John Block ’77 — the publisher of the Toledo Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the namesake of a popular Yale journalism internship — drew criticism last week for firing the Post-Gazette’s veteran cartoonist, Rob Rogers, after an editorial clash over cartoons critical of President Donald Trump.
Rogers, a 25-year veteran of the Post-Gazette and a former Pulitzer Prize finalist, said that over the past three months his bosses rejected 19 of his cartoons and proposals, many of which satirized Trump. He said the trend began after the Post-Gazette’s new editorial page editor, Keith Burris, told Rogers he would have to take the editorial views of Block, a Trump supporter, into account as he designed his cartoons. After three months of struggling with the cartoonist, Block fired Rogers last Thursday. As national media outlets picked up the story, an op-ed written by Rogers titled “I Was Fired for Making Fun of Trump” briefly became the top trending story on the New York Times’ website.
“I have a lot of respect and fondness for what John Block did for me for 25 years. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve even questioned what he’s done,” Rogers said in an interview. “I knew this day was coming.”
Block told the News that the decision to fire Block was a “personnel decision” stemming from the cartoonist’s inability to work closer with the editorial page of the Post-Gazette, which merged with the Toledo Blade’s editorial page earlier this year. While he said he was “sorry it came to this,” he emphasized that his editorial team had reached a “point of disagreement” with Rogers that was unsustainable.
“People who think that Trump is the Antichrist, that’s the problem,” Block said. “We will defend anyone we believe is unjustly singled out or oppressed … It’s not about censorship, it’s about editing, and obviously we’re entitled to edit a newspaper.”
Block came under fire in January after pushing an editorial in both the Blade and the Post-Gazette that defended Trump for reportedly questioning why the United States accepts immigrants from “shithole countries.”
Around a dozen Yale students work at the Blade and the Post-Gazette each summer through the Paul Block Journalism Internship program. Following the publication of the editorial defending Trump, several Yale students who had interned at Block family newspapers told the News they were disappointed that Block defended Trump against allegations of racism.
Mark Oppenheimer ’96, coordinator of the Yale Journalism Initiative, said this week that he holds Rogers in “extremely high regard” and thinks it would be “really stupid” for any newspaper to compromise its relationship with him. He added, however, that Yale students interested in the Paul Block internship should understand that good newspapers do not allow editorial matters to affect the fairness of their reporting, and that the Blade and Post-Gazette strongly adhere to this principle.
“Are students unwilling to work at newspapers that take conservative editorial positions? If they are, then presumably they also would not work at the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Times of London,” Oppenheimer said. “Liberal students might have a great deal to learn from a summer spent at a newspaper where some of the employees have opinions different from their own.”
The Block family has a close relationship with Yale. Paul Block Jr., the father of John and Allan Block, graduated from Yale in 1933. Whereas John Block works as the publisher of the Blade and the Post Gazette, Allan Block runs Block Communications, which owns both the newspapers and maintains multiple American television stations as well.
In 2016, the Blade and Post-Gazette did not endorse either Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 or Trump. Instead, the papers published a “guide to decide,” which directed readers to vote for a candidate depending on their specific views. For his part, Block — who tweeted a picture of himself with Donald Trump on a private jet in 2016 — said he voted for Trump because, in part, the president understands the struggles of workers living in middle America.
A print ad purchased by Post-Gazette newsroom employees on Tuesday titled “We Are The Post-Gazette” emphasized the newsroom’s independence from the editorial side of the newspaper. Earlier this year, the Post-Gazette published a letter co-signed by 16 Block family members decrying the paper’s editorial defending Trump.
Finnegan Schick ’18, a former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette intern who used to serve as the News’ University editor, said that while he is frustrated by Block’s decision to fire Rogers, he hopes Yale students continue to work at Block family newspapers.
He recalled that the Post-Gazette’s newsroom is “solidly liberal” and that, within the city of Pittsburgh, the paper is known to be more left-leaning than the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“Regardless of your politics, you should at least consider the fact that the publisher of the Post-Gazette has a right to make his newspaper slightly less anti-Trump, and also it doesn’t make the Post-Gazette a right-wing newspaper,” Schick said.
Paul Block Sr. founded the Post-Gazette in 1927.
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