(voir la version en français tout en bas)
All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.
In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they'll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon - not even mine - that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.
I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in.
Over the last years, with the Cartooning for Peace Foundation we established with French cartoonist Plantu and the late Kofi Annan - a great defender of cartoons - or on the board of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, I have consistently warned about the dangers of those sudden (and often organized) backlashes that carry everything in their path. If cartoons are a prime target it’s because of their nature and exposure: they are an encapsulated opinion, a visual shortcut with an unmatched capacity to touch the mind. That’s their strength, and their vulnerability. They might also be a revealor of something deeper. More than often, the real target, behind the cartoon, is the media that published it.
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