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Political Cartoonist On Implications Of 'NYT' Ending Cartoons

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The New York Times is killing its editorial cartoons. They ran in the paper's international edition, but also on its website and its social media. The decision comes after complaints about a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that ran in April. Patrick Chappatte is one of those cartoonists whose work won't run in the Times starting next month. He joins us from Geneva. Monsieur (ph) Chappatte, thanks so much for being with us.

PATRICK CHAPPATTE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: The cartoon wasn't yours. It came from a syndication service, and it showed the prime minister as a dog, leading a blind Donald Trump, who was wearing a skullcap. What did you think of that cartoon?

CHAPPATTE: Well, I think that that was a very unfortunate cartoon that should never have run in The New York Times. That's not a cartoon that I would support.

The reaction to the decision by The New York Times over the last days has been really surprising to me, overwhelming, really international. This has touched a nerve. They are feeling that we are touching on something really essential. We don't think about it every day, but humor and the art of satire is as essential as the air that we breathe - because the explanation we have to say from The New York Times is that it's not linked.

SIMON: James Bennet, the editorial page editor, says they just want to make the international edition more like the domestic edition.

CHAPPATTE: Exactly. And this sends a signal discarding a whole genre that is so rooted in the history and tradition of democracy. And imagine how this must be felt by cartoonists who directly suffered the consequences of exercising the right of satire, like Musa Kart, colleague from Turkey who's now in jail, or Rayma Suprani from Venezuela, or Pedro Molina from Nicaragua - cartoonists who were forced into exile - and many others.

SIMON: Certainly, there is a long and distinguished history of outspoken - if that's quite the word I mean - political cartoonists who have lampooned powerful figures and pointed out cruelty and bigotry. But as I don't have to tell you, there's also a tradition of caricatures of Jews, caricatures of Muslims, images that people have found insulting in the most profound way. Can you see where a newspaper editor would say, I just want to avoid that?

CHAPPATTE: Well, then what does it mean? Will you discard opinion and commentary when you have a problem with something that goes wrong with one particular opinion? I mean, of course, it's all about professionalism. And let me just remind you, for me, it's the end of an adventure that lasted 20 years. I used to work collectively with editors - send a few sketches, have an exchange, have a discussion. And that's how it works because I always felt that the collective process was necessary to make the right decisions.

SIMON: Few years ago, I was fortunate enough to address a convention of political cartoonists in the United States. And they kept pointing out, you know, we used to have a lot of people here. Now we're down to just a few dozen.

CHAPPATTE: I know. And I've been to those conventions. And I'm actually a member of the board of the Association of American Cartoonists (ph). And I've been always struck by their pessimism (ph). But I'm still very positive about the genre. In this world of short attention span, the power of images has never been so big. And it's also a time when the media need to renew themselves.

But we must stop being afraid of offended people because the whole controversy that was triggered a month ago by that cartoon, I think it should have encouraged a discussion, explaining why this cartoon was wrong, how it's run, what is cartooning, and there was no space for that. I think The New York Times had to deal with a huge storm triggered by social media. We need to be able to withstand this and to go back to putting things into perspective.

SIMON: Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist, thanks so much for being with us.

CHAPPATTE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.