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Herb Block - Keeping Politicians Honest

Herb Block, a brilliant editorial cartoonist, exposed the follies of political leaders for decades with his barbed cartoons and well-phrased captions which he published in The Washington Post.

How the "high and mighty" viewed his work never bothered him. What bothered Block were the words and actions of the "high and mighty" which he exposed, regularly, with his quick wit and extraordinary talents.

Katharine Graham, who was Chairman of The Washington Post when Herb Block marked his 50th anniversary with the paper, said this to mark the occasion:

My Mother had a saying: "Any man worth marrying is impossible to live with." Why does this make me think of my glorious life and times with Herblock, one of the greatest ornaments to The Post and to all of journalism? Underneath his genius for cartooning and writing lies a modest, sweet, aw-shucks personality. Underneath that lies a layer of iron and steel. For the publishers and editors over him - or under him, as it would be more accurate to say - it's like having a tiger by the tail.

Herb fought for and earned a unique position at the paper: one of complete independence of anybody and anything. Journalistic enterprises run best when writers and editors have a lot of autonomy. But Herb's case is extreme. And because he's a genius, it works.

Since he arrived at The Post, five editors and five publishers have learned a cardinal rule: Don't mess with Herb. He's just as tough within the confines of The Post as he is in the political world outside. Of course, this has produced a few tense moments.

I have sometimes opened the paper and gasped at Herb's cartoons, particularly during Watergate when we were so embattled on all fronts. But I learned not to interfere. And anyway, most of the time we're on the same wavelength. Even when we aren't, I should confess, I generally find myself laughing uproariously at the cartoon that has caused my apprehension. In this sense, Herb always wins.

Herb studies events and reacts to them in his own way. His point of view is liberal, and his instincts are commonsensical. But his common sense has a special twist. As economist Ken Galbraith once put it: "While Herb appreciates virtue, his real interest is in awfulness." His mind turns to the rascals, the phonies and the frauds.

Herb's unique ability to crystallize what is right - or, more likely, wrong - about an issue or a person has often influenced the course of events in Washington. Naturally, the strength and impact of his cartoons often provoke strong reactions from the readers who disagree. Part of the job of Post publishers is often to defend Herb and the paper from these reactions.

I have written my share of explanatory letters. One in 1989, said that to cartoon is to caricature, and people who are very gifted at cartooning sometimes offend. "Most of the time, however, cartoons illuminate or amuse," the letter went on to say. I doubt the irate reader was completely satisfied, but the statement, I believe, is true.

As Herb begins his second fifty years at The Post, he has lost none of his dynamic energy and original insight. He is going as strong as ever. The Post and Herblock are forever intertwined. The Post is his forum. He helped create it, and he has been its shining light. (See the "Biography" page at the Herb Block Foundation website.)

Both Graham and Block are gone now, but their work lives on. She set an example for independent journalism while he set an example for truth-telling via editorial cartooning.

Beholden to no one and nothing, Block remained true to the way he saw things. He didn’t believe in censorship and didn’t kow-tow to people in power.

Throughout his long life, he remained committed to calling-out decision makers whose decisions made no sense. The Foundation created in his name helps to keep the Herblock spirit and approach alive and well in today’s public forum.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 09, 2017

Updated Last Revision: Sep 01, 2017


Media Credits

Image of Herb Block from The Stevens Company; copyright The Stevens Company, all rights reserved. Image provided here as fair use for educational purposes.

 

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