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St. Petersburg Times Criticized for Firing Its Editorial Cartoonist

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

St. Petersburg Times Criticized for Firing Its Editorial Cartoonist

Article excerpt

THE FIRING OF Clay Bennett sparked protests from St. Petersburg Times staffers and prominent editorial cartoonists throughout the country.

But Times editor, president and CEO Andrew Barnes said the paper will not bring Bennett back.

Bennett, 36, had been a staff editorial cartoonist at the Times for 13 years when editorial page editor Philip Gailey fired him Oct. 3.

The North America Syndicate (NAS) contributor said he was stunned. "I've only taken one sick day since 1981, so they couldn't question my work ethic," he told E&P. "I've won nine awards, and I've had good evaluations over the years."

Bennett did recall receiving a surprisingly mixed evaluation this past January, which he now realizes may have paved the way for his dismissal.

Times staffers were also stunned at the firing, and a group of them quickly drafted a statement supporting Bennett and expressing shock at his termination. About 100 staffers signed the statement -- only a few declined -- before it was presented to Barnes.

Also, nine editorial cartoonists (including eight Pulitzer Prize winners) sent the Times a letter to the editor protesting the firing.

It read: "Clay Bennett is one of America's best cartoonists. His cartoons are thoughtful, irreverent and seriously funny.

"Disagreement and arguing on editorial pages are the reasons those pages exist. To get rid of a cartoonist whose provocative work is an example of the highest standards of our profession merely points out the obvious: Bennett is being dismissed because an editor disagrees with his point of view.

"The 'truth' is the reader's to figure out after reading a variety of points of view. That will be harder and harder to do if voices like Clay Bennett's are silenced."

The letter was signed by Association of American Editorial Cartoonists president Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News and Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate.

Co-signing were Tony Auth of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Universal Press Syndicate, Dwane Powell of the Raleigh News & Observer and Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Ben Sargent of the Austin American-Statesman and Universal, Jim Borgman of the Cincinnati Enquirer and King Features Syndicate, Jules Feiffer of the Village Voice and Universal, Mike Peters of the Dayton Daily News and Tribune Media Services, Pat Oliphant of Universal and Jeff Mac-Nelly of the Chicago Tribune and TMS.

Wilkinson added in a phone interview that editorial cartoonists all over the country "are under a lot of pressure" as papers fold, make staff cuts or encourage "bland," gag-oriented cartoons rather than hard-hitting ones. …

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