Free speech does not include the right to be a cartoonist

By Michael d’Oliveira

Cartoonist Rob Rogers was recently fired by the publisher of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for his political cartoons which were heavily anti-Trump and his policies.

But despite what some liberals and others who are anti-Trump have said, Rogers’ firing is not a violation of free speech. It’s an exercise in editorial control on the part of the publisher.

In a Facebook post, former Labor Department secretary Robert Reich wrote, “Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was fired Thursday because the publisher is pro-Trump and Rogers had been submitting cartoons critical of Trump. Memo to publisher: Freedom of speech and of the press includes cartooning. Memo to the good people of Pittsburgh: Cancel your subscriptions.”

Free speech does not entitle you to be a cartoonist. Just like free speech did not entitle Roseanne to have a television show. Nor does free speech entitle you to be a football player. Free speech protects you from the government punishing you for the ideas you express. It does not protect you from being fired by your employer. We all still have to deal with the consequences of what we say.

In fact, the publisher’s decision to fire the cartoonist is an example of freedom of the press. He had every right to fire Rogers over the editorial direction of his cartoons. He owns the newspaper and he gets to decide what kind of content is published within its pages.

The conversation we should be focused on is the one where we debate whether or not The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a quality publication that provides a venue for all sides of the debate.

The publisher gets to decide for himself what kind of newspaper he wants to own. Publisher John Block, a Trump supporter, can even turn his publication into a completely pro-Trump or anti-liberal platform. That’s his right.

But just as he has the right to publish what he wants, we have the right to criticize or ignore it. We get to decide for ourselves what we think about it and whether or not we want to support that newspaper with the money we pay for a subscription.

The freedom to choose is a sacred right and responsibility. We have the right to choose but that means we have to take responsibility for those choices.

It also means, to a certain extent, we have to live with the consequences of what we and others choose. Our freedom to express ourselves means we have to accept other people’s right to express themselves, even in ways that we don’t approve of.

The publisher’s decision to fire the cartoonist is an expression of the editorial direction he wants his newspaper to take. We don’t have to like it. We do have to acknowledge it.

But we can also exercise our own rights by no longer reading, buying, or subscribing to the paper in question. Business owners can pull their advertising. We can even hold rallies calling for the cartoonist to be reinstated.

In a free society, we can expect our right to offend to be protected, but we can’t expect to be protected from other people’s ideas.