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Pittsburgh Currently: On the Firing of Charlie Deitch and Rob Rogers

If you live in Pittsburgh, I'm sure you know the story by now. Charlie Deitch, the editor of the City Paper, and Rob Rogers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's editorial cartoonist, were both fired from their jobs on May 15th and June 14th respectively. They both lost their jobs for upholding their more liberal/leftist/progressive ideals and causes, the same ones that these publications supported for many years.

Deitch was fired for continuing to criticize Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican representative from Butler. Metcalfe has described himself as "a Tea Partier before it was cool". He has done many reprehensible acts. In 2015, Metcalfe invited a white supremacist, Robert Vandervoort, the head of ProEnglish, to speak before a hearing to make English the official language in Pennsylvania. Metcalfe defended his actions by proclaiming, “a white nationalist … is a lot different than a white supremacist”. Great. Last year, in 2017, Metcalfe lashed out at a colleague, Matt Bradford, for touching his arm briefly during a state government committee meeting about a land-use bill. Metcalfe reacted to the touch by saying, “look, I'm a heterosexual. I have a wife, I love my wife, I don't like men — as you might. But stop touching me all the time.” Everyone certainly has autonomy over their own body, but this oddly homophobic rant was irrelevant of the situation at hand. This event came after Metcalfe's attempts to pass a state law to define marriage as solely between a man and woman. In 2013, he even called for the impeachment of Bruce Hanes, an official in Montgomery County who was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Metcalfe has been the representative in Pennsylvania's 12th district since 1999.

Deitch described Metcalfe as "unfit for office" and a "blatant obstructionist". This came soon after Metcalfe unleashed a Facebook tantrum about "lying homosexuals" and how he won't even bother with any Democratic legislation that passes his door. I can't say that I disagree with Mr. Deitch's opinion on Metcalfe. After doing some reading on the representative, I can say that he's no friend of mine either.
Deitch was the editor of the Pittsburgh City Paper since 2014 and had been with them in other roles since 2005 before he was fired last month. This termination happened only 13 days after his piece about Metcalfe's obstructionist tendencies and a week after he was told to stop writing about the representative. The general manager of the paper said that Deitch's negative coverage of Metcalfe damaged ties with parent company, The Butler Eagle, a newspaper in Metcalfe's area of representation, Butler County. The paper is certainly allowed to fire him for these reasons; it's not against the law. Deitch was replaced by sportswriter Rob Rossi. This is Pittsburgh, home to champion sports teams such as The Steelers, but it's odd to have a sportswriter as the editor of an alternative paper.

Similarly, Rob Rogers, the famous political cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, also lost his job. His firing on June 14th came after 19 of his cartoons were killed for being left-leaning and anti-Trump, focusing on recent political events such as the separation of children from their families at the border.

The Post-Gazette fired Rogers because he "has become too angry for his health or for his own good," said publisher John Block. Block wants to appease right-leaning readers who have moved to the Post-Gazette after the competing Tribune-Review switched to an all-digital format. Block also merged the Toledo Blade and Post-Gazette's editorial departments, as both are managed by his company Block Communications, putting Keith Burris in charge of both papers. Keith Burris is certainly right-leaning, admitting this himself, though he has described his goal as making the paper "independent". Burris certainly has the right to fire Rogers even if I don't like it, though there's also room to ask, "wasn't he just doing his job?" Most importantly though, it's telling to see the shift in the paper's goals and audience.

These two terminations of longtime staff members, even Pulitzer Prize-winning in the case of Rob Rogers, showcase the visible shift under President Trump. Are the papers afraid of criticism from the despot? If nothing else they're trying to tap into the new "alt-right", logic-without-care, pragmatism-without-love, the-now-without-the-why. President Trump has brought out the worst in us as a nation. We've seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes brought on by the President's careless use of language. We've seen, of course, Nazis marching in the streets and increased border control measures to the point of absurdity and child abuse, the latter of which was pondered briefly before. Just yesterday, the United States even withdrew from the UN's Human Rights Council on charges that the council accepts countries that have poor human rights laws and frequently, hypocritically in their eyes, criticizes Israel. This withdrawing was after the UN accused the US of violating human rights law. Though the Human Rights Council is certainly deserving of criticism, the act of withdrawing right now is also fishy and ponders, "what's next?"

I don't know what to think about "what's next" to be honest. Any number of things could happen next, but I am sure that more explicitly racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic nonsense will occur. I'm sure we'll see some Nazis run for office next year, despite protest from both major parties and the unlikelihood of victory. I'm sure we will continue to see police shooting black people, such as what just happened yesterday to Antwon Rose. I don't want these things to continue, and I know that you don't either.

We always need to ensure that there is a local voice for more progressive politics. It seems that the Post-Gazette and the City Paper have turned to appeasement to avoid criticism and to ensure their profits are intact. Their profits seem pretty down, to be honest. So let them go. Seriously, just let them go. There is a new independent media company turning up in Pittsburgh that I'm interested in. Before you get any ideas, no, this is not a sponsored blog post. Anyway, check out the Kickstarter for The Pittsburgh Current, a new alt-weekly and proposed counter to what remains of the City Paper. The Pittsburgh Current is being set up by Charlie Deitch himself. I'm somewhat worried that the name may hurt the publication's reach, as it's hard to search on Google (it doesn't even show up on the first page by just searching the name), but we'll see what will happen. Here is the current site, and there are future plans to turn this into an actual printed publication to rival the aforementioned City Paper. The website is pretty basic now, but this is just the first few days. I myself have very little funds at the moment (you can help with that here), but I intend to support the Pittsburgh Current in any way I can. And, to Mr. Deitch, if you are reading this and need a musick reporter, don't be shy ;-).