Supporters of longtime, award-winning Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers gathered outside the newspaper’s former Downtown location today to condemn what they’re calling the censorship of his work by the paper’s higher-ups, particularly art that is critical of President Donald Trump.
“The silencing of Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh’s premier political cartoonist, by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has outraged the paper’s readers and drawn national attention and condemnation,” said a press release from rally organizers, the “Ad Hoc Group to Free Rob Rogers.”
“The local paper is one of the foundations of American democracy. Its purpose is to inform the citizens and to hold the powerful in the public and private sectors accountable. But who is there to hold the Post-Gazette accountable? We, the people. That’s who. And that is why we’ll be demonstrating…”
Dozens gathered outside 34 Boulevard of the Allies around 11 a.m., many holding signs featuring Rogers cartoons not published in the Post-Gazette. Others held signs touting freedom of the press or equating censorship of the press with propaganda.
Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill was among those to address the crowd.
“I talked to [Rob] yesterday, and he does not want you to unsubscribe. He wants you to do things like this. He wants you to turn out. He wants you to call the newspaper. He wants you to write [to] the newspaper. He wants you to badger them.”
Fliers were circulated at today’s rally urging attendees to call and write letters of complaint to Editorial Page Director Keith Burris and also to cancel subscriptions.
Don Kretchmann of Rochester, Pa., drove 45 minutes to attend the rally, explaining, “It’s such an important issue, and I love Rob Rogers’ cartoons and I’ve been watching this unfold, suspicioning that there was some sort of shenanigans going on behind the scenes… It’s too important a thing to watch the paper go down that way.”
Organizer Lynn Cullen, a Pittsburgh journalist who hosts an internet radio talk show on the Pittsburgh City Paper‘s website, said of the impetus for the event, “It’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine, it’s the proverbial slippery slope: A newspaper actually censoring its own political cartoonist whose very job is to provoke and inform. […] They refuse to let us see cartoons that are seen in other publications in other city’s newspapers.” (Rogers’ cartoons are syndicated.)
Cullen added of the decision to hold the event at the paper’s old building Downtown instead of its new location on the North Shore, “This is where the Post-Gazette was the paper we’re all now missing. And we also held it here so we wouldn’t draw people away from the gay pride marches, which are kicking off now [Downtown].”
On Friday, Rogers told The Incline he would not be participating in the rally and had no part in its planning. He said he would be out of town.
In an June 6 interview, Rogers told CNN that he was not told why his cartoons weren’t published by the Post-Gazette but linked the decisions to Keith Burris — editor, vice president and editorial director for Block Communications, Inc., the company that owns the Post-Gazette and the Toledo Blade — and John R. Block, publisher and a member of the family for whom the ownership company is named.
“It’s not that they won’t run any Trump cartoons, they will,” Rogers told CNN, adding, “but there have been some that have been killed.”
Rogers claims six of his cartoons were “spiked” in recent weeks before a seventh on trade was published. News reports said that as many as 19 of his ideas or cartoons were declined since Burris took over as editorial director in March.
While the Post-Gazette ran the Rogers cartoon on trade on Tuesday, Rogers, who remains employed by the Post-Gazette, said on social media that he’s taking a break until “issues” with the Post-Gazette are resolved.
In a statement to CNN, Tracey DeAngelo, chief marketing officer for the Post-Gazette, called it an internal personnel matter that has “little to do with politics, ideology or President Trump,” adding, “It has mostly to do with working together and the editing process.”
Rogers’ supporters, however, are unconvinced.
“What we see now with Trump and the Republican party is the beginning of an erosion, and it’s not just about Rob Rogers or the Post-Gazette but is a clear sign of what somebody like Trump opens up in terms of fertile ground for people like Block and Burris and others to step in and act with impunity,” said Ken Boas, a retired english professor at Pitt and community activist. “This is just the beginning.”
Both Block and Burris have been criticized in recent months for the conservative turn of the paper’s editorial page but more pointedly for a column published on on Martin Luther King Jr. Day defending Trump from allegations of racism.
Days earlier, on January 11, a rogue Post-Gazette employee used the paper’s official Twitter account to raise alarm bells about Block’s directive that a profane expression used by the president in reference to countries like Haiti and those in Africa be removed from the lede of an Associated Press article. “Shithole” ultimately appeared in versions of the article on the PG’s website but not in the lede of the AP article that appeared on the front page of the print edition.
Larger questions about Block’s approach to Trump have been building since the 2016 primary. The paper’s editorial page also endorsed the Trump-backed candidate in March’s 18th Congressional District special election, Rick Saccone, to the chagrin of some readers.
But O’Neill said at the rally today that Saccone lost — and that election wouldn’t even have happened if Post-Gazette reporter Paula Reed Ward hadn’t “exposed Tim Murphy’s hypocrisy.”
“If you want that to go away, unsubscribe to the Post-Gazette tomorrow. I hope you stick with us. I don’t expect to be persuasive to everyone, but there’s a lot more to the Post-Gazette, still, than those two [editorial] pages,” he said.