Was Herblock the Worse Cartoonist Ever? Or, Why Does Anyone Take Hendrik Hertzberg Cereal?


Over at The Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson has a great piece about Herblock, the legendary and multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who, well, sucked at editorial cartoons. The news hook for the piece is an HBO documentary, The Black & The White, about Herblock, who died in 2001 and worked at The Washingon Post for 55 years.

From Ferguson's piece, which is a great attack on the smug, self-congratulatory tone among legacy media types:

The stars [of the documentary] are the real-life personages who pop up to attest to Block's greatness—his irreverence, his bottomless imagination, his moral courage in taking on the powerful and damn the consequences. They make quite a gallery, these personages. Aside from a pair of show-biz stars, Jon Stewart and the comedian Lewis Black, they are cave dwellers of the Washington/New York media racket, what's left of it. Most of them are face-famous, of course, and instantly recognizable, but you can also tell their stature from the things they actually make themselves say. 

"It was as if Jesus himself were walking around the newsroom," says Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker….

A Herblock cartoon, says Tom Brokaw, "was like a punch in the face."

"You didn't want to be Herblock's enemy," says Ted Koppel. "He'd nail your hide to the wall."

"Herb exposed hypocrisy," says Bob Woodward. 

"Herb was the conscience of the country," says Roger Rosenblatt. 

He was "irreverent," "fearless," "willing to offend"—so much a renegade indeed that he won three Pulitzer Prizes, got syndicated to 1,800 newspapers, mounted exhibitions of his work at the Library of Congress, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is a special kind of renegade.

The most impressive thing? Herblock did it all without ever getting a laugh or providing anything like a real insight. That takes talent, dedication, and, well, renegadism up the ying-yang.

Read the whole article.

More on editorial cartoons as a genre gone terribly, terribly wrong.