Pittsburgh paper fires longtime editorial cartoonist after dispute over Trump work

A editorial shift toward President Trump preceded the firing, and raises questions of editorial independence in Pittsburgh and elsewhere

Rob Rogers says he saw it coming.

A new editorial page chief had come to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with the support of the newspaper’s owner, a supporter of President Trump. Rogers, the paper’s highly regarded editorial cartoonist for the past quarter-century, suddenly started seeing his cartoons being rejected for print.

On Thursday, he was fired. "Fired ... for doing his job," tweeted the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists — a view shared by targets of his cartooning from the left and right.

“I don’t know if anything could have been changed,” Rogers said in an interview. He said he asked if his cartoon could be moved to the Op-Ed page opposite the Editorial Page of the paper. (One page offers political views from around the nation; the other represents the view of the paper’s editorial board.)

He said he could not avoid cartooning Trump; nor stop drawing off the news in ways that some might find critical of the historically unpopular leader. Nor should Rogers, wrote supporters from Democratic mayor of Pittsburgh (often lampooned by Rogers) or a spokesman for the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania (another frequent target).

“This is precisely the time when the constitutionally-protected free press — including critics like Rob Rogers — should be celebrated and supported," Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement, "and not fired for doing their jobs."

From the former gubernatorial aide and journalist Dennis Roddy: "When I worked in the Corbett administration, he did his darnedest to make me unemployed. God knows I've wanted to choke Rob on more than one occasion. He's opinionated, unrestrained, and a wisenheimer of the top chop. In short, he's doing his job. He is the indispensable irritant that keeps us scratching and thinking."

Rogers said he knows the Post-Gazette is a privately owned newspaper, his position was not union protected and the owner, John Robinson Block, ultimately can do what he wishes. Nonetheless, he says, “I gave 25 years of hard work here, and in the process of doing this, I was disrespected, pushed out the door.”

Like most papers, the editorial board is separate from the newsroom to preserve the independence of news coverage, and the firing was made on the editorial board side.

The newspaper issued a statement from its human resources chief, Stephen B. Spolar: "The Post-Gazette does not provide details about employment matters, but in light of Mr. Rogers’ public comments today, we do want to acknowledge his long service to the newspaper and our community. Any further discussions will be conducted with Mr. Rogers as a private matter."

The firing follows orders from local TV giant Sinclair to have anchors read a company-written message questioning other news sources that don’t share the Trump-friendly stance of its corporate leadership.

In 2016, Block was photographed with Trump, CNN reported. He and the new Pittsburgh editorial board chief, Keith Burris, spent time with Trump on the president's plane following a 2016 campaign rally in Toledo, the Toledo Blade reported.

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