For the past week, there's been a feature noticeably absent from the editorial pages of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette — the political cartoons of award-winning cartoonist Rob Rogers.
Rogers, who has drawn cartoons for the Post-Gazette since 1993, has seen six cartoons killed in a row by Keith Burris, who took over as the newspaper's editorial director in March when the paper's editorial board merged with its sister newspaper, the Toledo Blade. The cartoons included criticism of President Trump and of the NFL's decision to prohibit players from protesting racial injustice during the national anthem.
Rogers has, however, been posting cartoons that were killed on social media:
Rogers told the Inquirer and Daily News that he couldn't comment on the situation. Rogers confirmed that he's still employed as the paper's staff cartoonist, and that he's working on a new cartoon for Tuesday's newspaper.
Burris did not respond to requests for comment.
It is unusual for a staff cartoonist to have an entire week's worth of political cartoons spiked. Signe Wilkinson, the Inquirer and Daily News' Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, said she has had just one cartoon killed in her tenure — a drawing that was spiked from the Inquirer but ran in the Daily News.
Rogers' cartoons were replaced in print by the work of syndicated artists and three cartoons by Toledo Blade staff cartoonist Kirk Walters. In last Tuesday's paper, under a cartoon about gun control by syndicated cartoonist Robert Ariail, Rogers was listed as having "the day off."
Burris stoked controversy in January by penning a controversial editorial defending Trump's criticism of immigrants from "s–hole countries," a comment the president made during a discussion about protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa. The leaders of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents about 150 Post-Gazette newsroom employees, blasted the editorial in a letter to the publisher for "twisting itself in knots in a colossally failed attempt to defend the indefensible."
"As a matter of course, the Guild does not weigh in on editorial positions, but this piece is so extraordinary in its mindless, sycophantic embrace of racist values and outright bigotry espoused by this country's president that we would be morally, journalistically, and humanly remiss not to speak out against it," the Guild's executive committee wrote.
According to Post-Gazette reporter and Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh president Michael Fuoco, Burris was asked to write the editorial by Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block, who demanded it run in both the Post-Gazette and the Blade.
"As a journalist at the Post-Gazette for 34 years I have nothing but the highest respect for Rob as a journalist and colleague," Fuoco told the Inquirer and the Daily News.
Block is a Trump supporter who said during a 2013 community forum on racism that people of color needed to pull themselves up "by their bootstraps" like they did in the "old days." Both Block and Burris met with Trump on his private plane at Toledo Express Airport in September 2016 after a campaign rally. Block was also called out by reporters in the newsroom for asking that the term "vulgar language" be removed from the first paragraph of an Associated Press story about Trump's vulgar language.
"We haven't been given a reason aside from a vague note about wanting the story to focus more on his rejection of DACA even though that's not what this AP story is about," the newspaper's official Twitter account wrote in response to a reporter's question.
The problems between Rogers and Burris date back to March, shortly after Burris first took over as the newspaper's editorial director. On his Facebook page, Rogers confirmed that a cartoon he drew March 18 about an alleged affair between Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels had been killed.
Rogers also confirmed in the Facebook post that a cartoon he drew March 11 about Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone's failed run for Congress had also been killed. Saccone, who lost a closely watched special election to Democrat Conor Lamb, was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial board in part because they thought Lamb's victory could lead to Trump's impeachment.
"For subscribers keeping score at home, this was another one that was killed and didn't make it into the paper," Rogers wrote on Facebook after posting a cartoon mocking conservative conspiracy theories that a "deep state" within the FBI was determined to take down President Trump.