The December 5 editorial cartoon by Columbus Dispatch cartoonist Jeff Stahler has a striking similarity to a 2009 New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress.
I asked Jeff for a response to which he’d only say, “my only explaination [sic] is that it’s a coincidence.”
This is the second coincidence this year. Last March, one of his cartoons was found to be very close to a fake headline written by Andy Borowitz which read, “New Study Finds iPad is Cure for Adultery; Owners ‘Stop Noticing Other People Altogether“. Jeff’s cartoon caption read, “New study: Smart phone users are less likely to commit adultery, since they’ve stopped noticing others around them.”
Jeff’s editors reviewed the matter and declared they believed it was a coincidence. Here’s what they told Jim Romenesko:
We investigated Mr. Borowitz’s allegation yesterday and today. What we know is that [Dispatch cartoonist] Jeff [Stahler] created the cartoon Wednesday, submitted it Thursday (the same day Borowitz’s piece appeared), and published it Sunday. Jeff was not familiar with Borowitz’s piece until Borowitz himself brought it to our attention. It appears to be a coincidence.
Unlike David Simpson, who was caught lightboxing Jeff MacNelly cartoons with abandon, any of Jeff’s suspected cartoons are drawn in his own style and therefore harder to definitively prove to be cases of plagiarism.
That in mind, here are a couple more cases of similar cartoons between The New Yorker and Jeff’s work that were passed along to me.
As a general rule, as long as the cartoonist isn’t light-boxing, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even the ones cited above can be excused when looked at individually (the ‘nationalized’ cartoons are easy word gags based on the topic of the day). Collectively, however, the matter gets harder to explain away. Only Jeff knows for sure and the only on-the-record response he’s given me was that “it’s a coincidence.”
Jeff Stahler suspended as paper investigates cartoons
Steve Meyers of Poynter is now reporting that Jeff Staher has been suspended “indefinitely” until the paper can conduct an exhaustive investigation.
On a related note, Michael Cavna has talked to Robert Mankoff who is giving Jeff the benefit of the doubt.
“My guess is Stahler came up with the idea completely independently,” Mankoff told Comic Riffs. “I see things like this every week with different cartoonists submitting almost identical cartoons. Sometimes we’ve been on the other end of this being accused of plagiarism, when I know the cartoonist would never do that.“It’s also possible that Stahler saw the Sipress cartoon and forgot completely about it and then came up with the idea thinking it was his. That also has happened,” Mankoff continued Monday. “Usually when it does, a little bell goes off warning you something is wrong – but not always.”
From the Poynter website:
Second visual plagiarism case may lead to ethics guidelines for editorial cartoonists by Bob Andelman
JEFF STAHLER RESIGNS DURING INVESTIGATION OF PLAGIARISM
Jeff Stahler has resigned from his staff postion at the Columbus Dispatch yesterday according to an email from his editor to Steve Myers at the Poynter Institute. Jeff’s work came under scrutinty this week after his Sunday cartoon was found to be strikingly close to a 2009 New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress. A couple other New Yorker cartoons were also found that were very similar prompting his editor Ben Marrison to suspend Jeff indefinitely while an investigation was made.
UPDATEFrom Comic Riffs:
JEFF STAHLER QUITS: Columbus Dispatch cartoonist reportedly resigns amid plagiarism case
Five days after fresh accusations of plagiarism, political cartoonist Jeff Stahler has reportedly resigned from his Columbus Dispatch post.
Dispatch editor Ben Marrison told Poynter’s Steve Myers that Stahler quit Friday and “that is all we will have to say on this unfortunate matter.”
Early in the week, it came to Marrison’s attention that Stahler’s Monday cartoon was strikingly similar to a 2009 New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress. On Tuesday, the paper suspended Stahler as it conducted an “exhaustive investigation.”
Reached Saturday, Stahler had no comment on the news. On Monday, Stahler indicated that the similarity was a coincidence. (Sipress told Comic Riffs he had no comment.)
The latest case was the second time in seven months that accusations of plagiarism had swirled around the longtime Dispatch cartoonist. In May, humorist Andy Borowitz pointed to similarities between a satirical headline he wrote and a subsequent Stahler cartoon. The Dispatch decided at that time that the Borowitz/Stahler similarity was a “coincidence.”
“At some point, you have to admit that some artists have far too many ‘coincidences’ to write off,” Portland-based syndicated political cartoonist Matt Bors told Comic Riffs on Friday.
New Yorker Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff told Comic Riffs on Monday that he initially gave Stahler “the benefit of the doubt” that it was a coincidence, but later told us that there appeared to be too many coincidences in this case. The Daily Cartoonist’s Alan Gardner posted two other New Yorker cartoons — in an interesting twist, both by Mankoff — that were similar to subsequent cartoons by Stahler.
In the bigger picture, Bors thinks that too many people in journalism have historically turned a blind eye to cartoon theft of idea and image, saying that they “take the Penn State approach to plagiarism.”
“I think [cartoon] plagiarism is overly tolerated,” Pulitzer-winning political animator Mark Fiore told Comic Riffs on Friday, “but it is also harder to prove than in other forms of journalism since cartoons so often veer into the ‘homage’ and ‘tip-of-the-pen’ territory.”
Stahler’s is the second plagiarism case to hit the editorial cartooning industry in a matter of weeks: In late October, David Simpson of the Urban Tulsa Weekly was accused of serially plagiarizing the late cartooning legend Jeff MacNelly. Simpson — who was fired by the Tulsa World in 2005 for plagiarirzing a cartoon by the Hartford Courant’s Bob Englehart — announced in the wake of the latest allegations that he was “retiring from the editorial cartooning business.”
Of the two recent cartoon plagiarism scandals, Fiore tells Comic Riffs: ”It’s sad, maddening and frustrating all rolled into one.”
NEWSROOM PLAGIARISM: Why are cartoonists treated so differently from their journalistic brethren?
.SCENES FROM A PLAGIARISM CASE: Tulsa cartoon scandal leaves behind a line of questioning