The circumstances surrounding the dismissal of a popular Halifax-based cartoonist are raising questions about corporate control and media independence.
Michael de Adder, who has been drawing editorial cartoons for 20 years, was let go from all New Brunswick newspapers after releasing a controversial depiction of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“I do think it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” de Adder told Global News.
The cartoon shows Trump walking past two dead migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, asking them, “Do you mind if I play through?”
De Adder posted the image on social media on Thursday. The next day, he says, Brunswick News Inc. (BNI) – the newspaper chain owned by New Brunswick’s powerful Irving family – informed him he had been let go.
“I got a call from my editor (who) said, ‘We no longer want your services, and I asked why, and they didn’t provide a reason,” de Adder said.
“I was quickly becoming the cartoonist that didn’t accept the president of the United States … but after that viral cartoon it went through the stratosphere.”
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De Adder took to Twitter on Friday to announce that BNI had ended his contract. Since then, the cartoon has reached the likes of George Takei, who called it “heartbreakingly accurate,” and Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who said the cartoon was “Pulitzer Prize-worthy.”
“I only wanted an answer to what was going on. I never wanted the attention I’ve received. I didn’t look for it … I just wanted to tell people what was going on.
“I didn’t expect it to become the international story it’s become.”
In a statement on Sunday, BNI said it is “entirely incorrect” to suggest that it cancelled a freelance contract with de Adder over the Trump illustration, adding that it’s a “false narrative which has emerged carelessly and recklessly on social media.”
The company suggests it was already planning to replace de Adder. Global News was unable to reach BNI for a followup comment.
After a few days of reflection, de Adder has his own reasoning for why he was let go.
“They’re poised to become one of the biggest, if they’re not already, one of the biggest oil distributors on the East Coast,” de Adder said. “A lot of this depends on a president that’s a little bit unstable, who their political cartoonist has been mocking and making fun of since he was elected.”
De Adder notes that BNI has previously axed some of his cartoons critical of current PC Premier Blaine Higgs, who is a former Irving executive. But, he says, they accepted cartoons that were critical of the former Liberal premier, Brian Gallant.
Analyst Tim Currie, who is the current director of the University of King’s College School of Journalism, hopes the situation is not a case of media corporations interfering with editorial independence.
“You can’t have newspapers serving the interests of publishers, then they stop serving the audience,” Currie said. “A core goal of journalism is to serve the audience and to be able to be free to do that.”
For de Adder, being dumped is not a career killer. He says he’ll continue to try and block out the frenzy, as well as listen to pitches from a growing number of new clients.