Home / Section: Controversies
Paul Fell loses gig after flippant remark about newspaper’s ethical policy (UPDATED… again)
Paul Fell who has for years been the freelance cartoonist for the Lincoln Journal Star has been terminated as a contributing cartoonist over published remarks to MSNBC when they questioned him about a $450 contribution to a Democratic house candidate back in 2006. Paul was one of 144 journalists (or individuals working in the media industry) singled out for contributed money to a political party or individual while serving in the media.
“For your information, I did contribute the amounts listed to the Maxine Moul for Congress campaign in 2006,” Fell said in an e-mail. “I am a freelance cartoonist, who contracts with the Lincoln Journal Star to draw three editorial cartoons a week.
“They don’t pay me enough money to be able to dictate how I conduct myself in political campaigns. I generally do not donate to political candidates, but Maxine Moul is a longtime friend and former newspaper publisher where I got my start as a cartoonist back in 1976.
“Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Lincoln Journal Star or their parent organization, Lee Enterprises, policies are on allowing newsroom staff to give to candidates and parties. I do not believe they did disclose my donations. That’s their problem, not mine.”
For his flippant remark, the newspaper ran a column written by Kathleen Rutledge, the paper’s editor, regarding their decision to sever their relationship with Paul.
We pay him to express his own opinion on matters of public interest through cartoons that appear on the editorial pages. He is not an employee but a freelancer who is covered by our ethics code. He did not see fit to tell us he had made a political contribution, either at the time he made it or when he was contacted by MSNBC.
The biggest difference, though, is the cavalier attitude about journalistic ethics Fell exhibited. He said he doesn’t give “a rat’s ass” about the policies of this paper. Read his complete comments to Dedman elsewhere on this page.
Fell’s comments make it clear he does not care about guarding this newspaper’s trust with readers. We don’t think he should treat our credibility with such disdain. His comments to MSNBC follow an earlier incident in which he did not disclose to us that he had posted cartoons of a sexual nature on his Web site. He removed them after we expressed concern.
We have lost trust in our professional relationship with Paul Fell. For that reason, he no longer draws editorial cartoons for us.
In an e-mail sent to me, Paul responds to some of the points Rutledge made in her column citing reasons to terminate the paper’s relationship with Paul.
The Journal Star is actually right in its argument that I did commit a breach of journalistic ethics in contributing to a political candidate. To be frank, last fall when I contributed to the Maxine Moul for Congress campaign, it never occurred to me that I was doing something I shouldnâ€™t. Call it a brain fart or an early onset stroke, but I did what I did.
My comments in the MSNBC.com interview were pretty angry and if I had been less truthful and snarky, pleaded ignorance and begged forgiveness from the Journal Star, Iâ€™d probably still be freelancing for them. The fact is, I had backed them into a corner where they had no choice but to give me the axe.
Also mentioned in his email is a description of stressed relationship between the two over the pay rates Paul is paid for his contributions to the paper and he feels to some extent this action by the paper was a “perfect excuse for getting rid of me once and for all.”
Paul doesn’t appear to deflated about this latest turn of events as he is already in talks with other publishing outlets for his cartoons.
Update: I received an excerpt of an account between Paul and the editors at the Lincoln Journal Star from JP Trostle who is writing up his story on these events for the AAEC notebook. The exchange below has been confirmed by Paul as accurate.
“Interestingly, during my ‘you’re fired’ phone conversation with the editor and editorial page editor on Friday afternoon, they mentioned that the Journal Star code of ethics covered freelancers as well as full-time staffers. I responded that it would have been nice, then, if they had thought to share that policy with their freelancers.
“You could have cut the long and uncomfortable silence with a knife.”
ANOTHER UPDATE: The AAEC web site has now posted a story on this story, though nothing significantly new that hasn’t already been covered.