Never say it’s only a cartoon.
I quickly learned that when responding to comments and complaints about the political cartoons on the Opinion and Commentary pages.
Cartoon images convey a feeling before the words even register. Usually they express simple one-sided views, so the feeling can be pretty pure and deep whether the view is loved or hated. Cut it out and put it on the fridge or tear it up.
Visual images have great power to persuade people, without using reason. Indeed, visual advertisements routinely give people an irrational belief in a product.
No surprise, then, that political cartoons sometimes seem to perfectly distill a complex understanding of a person or topic — or unfairly distort an issue or smear a person.
The Press Editorial Board sees value in offering a lot of political cartoons. While many newspapers print one a day, we typically publish 22 cartoons per week.
Presenting many cartoons serves the board’s fundamental goal of providing a wide range of views and ideas, with a fair balance between what are often competing and conflicting positions.
This has been a challenge for many years, as liberal cartoonists favoring Democratic positions have substantially outnumbered conservative cartoonists favoring Republican stances in the national content syndicates that offer cartoons. With the rise of the unorthodox candidacy of Donald Trump, it became impossible for a while.
As Daryl Cagle, who heads one of the syndicates we use, said during last year’s presidential campaign, “I’m not aware of any professional political cartoonist who supports Trump. There is no range of views in cartoons about Trump.”
There probably were cartoonists supporting Trump who didn’t feel free to express anything positive about him in a cartoon. Even “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams said he felt compelled to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton “for my personal safety” and social acceptability.
This began to change once Trump locked up the Republican nomination. A few of the conservative cartoonists began depicting reasons for his popularity.
After Trump was elected president, conservative and independent cartoonists regularly offered the occasional Trump-neutral or even pro-Trump political cartoon. Then, apparently responding to the market demand for more variety of viewpoints, the syndicates added a few cartoonists who usually offer work favorable to the president.
Now there is a good range of perspectives available, but the partisan imbalance among cartoonists persists. Of the 44 cartoonists whose work The Press has used the past few years (nearly all from three big national syndicates), by my count 31 are predominantly liberal/Democratic, seven are predominantly conservative/Republican and just six seem to be truly independent.
Aiming for a rough balance in viewpoints is just one criteria for choosing political cartoons. The most interesting or effective presentation of a view or idea is preferable (especially since many cartoonists often address the same topic at the same time).
A cartoon chosen to go with a commentary can support or oppose its view. The only requirement (hard enough to meet) is that it be related to the topic.
And humor can be best. The comics elsewhere in The Press are funnier day to day than the political cartoons, but there are exceptions, such as Steve Sack’s lament Thursday on the rapid demise of White House communications director Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci.
We aren’t inclined to print political cartoons that are gratuitously demeaning or vulgar. Our overall goal for these pages is to enrich and advance the community conversation on the issues of the day, and some cartoons contribute nothing.
But we’ll publish a cartoon that some, even many, will find offensive if its content effectively conveys a valid view.
We know, this sounds like a lot of work just to pick some cartoons. After all, they’re “only cartoons.” But we think this era of strong citizen engagement and deep partisan divide requires it.
Email Kevin Post, editorial page editor of The Press, at firstname.lastname@example.org.