By Daryl Cagle
March 18, 2005
The Times has not employed a political cartoonist for nearly fifty years and editors at the Times have been quoted saying that they would never hire a cartoonist because "you can't edit a cartoonist like you can a writer," and, "we would never give so much power to one man." The arrogance with which the haughty Times dismisses our art form really sticks in the collective cartoonists' craw. So, imagine my surprise when I read that The New York Times was winning the "Herbert Block Freedom Award," a prize bearing the name of a great political cartoonist.
©Daryl Cagle, Slate.com
Herbert Block, better known as "Herblock," is a beloved figure among cartoonists; he worked as the cartoonist for The Washington Post for most of the past century, winning three Pulitzer Prizes and contributing to the downfall of President Nixon and Senator Joe McCarthy.
During his lifetime, Herblock quietly amassed a fortune in Washington Post stock. When he died, Herblock left money to his favorite organizations, among them the National Cartoonists Society, which is using a $50,000 Herblock bequest to fund a scholarship in his name. Herblock's estate established the Herblock Foundation which, among other things, supports the art of editorial cartooning and bestows a yearly Herblock Award to a top cartoonist. Herblock left money to the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, which recently received a $150,000 grant from the Herblock Foundation to fund efforts to facilitate use of editorial cartoons in the classroom and promote our art form on the web.
Herblock also left $50,000 to his union, The Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America, which used the legacy to start an award called the "Herbert Block Freedom Award," that they decided to bestow upon the evil nemesis of cartoonists, The New York Times. The award comes with a $5,000 prize, a drop that will be thrown into the Times' vast, private, corporate money bucket.
Cartoonists love irony, but some irony is too much to stomach.
The Newspaper Guild never thought about how giving the Times an award, named after a beloved editorial cartoonist, would look to Herblock's cartoonist colleagues. Guild President Linda Foley writes, "We did not consider the Times' history or relationship (or lack thereof) with editorial cartooning. It's not a controversy or history with which we are familiar."
The award will be presented to the Times at a banquet on March 30th to honor the Times' efforts in defending the confidentiality of their sources. In particular the award is intended to honor the Times' star reporter, Judith Miller, who is fighting court efforts to root out a confidential source who disclosed the identity of CIA agent, Valerie Plame. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, accuses the White House of exposing his secret agent wife in retaliation for Wilson's outspoken criticism of the Bush administration.
Miller is probably best known for a series of articles in the Times that encouraged the run up to war with Iraq in which she gave credibility to false claims that Iraq was amassing huge, menacing, stocks of weapons of mass destruction.
Now Miller is fighting to stay out of jail and defending a slimy source who outed a CIA agent. When we think of confidential sources, we think of frightened whistle-blowers, putting themselves at risk to point out wrongdoing. This case is different. There is no whistle-blower here; it is the leak itself that is the crime. The source is the bad guy and Miller is a witness to the crime.
The Newspaper Guild thinks that protecting sources is noble, even in this case. So The New York Times gets an award ... but why call it the Herblock Freedom Award?
Guild President Foley writes, "In addition to being an ardent cartoonist, Herb Block also was an ardent trade unionist. That's why Herb left us the $50,000 ... Trade unions, like cartoonists, are also on the verge of extinction. Newspaper companies like Cox, Tribune, Gannett, etc., do their darndest to eliminate the Guild. Do you folks ever give consideration to that legacy of Herb Block when you give your awards for cartooning? I doubt it; nor would I expect it (even though I might wish it). And we would never, ever presume that you or any other group (such as The Herblock Foundation) was somehow "dishonoring" Herb Block because it gave an award to a cartoonist or publication that was anti-union. Again, we wouldn't like it, but it wouldn't be our award to bestow."
OK. They can do what they want to do in Herblock's name. But the irony of this award creates a great opportunity to make the point about how terrible The New York Times has been for cartoonists. Readers can complain to the Times by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell them the cartoonists sent you.
Daryl Cagle is the political cartoonist for Slate.com, the opinion site of The Washington Post. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to over eight hundred newspapers, including this publication you are reading.