The Washington Post’s opinion pages were never particularly good, so the fact that they have devolved into a sad, toxic wasteland mostly inhabited by lazy neocons and right-wing reprobates is a shame, but not tragic.
What the Post opinion pages always excelled at, however, was political cartooning.
Herblock, one of the greatest cartoonists of all time, skewered the powerful and championed the little guy on a daily basis for the Post from 1946 to 2001. He was succeeded by Tom Toles, who brilliantly attacked hypocrisy and warned about climate change. Toles retired in 2020. The Post hasn’t had a full-time daily cartoonist since.
And now, opinion editor David Shipley – installed a year ago by Post owner Jeff Bezos — has largely replaced political cartoons with a rotation of pathetic, unfunny “gag” cartoons that aren’t political at all. That is tragic.
Technically, they’re “New Yorker style,” but they wouldn’t make the cut at Highlights, not to mention the New Yorker. Consider this one. Or this one. Or this one. Go check them all out. All I can say is: Gag.
The rotation seems to also include right-winger Michael Ramirez, who is consistently unfunny and unintelligible. The meh Michael de Adder, who at one point appeared to be Toles’s replacement, still pops up once in a while, but less all the time.
There’s been no public announcement, but it’s pretty clear that Shipley doesn’t think political cartoonists add much to the mix.
And he couldn’t be more wrong. Political cartoonists are, as a group, the best political journalists out there. They’re even better than the late-night comedians at calling bullshit.
Reporters get tangled up in the skein of lies and deceptions and theatrics that make up modern politics; cartoonists cut right to the heart of the matter.
Reporters self-censor themselves out of fear of offending their readers — or, more realistically, their editors; cartoonists realize that it’s their job to offend, to outrage, to startle.
In a political climate that is profoundly depressing to anyone paying attention, the cartoonists bring light and heat and joy and tears, which I’m pretty sure is the closest thing we have to a cure.
A daily political cartoon that actually says something is one way Post opinion could distinguish itself from the New York Times — in a good way
There is great work being done every day by the likes of Nick Anderson, Rob Rogers, Clay Bennett, Steve Benson, Chip Bok, Steve Breen, Jeff Danziger, Walt Handelsman, Kevin Siers, David Horsey, Drew Sheneman, Jack Ohman, Ward Sutton, and Tom Tomorrow. Go look! You’ll thank me!
(I know, they’re all men, which sucks. Also, I’m sure I left some out, so tell me who in comments.)
In my view, the Post should promote Telnaes and hire Mike Luckovich. But first it would have to fire Shipley.
[UPDATE on July 13, 2023: The hedge fund that now owns McClatchy has just fired three Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonists: Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer.]