As It Happens

Michael de Adder opens up about being dumped by N.B. newspapers after viral Trump cartoon

Canadian editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder says he'll have a lot more editorial freedom now that he's no longer writing for a group of Irving-owned New Brunswick newspapers.

The Canadian cartoonist says he's long been told Trump is a 'taboo' subject for the Irving-owned chain

Michael de Adder is a cartoonist in Halifax. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)
Listen7:02

Update: After this story was published, the cartoonist set to replace Michael de Adder in Brunswick News papers, announced he will no longer work with the news agency. He confirmed to CBC News that he was offered the job weeks before de Adder published his Trump cartoon. 


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Canadian editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder says he'll have a lot more editorial freedom now that he's no longer writing for a group of Irving-owned New Brunswick newspapers.

De Adder's freelance contract with Brunswick News Inc. (BNI) was terminated days after he shared a viral cartoon depicting U.S. President Donald Trump playing golf next to the face-down bodies of two Salvarodian migrants.

The cartoon was based on the devastating photo by Julia Le Duc of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his young daughter, Valeria, who drowned in the Rio Grande while trying to cross into Brownsville, Texas.

BNI says cutting ties with de Adder had nothing to do with the Trump cartoon. The news organization is owned by the province's Irving family, which owns a myriad of companies with ties to U.S. trade, including Irving Oil and Irving Shipbuilding.

De Adder says he finds it hard to believe it's just a coincidence he was fired so soon after publishing what he says is the most successful cartoon of his career. 

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

The company that owns these newspapers, Brunswick News, says that ending your contract has nothing to do with that cartoon of Donald Trump. Do you buy that?

In the 17 years I was with the company, there wasn't a single [scheduled day] that one of my cartoons wasn't in a paper in New Brunswick. 

It was difficult to work for. There were taboo subjects that you couldn't touch. And oftentimes you wouldn't find out what those taboo subjects were until after you drew them at least twice. You got the idea after you were axed on the same subject twice.

Michael de Adder released this cartoon on June 26 of Donald Trump next to the bodies of a father and daughter who died trying to cross the border into Texas. (Michael de Adder)

When you say "axed," you mean that you submit a cartoon and it's rejected?

Yeah, it's rejected.

In one year, I decided I'd count how many times I was axed, just to entertain myself, and I was axed 54 times in one year. And for each one of those cartoons that I was axed, I replaced it. So, I mean, I always did my job and I did it well.

One of the biggest bones of contention — the only subject, actually, that I know was taboo and I was told — was Donald Trump.

You issued [this Trump cartoon] on social media.

I knew that it was going to be another viral cartoon, but I didn't expect it to go as viral as it did. And it sort of went supernova.

For the next 24 hours, I thought, "Wow, this is crazy. I'm having the day that cartoonists dream of."

And Friday, you know, just 24 hours after it appeared, I got a call from the guy [at BNI] that I deal with every day, who I had a good relationship with, and he told me I was fired.

I asked why, and he didn't give me a reason.

I said, "Is it costs?"

And he goes, "No."

And I said, "Is it gross incompetence?" 

And he goes, "No." 

And I go, "Is it in my online presence?" — which I was really suspecting, because I was in the middle of one of the best two days of my career.

He said, "No."

 

When you say your online presence, do you mean that specific cartoon?

My online, anti-Trump presence, to put it as simply as I possibly can.

It seemed like the most logical thing, considering what was going on.

I stand by the fact that I've spent a career not biting the hand that feeds me or the hand that fed me. And I don't know, now I'm in a battle I didn't want or didn't expect.

The company issued a statement. ...  It says, "This is a false narrative which has emerged carelessly and recklessly on social media. In fact, BNI was not even offered this cartoon."

Well, that's true. I didn't want to poke the bear and offer Donald Trump cartoons, especially that one.

I'm always a little bit hesitant to post, you know, the harder-hitting Trump cartoons for fear that one of my papers might not like it.

What was it about the Trump cartoons that you think the paper didn't like? 

The company I worked for, you know, has a vested interest in this. I don't know. You know, I'm about to go into speculation and the truth is I really don't know.

But I do know that the clearest and biggest contention I've had with the paper — because the rest of all the hot-button topics were never discussed with me — was Donald Trump. That was the one clear thing I was always told. There are issues with drawing the president.

You tweeted, "I wanted to do my job as an editorial cartoonist and they wanted me to do their job." What does that mean?

The truth of the matter is maybe I didn't [always] play ball with the first cartoon, but I filled it with another one that certainly played ball. So I did my job.

But I also tried to do my job as an editorial cartoonist. I really feel like I bridged that gap for 17 years. 

Seventeen years, I never had a cartoon space not filled. I had hundreds of cartoons axed, but I never had a cartoon space not filled.

BNI goes on to say that the organization wanted to bring back another cartoonist, "reader favourite Greg Perry." What do you make of that?

We cartoonists are sort of a brotherhood. I'm not going to attack another cartoonist. I will question "reader favourite." I mean, it should say "Irving favourite." The reader favourite, they fired.

What do you think the Irvings expected from you?

They expected me to toe [the] company line. 

And what is the company line?

The company line is the bottom line. That's it. 

Should somebody that cares about the bottom line own a newspaper? Should someone that basically owns most of New Brunswick own a newspaper? Should a company that at least a quarter of the stories pertain to them be in control of the print source that supplies New Brunswick with the news?

Donald Trump and me being fired is not the issue here. The issue is media control and media manipulation.

I'll move on. I'll get another job. I'm not angry with the Irvings. I'm a frog trying to cross that water with a scorpion on their back — and I knew that 17 years ago, and I know it now.

I'm not bitter about it. You know, the frog is not bitter. You know, the scorpion says, "It's in my nature to do that." And I knew that.

You've got a lot of family and friends [in New Brunswick] and they won't see your cartoons anymore in their daily newspapers. 

My mother has dementia and she doesn't really remember her sons sometimes or gets them mixed up.

But for whatever reason, dementia patients get something in their head and they remember this one thing. And she remembers that her son draws cartoons. And part of her routine is to go down and read the paper every day and, you know, see my cartoon.

And that's the hardest part. She won't have that. I'm kind of hoping that the people around her will tell her the Greg Perry cartoon is actually mine.

Do you have any regrets, Michael, about that cartoon?

Well, no. That's my only regret — friends and family not seeing the cartoon and my mother.

Other than that, my cartoons will be better. I feel like I just took the yoke off, you know. I don't have to stop and I don't have to worry about drawing not just one cartoon, but sometimes two cartoons a day,  just for them.

If it wasn't for the stress of having to do all this media, I mean, I'd be probably be wishing this had happened before.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from CBC News. Produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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