After decades of service as a cartoonist for a farming publication, a man found himself out of a job. One cartoon he created for the newspaper got him fired when someone from a big company called it offensive. Did he deserve it? You decide.
Rick Friday of Lorimor, Iowa, enjoyed his gig as a cartoonist, providing content for Farm News, a weekly publication of The Fort Dodge Messenger, which is owned by Ogden Newspapers, based in West Virginia. For 21 years, Rick provided the publication’s “It’s Friday” cartoons — that is until one person said Rick took things too far.
“Again, I fall hard in the best interest of large corporations. I am no longer the Editorial Cartoonist for Farm News due to the attached cartoon,” Rick wrote in a post on Facebook, accompanying the so-called offensive cartoon, explaining that his services had been terminated.
In the image, which bemoaned Iowa farmers’ dwindling profits while CEOs at large agricultural corporations earn millions of dollars, two farmers are having a chat. When one says, “I wish there was more profit in farming,” the other replies, “There is. In 2015, the CEOs of Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and John Deere combined made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers.”
“Monsanto and DuPont, the parent of Johnston-based Pioneer, are large seed and chemical companies, and Deere is a large farm equipment manufacturer,” according to Des Moines Register. “The CEOs at the ag giants earned about $52.9 million” in 2015, although “profits for the three companies, all with large operations across Iowa, also have declined as farm income has been squeezed.”
Unfortunately, although Rick claims his cartoon is factual, one reader was none too pleased, and that’s all it took for the publication to give him the boot. Reportedly, one of the three large corporations Rick portrayed in his cartoon complained before pulling its advertising from the publication, resulting in Farm News dropping him as the editorial cartoonist.
“Apparently a large company affiliated with one of the corporations mentioned in the cartoon was insulted and cancelled their advertisement with the paper, thus, resulting in the reprimand of my editor and cancellation of ‘It’s Friday’ cartoons after 21 years of service and over 1,090 published cartoons to over 24,000 households per week in 33 counties of Iowa,” Rick, who also raises cattle, explained in his post about his termination.
Undeterred, Rick Friday decided to stick to his guns. “I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon,” the cartoonist said. “That’s okay, hopefully, my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, (and it) will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the country.”
Standing his ground worked too. After 60 days, Farm News offered Rick an agreement to return, as well as an apology. Both of which he accepted. He also accepted offers from other publications and received a request from a large publisher who was interested in reviewing his collection of work for a book. “By returning to Farm News, this gives a strong statement to all who tried to censor the truth and that the voices of many people were heard,” Rick explained in a follow-up post about his return to the publication.
“I encourage a correlation of rural and urban fellowship to better understand each other’s world, we owe this partnership to our future. I respect opinions and diversity and understand that in order to survive we each must make the best choices environmentally and economically,” Rick furthered. “Most importantly we must be nice to one another. My father, who served in the Army, once said to me when I was fighting with another boy at school, ‘You boys need to try to get along, someday you might need to share a foxhole together.'”
Although Rick was eventually given his job back, the incident raises legitimate concerns. What happens when facts are offensive? Even if it’s an opinion, should it be silenced simply because someone else disagrees or doesn’t like it? We are on the brink of losing our freedom of speech when large companies can decide that we are only to say what others are willing to hear and can only speak what doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. After all, unoffensive speech doesn’t need any protection. It’s the words some don’t want to hear that does.