The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press are among newspapers across the country which this week moved to halt publication of the “Dilbert” cartoon strip following racist remarks by the artist, Scott Adams.
It was not a decision taken lightly, though it wasn’t a difficult one to make.
Adams, broadcasting on his YouTube channel last week, called Black people “a hate group.” He said that white Americans should “get the hell away from Black people.” He followed that with comments that ridiculed Black people as lacking a commitment to education and having a propensity for violence.
It’s pathetic to see those with prominent platforms use their voices to promote racism, but Adams had been on this trajectory for a while. For years, he courted controversy as a right-wing provocateur, claiming earlier in 2022 that he “identifies” as a Black woman and arguing that his television spin-off of “Dilbert” was canceled because he is white.
Last year, he introduced a new character in the cartoon strip — not subtly named “Dave the Black Engineer” — that seemed intended only to belittle corporate America’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs. While such initiatives are worthy subjects for thoughtful criticism, Adams instead used his character to advance absurd tropes and harmful stereotypes.
Of course, Adams has the right to spout whatever vile, misinformed drivel he chooses. The First Amendment protects his free expression and insulates him from punishment by the government, which cannot police a person’s speech.
But the Constitution doesn’t shield him from professional harm that results from his speech, such as the loss of commercial opportunities or damage to his reputation. Those are determined by the marketplace, which has grown hostile to racist rants in recent years. (Overdue, but still a welcome development.)
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So while Adams was free to say the ugly things he did, newspapers are similarly free to decide what voices they permit on their pages — including what cartoons they purchase and publish.
On Monday, The Pilot and Daily Press joined the growing number of media outlets that chose to distance themselves from Adams and which intend to cease publishing his “Dilbert” strip. Our papers reached the same conclusion as those from the Lee Enterprises and Gannett chains, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New York Times that refuse to serve as a mouthpiece for racism.
It is important for readers to know that this decision was made by local leadership, not directed by the Tribune chain or the papers’ ownership. What’s more, it is a move that honors the papers’ commitment to inclusion, which we strive to uphold.
In 1929, Virginian-Pilot editor Louis Isaac Jaffe received the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for his 1928 editorial “An unspeakable act of savagery.” In it, Jaffe decried a Texas lynching that took place on the eve of the Democratic National Convention and forcefully called for federal legislation against lynching. That was only a year after Virginia’s last documented lynching — and 95 years before Congress finally enacted the measure.
And in 1960, Pilot editor Lenoir Chambers also won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for his 1958 series, “The year Virginia closed the schools,” which condemned the “Massive Resistance” response to school integration in the commonwealth. A book about Chambers’ life, “Standing Before the Shouting Mob,” reflects the bravery of that position at the time and which history has judged to be morally correct.
Our newspapers weren’t perfect on matters of race, though we strive constantly to improve. That extends to the cartoon page. In light of Adams’ disgusting comments, The Pilot and Daily Press cannot provide him — or other ignorant, unapologetic racists — access to our readership.
Adams clearly wants to be a “cancel culture” martyr and his sad rant may help him fulfill that wish. While he has every right to say what he said, nobody should feel compelled to support his intolerance with their time or their money — and that includes your local papers.