PEN Responds to New York Times Dropping Editorial Cartoons

Last week, it was announced that the New York Times will no longer publish editorial cartoons effective July 1. The news came as a frustrating surprise to both subscribers and cartoonists alike. Now, advocacy organization PEN America has issued a response to the New York Times decision and asks that the publication reconsider the decision.

In the statement, PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel notes the unique form of political commentary cartoons offer and expresses concern that the New York Times decision could "hasten the death" of the form.

"We sincerely hope the New York Times will reconsider the decision to retire cartoons from its International edition. Free speech and open discourse demands an understanding that mistakes and offenses will occur, and a determination that these not be answered by shutting down expression to avert future lapses," the statement reads. "In an age of fast-evolving social mores and heightened awareness of offense, political cartooning has become a risky business. But if outlets like the New York Times retreat from this uniquely potent form of political commentary, it may hasten the death of a form that has contributed immensely to our political conversation over time. The possibility of offense must not be reason to shut down valued channels of speech. As a leader in media the New York Times can get this right and help us to see how cartoons can continue to provide insight and inspiration amid our shared global commitment to eradicating bigotry.”

The New York Times' decision to remove editorial cartoons from their International edition marks the end of all such cartoons in their publications. Editorial cartoons had already been removed from their domestic edition and while the move to remove them from the international edition has been characterized as a move to bring that edition in line with the U.S. version, the decision also comes close on the heels of a controversy involving political cartoons, causing some to question the decision.

In late April this year, the Times severed ties with one of its cartoon syndicates after the publication of a cartoon in their international edition that sparked a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League. The cartoon in question featured President Donald Trump "wearing a yarmulke and being led by a dachshund with the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wore a Star of David dog collar. The second antisemitic cartoon showed Netanyahu wearing sunglasses, descending a mountain while holding a selfie stick and a stone tablet marked with the Jewish star," according to The Beat. The Times called the cartoon an "error in judgment".


As for the removal of all political cartoons from the international edition, the publication issued an official statement to Twitter last Monday, promising a continued commitment to "visual journalism".

“We’re very grateful for and proud of the work Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song have done for the international edition of the New York Times, which circulates overseas; however, for well over a year we have been considering bringing that edition into line with the domestic paper by ending daily editorial cartoons and will do so beginning July 1,” the statement reads. "We plan to continue investing in forms of Opinion journalism, including visual journalism, that express nuance, complexity and strong voice from a diversity of viewpoints across all our platforms."