Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fires editorial cartoonist critical of President Trump

Rob Rogers worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 25 years.

June 15, 2018, 4:40 PM
PHOTO: Cartoonist Rob Rogers poses for a photo in his studio in Pittsburgh, 2009.
Cartoonist Rob Rogers poses for a photo in his studio in Pittsburgh, 2009.
Courtesy Sylvia Rhor

An award-winning editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whose sketches have been critical of President Donald Trump was fired Thursday.

Rob Rogers, a Pulitzer Prize finalist who had been with the daily newspaper in Pittsburgh for 25 years, announced his own firing via Twitter. He tweeted, "Sad to report this update: Today, after 25 years as the editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I was fired."

In a statement emailed to ABC News on Friday, Rogers said he is "troubled" by management's decision and how the newspaper's leadership has "veered away from core journalistic values" in recent months.

"I am incredibly proud of the 34 years I have spent drawing editorial cartoons in Pittsburgh -- 25 of them at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I felt I was a valued and respected member of a quality newspaper staff. This situation changed dramatically and abruptly in recent months," Rogers said in the statement.

"The Post-Gazette’s leadership has veered away from core journalistic values that embrace diverse opinions and public discourse on important issues. I am especially troubled that management’s decision to fire me discounts the thousands of readers who turn to the Post-Gazette for editorials, columns, and cartoons that, while not always reflecting their own positions, challenge preconceived notions and invite thought, conversation, and keep the civic conversation going. I fear that today’s unjustified firing of a dissenting voice on the editorial pages will only serve to diminish an opinion section that was once one of America’s best."

"I love what I do and will continue to find ways to do it and get it out there. The world needs satire now more than ever," Rogers added.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued a statement about Rogers' termination, saying it is "disappointing" and "sets a low standard."

"The move today by the leadership of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to fire Rob Rogers after he drew a series of cartoons critical of President Trump is disappointing, and sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege," Peduto, a Democrat, said in the statement Thursday. "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."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published its own article on Rogers' firing that included a statement from the newspaper's chief human resources officer, Stephen 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," Spolar said in the statement.

Spolar did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment Friday.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that its editorial director, Keith Burris, had nixed a number of Rogers' cartoons in recent weeks, including some depicting Trump.

In an interview with one of the newspaper's reporters, Burris said he didn't "suppress" Rogers' sketches but was trying to address the "tone and frequency" of his cartoons about the president.

"I asked for broader topics and could they be funnier?" Burris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Burris did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment Friday.

Earlier this month, Rogers posted a series of tweets explaining that he would be taking some vacation days until "issues" between him and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were resolved.

"I love what I do. Now, more than ever, I believe in the power of satire and the public dialogue that it can create," he tweeted on June 6. "I can't get into specifics here, but I felt that it was best under the circumstances to take some vacation days until issues with the Post-Gazette are resolved."

A week later, just before his firing, Rogers tweeted that those issues remained "unresolved," as did his "employment status." He posted a cartoon he had sketched about the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which did not appear in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last published one of Rogers' editorial cartoons on June 5 -- a sketch criticizing the United States for waging a trade war with Canada, Mexico, and Europe. His last cartoon to appear in the newspaper before that was on May 24 -- a sketch lambasting the Republican-led Congress alongside a remark from Rogers, saying, "I really hope the midterm elections stick it to cowardly Republicans who won't stand up to Trump or defend the rule of law. Disgusting."

Rogers, who has been critical of Democrats as well, continued to produce cartoons during his absence from the newspaper, posting his work on social media and his personal blog.

Burris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he ultimately offered Rogers a deal in which he would be an independent contractor for the newspaper, producing two cartoons per week for the op-ed page along with his weekly comic strip, "Brewed on Grant." But Rogers was unwilling to "collaborate," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"We tried hard to find a middle way, an accommodation to keep him at the paper," Burris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"We never said he should do no more Trump cartoons or do pro-Trump cartoons," he added. "For an in-house staff cartoonist, editing is part of it. Rob’s view was, 'Take it or leave it.'"

Rogers has won a number of awards for his work, including the Thomas Nast Award from the Overseas Press Club, the National Headliner Award, the Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation and Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. In 1999, Rogers was a finalist in editorial cartooning for the Pulitzer Prize, according to his personal website.

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