Newspaper editors get claims of bias all the time, pretty much from all sides – sometimes at the same time.
Of all the things I get calls and emails about, the one that seems to touch a nerve most is the daily editorial cartoon on the Opinion page, which we also feature as the “Cartoon of the Day” on our website and morning Opinion newsletter. Sometimes we get complaints about a specific cartoon, and sometimes we get complaints about the general tenor of the cartoons we pick.
I guess pictures really do count for 1,000 words sometimes, as I have discussed here sometimes before.
A reader last week suggested a conservative cartoon we might run, but it turned out the artist is not licensed by the syndicates we use (Almost any cartoon worth having costs us money, and most artists are handled by a syndication service. We can’t just pick and run any cartoon we like for copyright reasons).
Of all the angry comments and calls we get related to the Opinion page, it seems like most of them somehow involve the daily editorial cartoon.
He said he had the strong sense that our selections “are not politically balanced, although that may not be your objective.” He offered to observe the cartoons over six to nine months and report back with some data on their content.
Turns out, however, I had already created such a dataset for all of 2019, albeit inadvertently.
As part of our year-end packages, I collected all 331 “Cartoons of the Day” (the rest were drawn by local cartoonist Roberto Tinoco) in photo galleries organized by artist. I was a little surprised myself that our most often-used artist is conservative Lisa Benson, who also lives in California and therefore does good stuff on state politics occasionally as well.
The cartoonists don’t always break down neatly along ideological lines, but their orientation is generally apparent. So looking at it broadly, of the 331 cartoons we ran last year, 102 were from avowedly conservative artists, mostly Benson. That’s about 30 percent conservative, which is actually fairly representative of the voting registration and election results in Napa County.
Back in 1982, when the newspaper USA Today debuted, media critics immediately dismissed it as “shallow” and referred to it as the “McPaper.”
The remainder were from left-leaning artists, but only two of them – Jeff Danziger and Clay Bennett – are starkly and consistently ideological. Those together represented 94 cartoons, or about 28.4 percent of all the cartoons.
I’ll share with you what I sent to the reader as an explanation, but first it is important to understand what these cartoons represent.
The Cartoons of the Day are drawn from the work of artists distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group. These are not Washington Post cartoonists – they live all over the country and draw for various outlets – but rather they are simply piggybacking on the Post’s well-developed syndication service. We use them because they are the only syndicate we subscribe to that allows us to post cartoons online. The others restrict us to print only, which has become less and less useful over the years.
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I get between 30 and 40 cartoons per week from this syndicate, so I am picking just six or seven of the best or most topical to run in the print edition or feature online. If you want to get a sense of the complete range of cartoons I get in a week, check out our popular Week in Cartoons feature, which we post every Saturday afternoon. I include every cartoon we receive in those galleries.
Back in 2014, even before the earthquake blew everything up for us here at the Register, we were planning for some major changes.
Here’s the tally from the Year in Cartoons 2019 gallery:
Lisa Benson—69. Lisa is right of center, sometimes strongly so. I happened to love her art and her sense of humor.
Jack Ohman—58. Jack is not usually strongly ideological, but I would mark him as left of center. I love his clever, Rube-Goldberg-esque panels.
Clay Bennett—53. Clay used to be my favorite because he is funny and an excellent artist. But Trump seems to have unhinged him and I find some of his depictions overly personal, so I have backed off him in the last three years.
Nick Anderson—46. Nick is left-of-center and has a biting sense of humor that I like.
Jeff Danziger—41. Jeff is well off on the left, but I find his drawings crude. He also has a Southern Hick-type stereotype of Trump supporters that I find offensive as a Southerner, so I tend not to use him as much as the others. He also has a weird obsession with British politics that I don’t find generally relevant to Napa.
When our local cartoonist Roberto Tinoco and I were chatting recently about what he should include in one of his cartoons, he suggested the cl…
Signe Wilkinson—31. Signe is funny and cheeky, but she tends to focus on Philadelphia-centric issues that don’t translate well to Napa, so I don’t use her all that often.
Tim Cambell—23. Tim is a Trump-critical conservative, but frankly I don’t usually understand his humor, so I don’t pick him often.
Mike Lester—10. Mike is so far right that it’s almost comical. He tends to peddle in the realm of conspiracy nonsense. His drawings are crude and his depictions of black people and other minorities are borderline offensive. And he is not that funny, so I tend to avoid him.
As you may tell, I am more likely to pick a cartoon based on the art and sense of humor than anything else. I am also cognizant of the overall readership in Napa, which is heavily Democratic, but hardly hard-left like other parts of the Bay Area.
So that’s how the process works. Is it biased? I guess so in the sense that it is my subjective judgement as to what cartoon makes it as a Cartoon of the Day. But my bias tends toward a well-drawn panel that makes me laugh rather than something that supports my political or ideological views.
I figure if I get a kick out of a cartoon, many of our readers will too.
You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or email@example.com.
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