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Is firing editorial cartoonists another death knell for newspapers?

By: Keith Kappes
Carter County Times

In the newspaper business, winning a Pulitzer Price is like getting an Academy Award for a movie role. It is recognition of the best of the best and the accomplishment of a lifetime.

But that achievement apparently meant nothing to the McClatchy newspapers recently when they fired three editorial cartoonists, including Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader, all of whom had won Pulitzers.

Also dismissed were Jack Ohman of California’s Sacramento Bee and and Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina. Ohman and Siers were full-time staffers and Pett worked as a freelancer, a part-time position.

According to national sources, including the Washington Post, the dismissals came without warning.

How’s that for expressing gratitude to these professional artists who brought international fame to their newspapers?

Perhaps the worst part of this situation is the possibility that Pett’s firing might have been a consequence of his cartoons of State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s first black nominee for governor.

Cameron has accused Pett of being a race-baiter in his cartoons and called for his firing at a news conference, supposedly unaware that the cartoonist had been dismissed just hours earlier. How’s that for a coincidence?

Pett says his superiors at the Herald-Leader never told him to avoid cartoons about Cameron but gave him a series of “guidelines”. For instance, he was quoted by the AP as saying he was told not to depict Cameron wearing a MAGA hat backward.

As a former newspaper publisher, I know from firsthand experience that most, if not all, corporate executives of newspaper chains are very skittish, even paranoid, about being sued for any reason.

And we are well aware that Cameron, the Republican nominee, has a reputation for a quick draw when it comes to filing lawsuits, especially during this campaign year when he is trying to unseat the state’s most popular governor in recent memory.

Contact Keith at keithkappes@gmail.com.



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