign subject matter suddenly becomes a news source? So the agreement is so broad as to be unenforceable – unless of course, someone wants to use it to suit their own purposes as they did invoking it to have Steve suspended.
Also, I doubt that Steve is the only freelancer for the newspaper who has done political work; it’s just that because he is a cartoonist, his particular style of work is more easily recognizable than that of a writer or photographer.
And why was he suspended for drawing cartoons consistent with the position of the newspaper? Steve draws the editorial cartoons based on the subject and direction that the Argus editorial staff gives him. He is not drawing cartoons that promote his own agenda. The Argus endorsed Rabbitt, yet doing work on the independent expenditure committee supporting Rabbitt gets him suspended. It would make more sense if he got suspended for working at cross purposes to the newspaper.
And let’s get practical about what being a freelancer means. The amount of money Steve gets paid per cartoon divided by the number of hours that he spends drawing it, works out to less than minimum wage. So he is certainly not doing it for the money; he draws them because he enjoys the connection with the community. Yet when a job comes along that could actually help us meet our mortgage payment, he is supposed to turn it down, saying, “I can’t take the job; I do the editorial cartoons.” Sorry, but we’re just not that righteous.
Ok, I can accept that the New York Times had to throw a bone to our liberal friends in order to appease them and Steve was the bone that got thrown. But removing his blog from Petaluma360?
That sounds like censorship to me. So much for that website being a forum for all points of view. That part really hurts.