Interviewee: Donald C. Wright
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: December 12, 2001
P: This is December 12, 2001. I am at West Palm Beach at the Palm Beach Post
and I am speaking with Don Wright. Give me a little bit of your background,
mainly your newspaper background. How did you get started in newspapers?
Why did you get started in newspapers?
W: I jumped right into the newspaper business after high school, as a matter of fact.
I didn't go to college. What I wanted to do, initially, more than anything else, was
to become a cartoonist. I wanted to do a comic strip along the lines of, or similar
to Steve Canyon, which was very popular at that time. I was told by my high
school art teacher that the way to find out all of the things you had to do in order
to become a strip cartoonist was go to work for a newspaper. So I applied at The
Miami News to a woman named Myrtle Rathner, who was secretary to the editor
of the paper, who liked me and made sure that when the stack of applications for
copy boy were offered up, my name was at the top of the list. I got the job.
That's basically how I started in newspapers-as a copy kid at The Miami News,
way back in 1952.
P: Then you worked your way up, I presume, to be a staff photographer?
W: Yes, I was lucky enough to be offered a job in the photo department as an
apprentice and I took it from there. The editor of the art department, where I
originally wanted to work, decided I wasn't qualified. I had no interest in
airbrushing, photo retouching and drawing maps. Also, he thought I was too
young to invest much time in because he was sure I was going to get drafted into
the Army. I was extremely fortunate to get the chance to try photography.
P: Did you like it?
W: I loved it. It was my liberal education. It forced me out of the naive, teenage cell
I was living in. All those fantasies about becoming a great strip cartoonist just
went away. I began to understand what life was all about because I was forced
into situations I had never dreamed of-covering bookie raids, seeing mutilated
bodies-I came into contact with shocking events most people my age would
never have had to confront. In a sense, it really shaped me.
P: So you covered fires and murders and whatever was happening.
W: Yes, but I never shook the urge to draw. Everyone knew I had this sort of latent
ability and I was always expressing it-mostly kidding around, sketching in the
office. Early in my career as a photographer, there was a reputed serial killer
running loose across the country. His name was Dennis Whitney. He may have
started his rampage out on the West Coast, in California. I'm not sure, but he
crossed the United States and wound up in South Florida in the early 1960s. His
technique, as best I can recall, was to go into an empty, or nearly empty, service
station at night, rob it, take the attendant into a back room and shoot him in the
head. Eventually, Whitney made it to Miami and, indeed, committed that same
type of crime against a service station attendant on, I think, Southwest 8th Street.
Only this time, the attendant lived. They found him in the bathroom shot through
the head, but breathing-barely. They rushed him to the hospital where he was
treated and in spite of the severity of his wounds, he hung on and managed to
survive. It occurred to Jim Bellows, then the editor of The News, that the
attendant might be able to give us a description of the killer. Although he couldn't
speak and was wrapped in bandages and covered in tubes, he agreed to see
me. The idea was that I would try to get the killer's likeness down on a
sketchpad, drawing it as this poor guy, with all the stuff hooked up to his body,
would nod or blink yes or no, as I questioned him about the facial features.
Anyway, I sat there and drew as best I could, the likeness we worked out. The
paper printed it on page one of the Blue Streak that day. To be perfectly honest,
in my opinion, the likeness really didn't resemble Dennis Whitney that well. But,
he apparently saw the drawing and cut and run. In the process, [he] hijacked an
automobile, killing the woman who owned the car, but they chased him down and
caught him. That was probably the first time anything I had ever drawn really
had much in the way of impact. I think about that a lot and wonder if perhaps in
some way, I contributed to the death of that woman. Also, I'm puzzled as to why
he ran in the first place because, to me, that drawing really did not establish a
likeness at all. Incidentally, Dennis Whitney is still in prison, serving a life
sentence, at the Union Correctional Institute in North Florida, where he's been
P: Did you have any formal training?
W: No, none whatsoever.
P: When did you discover you had an affinity for drawing?
W: I don't know whether you discover that or you just simply love it so much that you
do it until you get better and better at it. As a kid, drawing is what I did when
everyone else was out playing football and all of that stuff. It was just an
inclination I had that never left me.
P: In 1958, you became graphics editor at the Miami News. Tell me exactly what
W: The graphics editor is pretty much what the photo editor is today on most
newspapers. He approves photo assignments, creates photo projects and is
basically in charge of the photo department, choosing photographers for special
assignments. He selects from among photographers who may be talented in
some areas but may not work well in others. The job also involved laying out
pages, and when I did it, the back picture page, which was one of the highlights
of the newspaper at the time, and pretty much coordinating the photo department
operation with the rest of the news desk.
P: Would you determine which photographs went on the front page?
W: Yes, I did that too.
P: Did you enjoy that job?
W: I did. It taught me a lot about editing and it taught me a lot about the
responsibility of putting out a newspaper every day, which involves a lot of
people working together after coming to some sort of consensus. Sometimes
there were arguments and debates about what should lead the paper and which
picture should go with what. It could get pretty heated. It's the kind of procedure
you actually want because it encourages the contribution of the entire staff. I
think newspapers today are terribly formula-ridden, even bureaucratic. In those
days, you argued things out, and, generally, I think by the time the newspaper
came out, it represented the very best combined efforts of everyone involved. I
thought we were very successful doing it that way.
P: At some point as I understand, Bill Baggs [editor of the Miami News] was
interested in persuading you to do some political cartoons.
W: He didn't just persuade me, he kept on me all of the time. When I went into
photo, my priorities changed. I kind of lost interest in cartooning as a way of
making a living. It just did not appeal to me anymore, primarily because I was
getting so much out of photography and learning so much about the crazy area I
was growing up in. The newspaper business in general, all of its facets were
exciting to me and becoming a cartoonist was now the last thing on my mind.
Also, bear in mind, I was young, there were girlfriends-and sports cars.
That was a very special time for me, so, becoming a cartoonist was really not
one of my priorities. But, Bill always wanted his own staff editorial cartoonist and
always thought that I could do it if I really wanted to, so he kept after me and after
me and, finally, circumstances dictating, I tried it. I was young and kind of
hotheaded and decided that on the news desk, as photo editor, I was probably a
heck of a lot smarter than I really was. I quit one day in a petulant fit over
something that hadn't gone my way, figuring there were other newspapers just
dying for my services. Instead, Baggs stepped in and, again, made the editorial
cartoon pitch. He asked me if I had another job. I said no. He convinced me to
try it. He said, if it doesn't work out you could go to The Miami Herald or do
whatever you want. I liked Baggs an awful lot, but I reminded him that I was not
really prepared to do this. I wasn't one of these people who kept methodically
current on crises and issues of the day. He said, well, you will, you will. I finally
agreed to give it a try, but viewed it as something temporary-just to get me
through-until I could find something else to do. And here I am.
P: Was there a trial period? Did you have to start drawing right away?
W: He didn't indicate, in any way, that this would be a trial period. Baggs really
believed in me, believed I was going to succeed. To this day, I wonder why he
thought that, because I did not think that. And when I go back and look at some
of that early work I wonder why in the world he ever thought I could do it because
some of it was God-awful. I mean, not drawn well and simplistically thought-out.
As a matter of fact, in some ways, I caused them a great deal of pain because I
soon developed some very conservative attitudes, often finding myself at odds
with the editorial page. Baggs, to his credit, left me alone. The Miami News'
editorial page was very liberal with an editorial cartoonist who, for some reason,
had become a rabid conservative. But at no point did he step in and say, you
cannot draw those cartoons-cartoons that were sometimes a direct conservative
and sometimes a direct contradiction of what we were saying on the editorial
P: That is pretty extraordinary.
W: It is very extraordinary, but he was an extraordinary man. He saw something in
me that seemed to suggest that I would eventually come around. I did come
around, but nobody pushed me. I got there myself.
P: How would you assess Baggs' term as editor of the paper? He is pretty
legendary in Florida circles.
W: Well, he deserves to be a legend. We're talking about a different kind of
newspaperman. I don't want to fall into that old trap of saying you don't find them
like that anymore. But you don't. Bill Baggs was a courageous, bigger-than-life,
individual who walked with a swagger and who believed newspapers ought to
serve their communities without surrendering themselves to powerful interests
within those communities. He had a marvelous way of leading a dual life-being
an approved, active member of the Chamber of Commerce downtown
development authority and all of those organizations within the city that wanted to
move it in a certain direction-and then, after leaving their rarified air, allowing the
paper to blast these same people who actually were oh-so chummy with him. He
actually encouraged it while maintaining their friendship and respect. They were
constantly complaining to him. Bill, look what your editorial page said today!
Baggs would say something wry like, I just can't seem to control those guys. He
made that work. He understood that, at its heart, a newspaper should tell the
truth, no matter how hard.
P: It seems like today, from what I have learned, newspapers have shifted away
from that and now it is the bottom line that is most important.
W: Shifted away from what? Telling the truth?
W: Well, we're generalizing, of course, and I know a lot of really fine newspapermen
today who are constantly fighting to get newspapers back to doing what they're
supposed to be doing. To say that the bottom line is the chief concern of
newspapers today is a common observation and, certainly, has some validity.
But, I think, the biggest threat to newspapers is that they have really lost their
identity and do not know exactly what they are anymore. First, television was the
bogeyman. As television became more and more popular and subscribers
started to fall away, newspapers seemed confounded. Quite gradually,
especially with the advent of the Internet and multi-media competition, they
began to do strange things like adopting garish magazine formats and deciding
that if a newspaper front page looked a lot like a television set, splashy colors
and very short stories, that this would get readers thus advertisers, back. Well,
it didn't work. Frankly, this kind of approach has caused those of us who still
believe in newspapers a lot of anguish. I do not have a monopoly on caring
about that. Other people have already written and talked about it at length.
The Cox organization pretty much lets each newspaper run the way it wants to.
We can call the shots here. The Palm Beach Post is a good newspaper and
we're lucky to have people running it who are a lot like the people I grew up with
in this business.
P: Carl Hiaasen [writer/columnist, The Miami Herald; author] told me that one of the
problems with Knight-Ridder was that they had cut back money for things like
W: That seems to be true about Knight-Ridder. To some extent, they appear to be
the poster child for the bottom-liners. There are pressures, of course. Giant
media corporations are trying to decide where technology is going-with cable,
computers, combinations of phones systems, etc. In order to remain a player in
the media powerhouse sweepstakes, they practically have to invest in the new
technologies. Many of them have invested at the expense of their newspapers.
My organization, I believe, has achieved an admirable balance, given all of those
pressures. They're investing too, but certainly aren't de-emphasizing their
newspaper operations as has occurred in some of the other media
conglomerates like Knight-Ridder. I know Knight-Ridder has been particularly
brutal to The Herald and from what I've seen of the paper, I'd have to agree with
P: Have you ever gotten any reaction from Cox, or from the headquarters about any
editorial cartoon you've drawn?
W: Never, in all honesty, never. I sometimes I worry about that. Where are they?
Do they care? No, they have never pressured me about anything I have ever
P: Let me go back to your career. From 1960-1963, you are a listed as a political
cartoonist, then from 1963 on, you have been described as an editorial
cartoonist. What is the difference?
W: I do not know why that's there, there really isn't any difference.
P: When did you come to The Palm Beach Post?
W: 1982? No. 1988?
P: I have 1989.
W: 1989 is about right. Beginning of 1989.
P: Why did you decide to come to this paper?
W: When The News closed down, I had other offers. I had been with Cox all my
professional life. Other people on the paper were accepting jobs all over the
country. We had some good people on that paper. I just waited because I did
not know exactly what I wanted to do. Dave Lawrence actually asked me to
hang around Miami until he got to The Miami Herald, where he became editor.
The idea, supposedly, was to keep their present cartoonist, Jim Morin, on the
editorial page and he would allow me a position on the op-ed page. He made it
sound very, very nice. Also, from Washington, Chicago, Texas, North Carolina, I
got some very interesting offers.
P: By this time, you were already syndicated?
W: Yes, by the Chicago Tribune Media Services. To make a long story short, Cox
had offered me a number of options, including its Washington bureau. But The
Palm Beach Post had become a very fine newspaper under Eddie Sears, its
editor, and Tom Guiffrida, its publisher. It had its own separate editorial section,
which no other newspaper had. That, sadly, has since gone by the boards
because of financial pressures.
P: Have you ever wanted to be with The New York Times or The Washington Post?
I know Ricky Bragg started out with The Herald and never anticipated he'd get to
The New York Times.
W: Well, I almost did go to The New York Times. Shortly before Bill Baggs went to
Hanoi, North Vietnam on a peace mission, he was offered and had accepted the
editorship of The New York Times. One day he sat me down at one of those
fancy clubs downtown and asked if I would be interested in coming to New York
with him to become the first editorial page cartoonist The Times had ever had. I
said, damn right, I would. There were two people at The News Baggs planned to
take with him. One was his editorial cartoonist and the other was his editor at the
time, Howard Kleinberg. But, not long after that, following his travels abroad and
his efforts to help end the Vietnam War, he contracted pneumonia and died.
P: The New York Times still does not have an editorial cartoonist.
W: No, they do not.
P: I wonder why.
W: I don't know, I really don't know. Snobs, I guess.
P: When did you first become syndicated and was your first syndication with The
W: No, my first syndication was with the Washington Star syndicate. I think that is
what it was called at the time. I considered myself somewhat of a purist in that I
never really sought syndication. I wanted to be able to do work that was qualified
to be reprinted nationally. But syndication, I didn't really pursue that. Of course,
most cartoonists want to get syndicated right away and make a lot of money. I
didn't think I was ready, nor consistent enough, to be syndicated, frankly-
although I had started to be reprinted nationally and fairly regularly. That's when
The Washington Star introduced itself. The head of the syndicate, Harry Elmlark,
was one of these crusty, old Front Page guys with a great spiel. He sold me. I
ran the contract through Baggs and some of my friends-jailhouse lawyers-and
decided to do it. Signing on the proverbial dotted line was the biggest mistake I
ever made because Elmlark, it turned out, was pretty much a one-man operation.
Very little staff. A secretary, maybe. His idea of selling was to occasionally
newspaper editorial departments from his office, wherever it was, and say, would
you like to take him? I seemed to be generating more and more interest,
nationally, with some of the things I was doing. But Harry just sat there.
Then, I discovered Elmlark was a conservative, a really rabid conservative, and,
by that time, I had become notoriously liberal. To this day, I do not know why he
signed me because he actively despised everything I was saying in those
cartoons. I must have had forty-eight or fifty clients. I didn't argue with him. I had
signed up for five years and I intended to fulfill my contract.
During that time, my paper, The Miami News, had entered into a joint operating
agreement with The Miami Herald and had moved into the Herald building on
Biscayne Boulevard. Jim Fain, a man I admire tremendously, took over as editor
of The News. He asked if I was syndicated. When I said, yes, with The Star
syndicate, He insisted they were doing a terrible job representing me and offered
to help me find a better syndicate. I finished my contract time with The Star, only
to be told by Elmlark that if I wanted to end our association, and not renew, I was
prohibited from signing with any other syndicate for five years-a little, hidden
clause in the contract. Fain helped me find a lawyer, who turned out to be Talbot
(Sandy) D'Alemberte, now president of Florida State University, then a Florida
state representative [president of Florida State University, 1993-present; Florida
state representative, 1966-1972; attorney]. We sued The Star in federal court for
restraint of trade and, after two years, won.
P: D'Alemberte is a tough lawyer.
W: Yes, he's a damn good lawyer. I kept telling Sandy, we're not going to win this.
He kept saying, yes, you are. And we did. Soon after that, the Chicago Tribune
moved in, we had discussions, and I've been with them ever since.
P: How many papers are you syndicated in today?
W: You would have to ask my wife, Carolyn, but we mail out 375 every day to
newspapers in the United States, Canada and abroad.
P: How does that syndication process work? Do they pay you per paper or a flat
W: Every newspaper, depending on size and circulation, pays the syndicate a
certain fee and, basically, we split that. Rates are set and raised by the
P: You have also done some animated cartoons.
W: That was a project started by Newsweek Magazine and it succeeded for a
number of years. It was the very first attempt to animate editorial cartoons, a
concept that looked like it might be around for awhile. Newsweek sold it on a
syndicated basis to television stations around the country and a number of good
cartoonists were involved in that arrangement. It was actually a great idea but
died, eventually, because it couldn't generate enough interest among television
news directors, who were reluctant to take up too much TV time with opinionated
editorial cartoons-even if they were animated. This might be a good time to
resurrect the idea because, today, television itself is little more than mindless
P: You have published three books, Wright On! and Wright Side Up. You were also
part of The Gang of Eight, edited by Tom Brokaw [NBC Nightly News anchor;
author]. Do you have plans to publish another book?
W: The option is with Simon & Schuster publishers to do a collection. It's always
there. But, I have decided that editorial cartoon anthologies don't offer much.
Although everybody does them, they really don't sell. Honestly, I don't sense a
craving desire throughout the United States to buy an anthology of Don Wright's
work. So, I have not really followed through on that. I think any future book I do
will involve writing and drawing about this business I'm in-journalism.
P: I was going to ask you that. Have you ever wanted to be a writer?
W: Everybody wants to be a writer. Everybody thinks he is a writer. Writing is
tough. I have known some very, very fine writers and I know how hard it is to do
it well. I'm not sure I could be the kind of writer I admire and respect-for their
intellect and turn-of-phrase. I don't know that I could meet those standards. But,
I might be willing to try.
P: You were able to grow as an editorial cartoonist.
W: Yes, and I'm continuing to evolve. When I stop feeling that there are
experiments I need to conduct, both in my artwork and in my thinking, then I'll
pack it in. So far, I'm still very interested in what I'm doing-digesting events and
telling people what I think about them. I like to think my drawings are a legitimate,
valuable form of commentary; that they add something to the grand debate. God
help me if I start doing what a lot of other cartoonists are doing these days-
reducing everything to useless, humorous quips.
P: You have always been pretty much issue-oriented, have you not?
W: I hope so, yes.
P: Do you consider yourself an artist or a newspaper man?
W: Am I an artist? That's for others to judge. I've tried hard to be an artist.
Sometimes, something latent forms on the paper, leading me to believe that, with
practice, I might qualify as an artist. There are other times I do stuff I can't
believe I did and would like to have back.
P: You have had a one-man show at the Lowe Art Museum in Miami and at New
York's Syracuse University. Syracuse has a collection of your work. Other
people consider you an artist.
W: Yes. Sometimes I think they're wrong, though.
P: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about two important events in your career-the
winning of the Pulitzer Prize in 1966 and 1980. In both cases, it was awarded for
general excellence. What was the key factor in the 1966 award? Were there
some issues that you had taken on? Do you send them a collection of your
W: I think it's hard to know why the Pulitzer board does some of the things it does.
The 1966 entry included a number of cartoons, the number the entry specifies
must be included. They did say the award was for the body of my work, but the
cartoon they cited was a drawing of two antagonists standing in a bombed-out
wasteland, one here and one over there. Obviously, they had just barely
survived mutual destruction and one was saying to the other: "You mean you
were bluffing?" If you are asking me what the criterion is, I'm not really sure. But
that's the one they lauded as representative of my work. The other Pulitzer, in
1980, I don't even recall if they selected a particular example. Rarely, if ever, do
they say, wow, this one cartoon is so great we're giving it the Pulitzer and
everything else is irrelevant.
P: Were you surprised at the 1966 award? You had not been an editorial cartoonist
W: I had not and I was shocked, as a matter of fact. Newspaper people used to
gather around the Teletype to find out who was winning what. But I was at the
water fountain in the middle of the city room. I used to clean my brushes in the
water fountain because I didn't have a sink and it was a lot closer than the men's
room. I was standing there and, suddenly, everyone screamed. I looked up and
all these people were running at me. They told me I had won the Pulitzer. I said
shit! Or something like that. That's how it happened. Stunned, I was stunned.
P: What was your reaction to the 1980 award?
W: This time, I was properly grateful. So many things had happened to the News...
The News had gotten involved in the joint operating agreement with The Herald
and was gradually being whittled away to nothing. Our deadlines were being cut
by The Herald, advertising was disappearing. It was obvious this couldn't go on.
We weren't going to survive if we didn't find some way to turn the paper around
and negotiate a better arrangement. We were dreaming actually. So, to me, it
meant a lot for the paper to get the Pulitzer-to help put it back on the map, to
reassert our identity. By God, we can do these things.
P: It is pretty unusual to win two. It is an achievement to win one.
W: [Jeff] MacNelly [editorial cartoonist] won three. Herblock [Herbert Block, editorial
cartoonist] won three, actually.
P: You've won a lot of other awards. Sigma Delta Chi, Overseas Press Club,
Kennedy Memorial Journalism Award, David Brinkley Award, among many
others. Which other awards are meaningful to you?
W: Well, of course, they're all meaningful to me on a temporary basis. My lovely
wife will hand you a list of these awards, but I have been in this business long
enough to know that the only thing that matters is how you are judged on the
cartoon that's in today's paper. Fame is fleeting. I don't think I want to attach too
much importance to having done some work that a lot of very nice people
thought deserved an award. I would rather be judged on what I do every day and
on my consistency. I'm not putting you off, nor am I putting off the question, but
that's my attitude.
P: Let's talk about the process you go through every day to produce an editorial
W: The process varies from day to day. The question that puzzles me the most and
I almost resent, but the one that most people ask, invariably, is how do you get
P: Notice I did not ask that.
W: Bless you, sir. I have never been able to answer the question adequately and,
honestly, do not even know why it is being asked. How does anyone get an
idea? The fact of the matter is that it happens sometimes in a different way than
it might have happened the day before. It's all contingent upon luck, passions,
feelings, pressure of deadline and, maybe, even what you had for breakfast.
Constant pressure causes you to tackle every day in a different way.
Sometimes, you come in and you don't have a thing in your head. The closer
you get to deadline, the more frantic you become, knowing full well you have to
do something, anything. Then your head says, okay, you have this idea, but you
did something like that before four or five years ago. Are you just recycling an
old idea? Isn't that creatively dishonest? Those predicaments, I think, are I think
the real test of the cartoonist. Can he maintain some kind of quality and get a
thought across in a coherent manner on that kind of deadline? There are other
times when the issues are so acute and, to you, so clear-cut, your engine's
running flat out on all cylinders. You get five, six, seven ideas tumbling one over
the other. You know every one of them has merit. That's a wonderful feeling,
being able to select from one of those seven or eight idea bursts and then go at
P: Do you always get the idea first and then start drawing?
W: Get the idea first? Yes.
P: Do you doodle?
W: Sometimes I doodle. I mentioned the pressure of deadlines. When it gets close,
I sit down and start doodling and hope, somehow, the hands will come up with an
P: I talked to Doug Marlette about that and he said that sometimes, under pressure,
he starts drawing anything in hope that it will create a cartoon.
W: You do other things, too. You start scratching your head, you get up, you sit
down, sometimes you swear, you walk around the room, you sit down and
doodle some more. Walk down the hall. Bark at somebody.
P: What time do you normally come in? Do you always work here in the Palm
Beach Post office?
W: Yes, I try never to take it home with me.
P: What time do you usually come in?
W: Depends on when I get out the night before. I'm mainly a night worker, so I come
in around 1:00 pm, then start getting the cartoon out. Usually, I've started that
cartoon the day before, because of the deadline pressures here. They're different
because this is a morning newspaper. The News was an evening newspaper, so
I had to make an adjustment. I worked at night throughout my entire career at
The News. Here, I try to get my drawing started the day before, then when I
come in at 1:00 pm, finish it. Sometimes I come in and start over. It depends on
whether something more important has happened, on whether or not I feel I can
start fresh and not shortcut the artwork to the extent that I deprive the cartoon of
P: What time is your deadline?
W: 3:30 pm every day.
P: This is every day. Do you work fifty-two weeks a year?
W: No. Forty-eight or forty-nine weeks. Five days a week.
P: That is a lot of cartoons. When you are going through the process and you look
back on what you have accomplished, what would you say are the characteristics
or qualities of a good political cartoonist?
W: Independence. I think it's critical. Being allowed to say pretty much what you
want, within the bounds of good taste. I do not believe-as I used to believe-that
an editorial cartoonist should be able to do whatever he damn well pleases, no
matter what. There's got to be some mutual understanding that the editor is
always going to be held responsible for what you put in the paper. The trick is
maintaining independence of thought with a proper dose of maturity.
P: Is too much text a problem?
W: It can be a problem, yes. Sometimes what you call too much text, or just a lot of
text, is quite necessary. Change of pace in the format of the cartoon is quite
necessary. I'm doing a lot of panel cartoons and changing the approach so that I
don't become too predictable. Holding readers on the editorial page is the
hardest challenge of all. I think many editorial pages are basically dull, which is
why it's been very difficult attract young readers. I think I can play a critical role
in achieving that.
P: Recently, you have done four squares.
W: I vary even that sometimes.
P: Someone else I talked to said that the reader needs to recognize who the people
are and what the issue is, so it has to be drawn well enough so that when
somebody looks at it, they know that it is [Richard] Nixon [U.S. President, 1969-
1974], for example.
[End of side Al]
W: I think each cartoonist develops his own caricatures of key figures. For example,
Bill Clinton [U.S. President, 1993-2001]. If you looked at all of the cartoonists
doing Clinton, you would see that none of the caricatures really matched up very
much. Each cartoonist decided Clinton looked like this or that. Their readers
eventually got to the point where they accepted these interpretive caricatures,
whether they were remarkably close to the way Clinton actually looked or not.
P: The reader knew it was Clinton.
W: The reader knew it was Clinton, though technically, as a legitimate caricature, it
really wasn't on the mark. We all develop your own stylized Clinton, Nixon,
George W. Bush [U.S. President, 2001-present]. Some cartoonists are better at
caricaturing than others caricature. Someone like Mike Peters [editorial
cartoonist] does some of the most grotesque, insanely funny caricatures that you
not only accept them, you like them. Take a look at Mike's George W. Bush.
Look at that thing. But still, you know immediately it's George W. Bush, without
needing a label.
P: Mike Peters tends to be more in the vein of humorous, does he not?
W: Yes, indeed, he does.
P: Is humor an essential quality for an editorial cartoonist? Should you have a good
sense of humor, at least?
W: A terrific sense of humor is essential, but I think the big problem in editorial
cartooning today is that most young cartoonists think all they're supposed to do is
be funny. If they all had Mike's ability to be funny in the way he's funny, that
would be fine.
But, it seems to me, they think they're funny but they're really not. For some
strange reason, a lot of editors have come to believe that humor is all there is to
editorial cartoon commentary and they're reprinting this vapid, spineless stuff.
Consequently, the relevance of editorial cartooning is slipping away.
P: While we are on that, I want to quote Tom Brokaw from the forward of the book,
The Gang of Eight. "In these cartoons we find a simple true vision-one man's
reaction to the maniacal, the tragic, the comic, the amazing world in which we
live." What would your reaction be to that statement?
W: I would say that is a nice sound bite and I think he thought it over very carefully,
because he knew it was going to be the forward to the book. It's what most
people who write forwards to books about editorial cartoonists say. Not that I
don't appreciate it, but I think it applies to too few people doing this work these
P: Critics say what we would like to get from editorial cartoonists is truth, but what
does that mean?
W: Yes, what does it mean? My truth may not be the same as your truth. I would
like to think that any cartoonist studies his issue quite carefully and is prepared to
defend it once he takes a volatile position that upsets a whole lot of readers.
When they call, is he prepared to defend it in detail? If not, I think to some extent
he's cheating. He should be as competent in defending his position as any
columnist. Most good columnists tell you what they think, giving you the
background and details on how they got to that point. Cartoonists cannot, of
course, but they ought to be able to do that when readers call and ask why you
did this to Bill Clinton or that to George W. Bush. You have to be able to tell
them why you've interpreted the crisis this way, why you think George W. Bush's
role in it wasn't up to snuff and where you think he made mistakes. Some
readers who call are livid, beyond the point of recognizing anything you say as
legitimate. They just want to hammer you as quickly as possible and get off the
line. But, if you succeed in getting them involved in a conversation, they begin to
accept this whole idea of differing with one another as part of a democratic
process that actually works.
P: I bet you hear "you have gone too far this time" a lot.
W: Yes. But if you manage to keep them on the line, they sometimes realize that the
two of you have differences and may never agree, so they promise to pray for
you. They may also feel you are not completely beyond hope and they will come
back to the paper the next day.
P: Would you feel like you are not doing your job if you did not get any responses?
W: There's nothing worse than no response. Nothing worse than being ignored-
P: What do you read in preparation for your opinions?
W: I'm a news junkie. I keep this horrible thing [television] on most of the time.
W: That twenty-four hour news cycle is a subject all by itself. I have the wire
services, all of them. I read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The
Miami Herald, The Sun Sentinel and my own paper. In between, I 've got Time
and Newsweek. I even try to wade through the talking heads and some of that
hot babble. My recreational reading generally leans toward current events.
P: Once you've read all of this and you come up with an idea, do you at any point
run this by somebody else, ask them what they think?
W: Well, I've been doing this a long time and I'm allowed some latitude there. When
I was coming up, of course, it was customary to submit an idea first and get an
okay. Now, what I do is work out a cartoon I want to go with-after sorting
through a lot of different ideas. I check it out with my wife, mostly. I show her the
sketch and ask her what she thinks. She will critique it and, sometimes, say, no,
that is not you. So, I'll go back and start all over. By the time I come in, at
roughly 1:00 pm, I'm pretty well set on what I'm going to do.
P: It seems to me, from viewing some of your cartoons, that you are very concerned
about punctuating pomposity and exposing hypocrisy. It seems, to me, that is
one of the areas you are particularly good at and you provide a lot of satirical
comments on current events. Is that a fair assessment?
W: I think it's a fair assessment of any really good cartoonist. You're talking about
those character flaws that run rampant through our religious leaders and our
politicians, once they gain a position of power. Sure, it's my job to go after them.
What hurts me is when they ask for the original.
P: What sins are most abhorrent to you?
W: Hypocrisy, I think, is probably at the head of my list. One of the phrases that
makes me cringe, when used by a politician, is, the American people want, or,
the American people think. I don't know what the American people want.
Sometimes don't think the American people know what they want. But, I do
know that most politicians-polls aside-have no idea what the American people
P: I have tried to go back and look at some of the cartoons to see some of the areas
you have been interested in over the years. I have noticed that you have always
had a very strong interest in the environment and you do cartoons on that issue.
When you start something like that, do you pick say a big developer that is
getting ready to pave over the beach or do you do a generic kind of cartoon? Do
you focus on one issue, or an individual or developer? All of the above?
W: All of the above. When I grew up as a kid playing in the woods-and I did that a
lot-I was always totally mesmerized by nature. I always used to gaze in wonder
at things I thought other kids were missing. I remember a touch football game-I
got knocked down and my head went into the grass face-first. I was staring
down into this maze of roots and dirt and grass. I saw all these bugs, all of these
little insects going about their jobs, undisturbed, doing all the things bugs do
down there in the grass. I remember thinking, wow, all this is going on and we
don't know anything about it. Maybe that was the beginning of my enthusiasm
for learning about the mysteries of nature. It makes me angry when we take it for
granted. I have very profound feelings about that and every chance I get to say
something in defense of the planet, I try to do it.
P: You have gone after Big Sugar a couple of times.
W: Yes. I don't think I've exempted anyone from blame for what's happening. I take
the opportunity and the shot every time I can.
P: Several of your cartoons are on labor unions. For example, one I was looking at
one the other day which is appropriate for this season, the reindeer were going
on strike and asking Santa for shorter hours and better working conditions. You
tend to write a lot of those kind of cartoons. I noticed one about the Polish
unions' model on American unions. This was solidarity, we are going to have
more coffee breaks, shorter weeks.
W: That's correct. But you have two positions represented. The first is sympathy for
labor unions. The other points out that labor unions actually helped kill
themselves by asking corporations to do entirely too much to facilitate their
leisure lifestyles. Right now, unions are trying to recover from years and years of
being greedy as hell. Corporations are just as greedy, of course, but labor
unions got terribly out of hand for awhile. In the confrontation between those two
factions, the idea of producing something of quality got lost. We all realize that
labor unions have a magnificent history in turning around unfair treatment of
American workers. But, power brings with it abuse. When that starts, my job is
to say hey, no, you can't do that--whether you're a labor union or not.
P: What was your reaction when the New York Pressman's Union, Local Number
Two went on strike over that Polish cartoon? They did hold up the publication of
the paper for awhile.
W: My public reaction was to give the stock line on the democratic process and the
First Amendment. A network radio station in New York called me and asked me
that same question and that is what I told them. But, it was a stupid thing for the
union to do and I don't think it reflected very well on the pressmen. Actually, it
verified everything I was saying in the cartoon.
P: Do you see your job more as a catalyst or as someone trying to educate people
W: Good question, probably some of both. I think today's editorial pages have
trouble getting younger readers to drop by. I think part of my job is to try and be
stimulating enough to get them hooked-maybe-on paying us a visit. That's a
tough order, and I don't know that I'm really achieving it, but I see it as one of my
responsibilities. Younger readers are a rare type of audience, the likes of which
we've never seen before. They grow up quicker, know a heck of a lot more a lot
sooner and their limited attention span practically demands that you have an
edge to your work.
P: Do you see that as some kind of a competition with the thirty-second sound bite?
W: Absolutely, I do. When I was growing up, the newspaper was the information
hub of the family-particularly on Sundays. Newspapers were a vital part of the
culture. Not any more. But it's consoling to know that television is experiencing
its own problems. Viewership continues to fall. People are satiated with talk
and, the information age, to some extent, may have backfired. I think viewers
feel bludgeoned by gabble and they are looking for something else. Newspapers
are probably missing a good bet and ought to go back to doing what they do
best. This includes beautiful writing with details, beautifully described, telling
people the truth, no matter how hard it might be.
P: Tom Fiedler [editorial page editor, The Miami Herald] mentioned that everybody
was watching the 2000 presidential election on television, but the newspapers
were the ones that made sense of what was happening. They weren't up to the
level of television, which covered events as they changed rapidly. The next day,
it was the purpose of the newspaper to explain what had happened.
W: We were filling in the holes, no doubt about that. Television is a medium of the
moment. The trouble with newspapers is that for some reason, and for the
longest time, we believed we had to compete with the helter-skelter of TV news
coverage. But television can't cover news completely. That's our job. If we do it
the way that we should do it, newspapers would be more appealing to readers as
well as advertisers. This leads to a debate about the quality of people coming out
of journalism schools, which we will save for another time. It's critical, however,
that we understand we go back to doing what we do best.
P: While we are on that subject, what is your opinion of USA Today?
W: I did not approve of USA Today at first, because I thought it was more of the
same old garish, spastic approach to journalism. Colored boxes and glitzy this
and that plastered all over the place. But USA Today evolved into a newspaper,
that at times, does a pretty good job of reporting and, occasionally, some good
investigative reporting. They seem to have transformed themselves, quite
gradually, into a substantial newspaper. I don't read it religiously or regularly. But
I'm seeing references to USA Today's coverage as well as its investigative
P: When you write your editorial cartoons, let's say an editorial on the Everglades,
do you hope it impacts Governor Jeb Bush [Florida governor, 1999-present] or
legislators? Do you expect to have some shift in opinion as a result of it?
W: Of course you do. But, I think one of the mistakes editorial pages make is that
they appear to be writing solely to the governor, or solely to the legislature, or
solely to U. S. Congress, or solely to their senator or congressman-trying to
pressure him, or her, into whatever position the editorial page wants. Instead, we
ought to be talking clearly, in no uncertain terms, to the people who elect those
officials. I think that's a better way to go after them. Talk to the people, not the
politicians. But, of course, we absolutely do try to influence politicians. We have
them in for meetings, we talk to them.
P: Do you think readers read the editorial pages?
W: Not enough of them do. So, again, we're back to the stimulus thing. In The Wall
Street Journal, its editorial column down the left side of the editorial page reflects
the paper's position and is beautifully written. It also has an edge to it. To me,
the position is pure baloney, but you cannot tear your eyeballs away-whether
you agree or disagree. We have to be able to do that on all our other editorial
P: Over the years, how have the responses, either letters or e-mails or telephone
calls, to your editorial cartoons changed?
W: They haven't changed. But, we're living, right now, in a particularly volatile time.
September 11th [date of terrorist attacks] made us seem, as a nation, more
fragile, more vulnerable. Americans are responding to that tragedy in a number
of ways. There is a mistaken sense that we should be extremely patriotic and
support the president-no matter what--even if he uses September 11th to try and
push through legislative programs he couldn't get through before September 11th
Our job, they think, is to support him-no matter what. Some ask, what rights
have you to criticize the president when he's under all this pressure. It can be
tough explaining to them that patriotism also involves maintaining a free,
questioning, diligent press and not giving up any of our civil liberties.
P: What did you draw for September 11th?
W: One of the things I cannot do is graphically describe my work. But, my first
cartoon was about the astonishing intelligence breakdown, and it made nearly
everybody mad. My very first reaction was how in the world could our
intelligence have been so bad? My instinct was to set sympathy aside, for the
moment, and go after the problems that led to it.
P: One of the areas you are obviously very interested in is nuclear energy and
nuclear power plants. You have drawn editorial cartoons that are relevant to
those issues. I notice that another important issue for you is education. The
editorial cartoon the day before yesterday, I believe, is two kids talking about the
governor and legislature slashing spending for our schools. The end result of it is
that these kids are not going to be able to read, therefore they end up dumb and
vote the same legislators back into office. Quite clearly, this is kind of a hard-
edged comment on the decision on the legislature to cut funding for public
W: Should I pussyfoot around that? The funding of education in Florida is an
extremely partisan debate. The governor, because of our editorial position on the
issue, will not even come and talk to The Palm Beach Post. I think the distinction
between funding education and giving large tax breaks to corporations certainly
P: A previous cartoon you did showed teachers on strike because teachers are
underpaid and demand more money. One of the students says, is that our
teacher carrying a sign? What do you suppose it says? The other student says,
don't ask me, I can't read, either.
W: That cartoon is pretty old. And, we're getting back to unions again.
P: Also, I notice you have had an interesting time with Richard Nixon, as did most
W: Everyone had a great time with Richard Nixon.
P: You miss him terribly, do you not?
W: We have John Ashcroft [U.S. Attorney General, 2001-present] now.
P: He is a good substitute. One of the cartoons has the Nixon memoirs and the guy
that runs the bookstore says, put it in fiction. What did you draw about
Watergate [scandal during the Nixon administration]?
W: All kinds of cartoons. Over the years, I've come to realize that while the political
faces change, the problems do not. Abuse of power is abuse of power.
Watergate was certainly unique as a crisis, the likes of which we haven't seen
since. But that doesn't mean we won't. You asked me to recall some of the
Watergate cartoons I did, but all of it tends to run together when you've been
doing it as long as I have. Oddly enough, there's no bigger critic of my cartoons
than me. Every time I look at one, I say, geez, I could have done better, changed
this or changed that. If you're asking me to dwell on some of my old cartoons, I
probably will not do it.
P: You indicated that you are pretty liberal in your views. How do you see Richard
Nixon as president? How would you personally assess him?
W: I think Richard Nixon was, personally, a very troubled man who lacked
confidence. I think his nature, his instinct, led him to believe that no one around
him could be trusted. I think he was paranoid beyond belief. In summing up
Richard Nixon, I would say his presidency was one of our biggest personal
tragedies. It's not that Nixon wasn't capable of being president; it was just that
he wouldn't allow himself to be president. His entire time seemed to be spent
trying to figure out who was doing what to him and how he could get even. He
didn't even trust his own aides.
P: What is your view of Ronald Reagan [U.S. President, 1981-1989]?
W: My problem with Ronald Reagan is that the media kept calling him the Great
Communicator. Every time someone says that I think how low the standard of
communications has plummeted. Very few politicians, today, use the English
language well-either written or spoken. I will, however, give him credit for having
had better speech writers than George W. Other than that, he was a nice
enough man. I disagreed with him most of the time.
P: I noticed one of the interesting books about Reagan, Lou Cannon's book, was
called The Role of a Lifetime.
W: Yes, we pinned that actor thing on Reagan a lot. But, he gave me this feeling in
his press conferences that he might not make it through without screwing up, that
we had to root for him, for the old guy to make it. Is that what you're supposed to
think about the President of the United States? If you're going to give Reagan
credit for anything-given the stress and pressure he was under-it's that he did
pretty well holding it together in public. A Great Communicator? No, I don't think
he was that.
P: What about Bill Clinton?
W: Interesting man, great cartoon subject. Someone I would not trust as far as I
could throw him, of course. If you want me to talk about Bill Clinton, that would
probably take an hour-and-a-half. But, as a cartoonist, I have to tell you I really
P: I guess the current president [George W. Bush] is a little too bland.
W: No, to me, he isn't bland. I know he's trying very hard to promote this messianic
image of rousing the American people in our battle against terrorism. And, up to
this point, he's done a good job, particularly in Afghanistan. But, the American
people are going to support him, no matter what he does, anyway. All he's doing
is the right thing, which, I think, most presidents would have done. Still, it's sad to
see him using September 11th to push through domestic programs no one,
outside of certain special interests, really wants-such as oil drilling in the Arctic
wildlife preserve, cutting back on environmental protections and things of that
kind. Just because a bunch of terrorists gave him a 90 percent approval rating.
P: One of the things I've noticed in doing research for this and wanted to ask you
about, is why aren't there many female editorial cartoonists?
W: There are a couple of reasons. I used to maintain that if a really good female
cartoonist came along, one who was independent and willing to work really hard,
she would almost become an overnight success, instantly wealthy. We were
ready for her, even, or especially, if she were militantly feminist. We were ready
for a strong, female viewpoint on the editorial page. I'm sure her cartoons would
have been widely accepted by newspaper readers-maybe widely disagreed
with, but who cares? I don't think we ever got someone with that kind of
commitment. There are some female editorial cartoonists out there, but if you
asked me their names, I couldn't tell you.
P: Could you discuss some of the other editorial cartoonists you admire?
W: Jeff MacNelly, I guess, would be right up at the top of the list. Jim Borgman
[editorial cartoonist]. I like Mike Peters. Revere Pat Oliphant [editorial
cartoonist]. My general feeling is that editorial cartooning, in terms of quality, has
fallen off precipitously. But I try not to worry about something I can't change.
P: Do you read a lot of other editorial cartoons, editorial pages?
W: I see a lot of the work of other cartoonists.
P: What was your assessment of one of the giants of the industry, Herbert Block,
who recently passed away on October 7, 2001?
W: I admired Herbert Block for a lot of reasons. He was, for one thing, a good writer.
He was an excellent student of politics, as well as the quirky nature of politicians.
And he was tough. He was the guy who got Richard Nixon, really. No matter
what you say about all the other cartoonists and the stuff they did, Herblock was
the guy who got Richard Nixon.
P: His cartoons had a huge impact on the public view of Joe McCarthy [U.S.
Senator from Wisconsin, 1947-1957; held hearings to root out communists in
America]. He presented him as sort of an ape-man.
W: I give credit to The Washington Post. Herblock was magnificent and the paper
backed him up.
P: Same for Nixon, too.
W: Yes, absolutely.
P: As you know, Katherine Graham [editor, publisher of the Washington Post]....
W: Another remarkable Post executive who stood by Herblock. Again, you are only
as good as the paper that backs you.
P: Nixon, as you know, was threatening Katherine Graham, so this was a difficult
W: Katherine Graham was a great lady. Nixon never understood great ladies or
P: What about our editorial cartoons as compared to British editorial cartoons? You
read the London Times and the Guardian and all of these newspapers, and the
editorials seem, to me, to be different in context. Theirs are, perhaps, a little
W: I assume you're talking about the cartoons themselves. I'm not as well informed
about the work of European cartoonists today, as opposed to ten, twelve years
ago. Back then, I decided they had more independence and were probably far
more satirical and biting than we would ever be allowed to be. I'm not sure that
holds true today.
P: Since Palm Beach County was at the center of the 2000 presidential election,
would you comment a little about the impact of that election on both the
newspaper here and the county itself?
W: The newspaper had to cover the biggest election story in the world, which was
taking place in its own backyard, and I think we did a damn good job. I hardly
know where to begin in analyzing it. There were so many election controversies
exploding throughout the state and it was our responsibility to try and get
information to people as quickly and accurately as possible. In the end, I think,
the butterfly ballot turned out to be extremely critical-maybe even the deciding
factor. I don't think George W. Bush would be president today if it had not been
for that screwed-up ballot design. Because of it, Theresa LePore, the Palm
Beach County supervisor of elections, received a lot of criticism. In cartoons, I
have held her responsible, primarily because she continues to deny that it was a
factor. I remember, when I came to work on Election Day, Shirley, the secretary
for the editorial department, warned me about voting. She said people had been
calling saying they think they mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan [unsuccessful
presidential candidate, 1992, 1996, 2000], instead of Al Gore [unsuccessful
Democratic presidential candidate, 2000; U.S. Vice-President, 1993-2001].
Tom Blackburn, a Palm Beach Post editorial writer and one of the most intelligent
people I know, piped up and said he thought he, too, had voted for Buchanan. I
though, my God! When I voted, I saw immediately what had happened. The
punch holes were so close together that, while you thought you were voting for
Gore, you actually could hit Buchanan quite easily. When you wind up with a
sizeable Jewish population here voting for Pat Buchanan, you know something
has really gone amiss. That was one of the things the paper had to sort through,
locally. In Tallahassee, of course, we had to contend with Katherine Harris
[Florida Secretary of State, 1998-present], not to mention [George] Bush, Sr.
[U.S. President, 1989-1993; U.S. Vice-President, 1981-1989] calling in Jim Baker
[U.S. Secretary of State, 1989-1992; Campaign Manager for President George
Bush, 1988] imploring Baker to go to Florida and help get Georgie elected
president. Then, all the lawyers jumped in. Other incidents included reports of
police roadblocks that prevented blacks from voting in some areas and stories of
blacks confused by the ballot in Jacksonville. All this doesn't necessarily suggest
some sort of coordinated plot. It probably was not. But, it does suggest that
because of this, George W. Bush was elected president. I thought the Florida
Supreme Court distinguished itself in its fair handling of the election suits, but the
Bush people didn't think so. We had a movement started in Palm Beach County
by some local Republican chairperson, Mary McCarty [commissioner, Palm
Beach County Commission, 1990-present, chairman, 1992-1994], to have all of
the Supreme Court judges removed from the bench. All of this stuff was going
on-enough to tax the resources of any newspaper-and I think we handled it
pretty well. This election is brought up, sarcastically, so many times, by other
people across the country, who act as if Florida is some sort of backwater swamp
that doesn't know how to manage a major election. That really is unfair.
P: If you looked at almost any other state, you would find similar situations.
W: A lot of other states had similar problems in recounts and otherwise.
P: Georgia had twice as many under-votes and over-votes as Florida did.
W: But, in the end, we were the state that was critical and decided who won the
P: How would you assess the performance of the canvassing board? Theresa
LePore, Carol Roberts [vice-chair, Palm Beach County Commission; member,
Palm Beach County canvassing board], and Judge Charles Burton [Palm Beach
County Court; chairman, Palm Beach County canvassing board]?
W: I thought it was abominable. As we proceeded through what was supposed to be
a recount, Judge Burton got so mesmerized by the national media that he forgot
to do his job. He was popping up on Nightline [ABC news program] when he
should have been counting votes. I don't know what [Carol Roberts] told you, but
she appeared to be the only dissenter on that board. She was outvoted by the
other two most of the time. One point is beyond dispute: they took too much time
off, away from their responsibilities-including Thanksgiving-during critical times
of that recount. Broward County did it right. Its canvassing board just kept
counting, no matter what the disagreements and in spite of partisan attempts by
politicians to interrupt the process. This guy Burton was taking time off for this
and time off for that, and he was allowing the Republican and the Democratic
lobbyists to come in and influence the recount. He seemed to be enjoying the
situation, using it to elevate himself to celebrity status. Theresa LePore, I think,
was totally confused, frantically looking for some way to cut it short to avoid
further controversy. The canvassing board did a terrible, terrible job.
P: One of your political writers, and I cannot remember his name, said that the
legacy of this election for Palm Beach County was that three Democrats on the
canvassing board gave George W. Bush a fair shake.
W: Are you serious? He really believed it was completely open and beyond repute,
handled in the way that it should have been? I do not agree with that.
P: His argument was that he thought that although they were Democrats, they were
not partisan and that they did, in fact, put on a higher standard.
W: That's the kind of analysis people in the media do when they're trying to appear
objective. It really galls me because I don't think that is an accurate assessment.
Did they do their job, regardless of whether they were Democrats or
Republicans? That's all we want to know. That's the way they ought to be
P: When you look back at your career as an editorial cartoonist, what do you
consider to be your most important contribution?
W: I do not think I have made my most important contribution yet and if I thought I
had, I would stop doing it. I keep hoping that, somehow, I make some sort of big
difference, without having the vaguest notion of what that difference might be. A
worthy contribution would be influencing some kid, somewhere, to become a
really good, kick-butt editorial cartoonist.
P: What is the future for editorial cartoonists? What will happen once you, Oliphant,
Peters and the rest of the current group are no longer doing their work? Are there
W: The trouble with tackling this subject is you come off like some kind of old fart,
complaining about the way things used to be. I do think that we've lost our way.
Editors are putting up with junk and running it because they think that's all there
is. We ought to be providing them with something better. Editors ought to be
demanding something better. Syndicates ought to be offering something better.
P: Is it the responsibility of journalism schools?
W: Yes, if they treasure the legacy. It's partly their responsibility keep it alive and I
don't know that they will. I can't honestly say that the kind of people we're getting
from journalism schools these days are particularly qualified to lead a resurgence
of journalistic excellence.
P: One newspaper writing about your career said, he is one of the guardians of
W: Oh, how lofty.
P: It does seem to me, from our discussion, that you have a strong moral sense of
right and wrong and like to point that out.
W: Think of me as a zealot with self-control. I do not have a monopoly on defining
right and wrong, but I think it's part of my job. One of the things I read the other
day in Presstime, a magazine devoted to this profession, was an article that
made me laugh at first, and then I wanted to cry. It said newspapers around the
country had hired psychiatrists and psychologists to counsel traumatized staff
members who handled September 11t coverage.
[End of side A2]
W: Good intentions aside, and as harsh as it may sound, it does raise the question:
what kind of people are we hiring? Forgive me, I was just amazed. Being a New
York firefighter or New York policeman was traumatic. Fighting a war in
Afghanistan is traumatic. Putting stories in the paper is not traumatic.
P: Are the quality and the background of reporters just not as good as they used to
W: Again, that calls for generalizing. There are good reporters here at The Post,
good reporters at The Herald and the Sun Sentinel. There are just not enough of
them. If we want to win the public back to newspapers, we're going to have to
confront that problem.
P: What are the best newspapers in the state of Florida?
W: The best newspaper in the state of Florida?
P: The best ones.
W: The best ones. Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel.
I think the Tampa Tribune is a good newspaper too.
P: The St. Pete Times?
W: The St. Pete Times, absolutely.
P: It does seem to me that this state has a large quantity of outstanding
W: I believe Florida has more really fine newspapers than any other state in the
P: Where do you think that came from?
W: Why did that happen? Burgeoning population probably demanded it. We get
people from all areas of the United States who, from whence they came, demand
good newspapers. Competition for readership creates good newspapers.
P: What is the future of newspapers? Are we going to eliminate the hand-held
document that we have now?
W: I have never believed it. People prefer something tactile. The printed page will
never disappear. With computers, we were supposedly going to start using less
paper, but now everybody prints out their stuff and we're using more paper than
ever. No, I don't think the printed page will ever disappear. But I do think
newspapers have to drastically improve their quality.
P: I want to finish up with just a couple more questions. One of the questions is,
have you finished your cartoon for tomorrow?
W: No. I will start that after you leave, as a matter of fact. No disrespect. I swear to
you, you do not have anything to do with whether I'm going to make it or not. I'll
P: What will it be on?
W: I don't know yet. I really don't. And you don't want to be here when the process
starts. It's an awful thing to watch.
P: Do you not do many local cartoons, since you are syndicated?
W: I don't do enough local cartoons. In some sense, this isn't fair to my newspaper,
although they never complain about it. I have to do five national or international
cartoons a week. Doing something local means I have to do one or two extra.
I've done that, but I'm afraid I don't do it enough. Local issues are becoming
more and more critical here and they certainly deserve the attention.
P: Is there anything that we have not talked about that you would like to discuss?
W: No, my god, you've covered just about everything. I'm surprised I'm still talking.
The subject matter, it seems to me, isn't all that interesting to most people.
P: I beg to differ, I think it is quite fascinating. I want to thank you very much for
your time. I appreciate it.
W: Thank you for coming, I've enjoyed it.
[End of the interview.]