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Post-Gazette Cartoonist Rob Rogers Fired

Photo by Sylvia Rhor
Veteran Cartoonist Rob Rogers parted ways with the paper amid a protracted dispute with management

Veteran Pittsburgh editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers has been terminated from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- the latest controversy to engulf the paper's editorial page.

Rogers had been largely absent from the paper since late May. In an interview with 90.5 WESA Thursday afternoon, Rogers was cautious about discussing internal conversations. But he portrayed his departure as the result of a philosophical rift with the publication's increasingly conservative editorial page.

"It feels like suppression of my viewpoints certainly, from management," he said.

"We're living in a very dark time, in terms of who's in the White House and in terms of embracing what would otherwise be thought of as despicable racism, despicable thoughts," Rogers said. Seeing the paper's once moderate-to-liberal editorial page defending Trump, he said, "was very disheartening." 

"I felt like, 'As long as they leave me alone, I’ll be an independent voice on that page and readers will be able to come to this page and get something out of it,'" he said. "But that’s not the case anymore."

Rogers, a nationally recognized cartoonist who'd been with the paper since 1993, tweeted the news of his departure early Thursday afternoon. "Sad to report this update: Today, after 25 years as the editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I was fired," he wrote.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responded two hours later, issuing a statement saying that Rogers' departure "sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege. 

"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," the statement continued. "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."

As 90.5 WESA first reported on June 2, the paper almost entirely ceased publishing Rogers' cartoons in late May. Rogers' plight garnered national headlines, including an appearance on CNN, soon after. 

Rogers has said he was never explicitly given a reason for why the paper killed six of his cartoons. But observers, including some with deep ties to the paper, fingered Keith Burris, who directs the editorial section for both the Post-Gazette and its sister paper, the Toledo Blade.

Burris started splitting his time between the papers in March. Rogers said that since that time, the paper had killed 10 of his completed cartoons, and rejected ideas for another nine. In a typical year, he told 90.5 WESA, the paper would only reject two or three cartoons.

Under Burris and publisher John Robinson Block, the paper's editorial page has turned decidedly to the right, often championing Donald Trump. Some of the resulting edtorials, especially a piece defending Trump from charges of racism, have drawn critical coverage from the national press.

The paper has previously described Rogers' disappearance from its pages as a "personnel matter," not tied to politics. Late Thursday afternoon, the paper's issued a statement attributed to its chief HR officer, Stephen Spolar, saying it "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 discussisons will be conducted with Mr. Rogers as a private matter."

But when asked last week whether  he thought his criticisms of Trump had played a role in his suspension, Rogers told 90.5 WESA, "Look at the cartoons that were killed and make up your own mind."

Rogers had been taking vacation time from the paper in recent days. Neither Burris nor a Post-Gazette spokeswoman immediately returned requests for comment.

Rogers said his work will still appear in syndication. 

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.