by James Ledbetter (reprinted with his kind permission)
No Mort Tomorrows
After less than six months, cartoonist Tom Tomorrow has lost his biweekly gig at U.S. News & World Report. Tomorrow's departure does not stem from a conflict with U.S. News editor James Fallows. "I love his work," Fallows told the Voice, expressing "personal regret" over Tomorrow's involuntary termination. "I probably like his strip more than anyone else in the world," Fallows said. In fact, the two shared an amicable postdismissal dinner last week at Hamburger Harry's on 45th Street while Fallows was in New York City.
The decision not to renew Tomorrow's contract, knowledgeable sources say, was influenced by U.S. News owner and editor in chief Mort Zuckerman.
"There's clearly going to be some conflict between the worldview of a left-leaning, alternative press cartoonist and that of a wealthy New York real estate and publishing magnate," said Tomorrow, who continues to express admiration for Fallows.
Tomorrow also vented his feelings about being dismissed in a cartoon, reproduced here.
Fallows acknowledged that Zuckerman was not as enthusiastic about Tomorrow's strip as himself, although he said he "never directly" spoke with Zuckerman about the cartoon. Asked about indirect discussions, Fallows said, "I think I'll leave it at that." He added: "The exact nature of our internal deliberations is something I've decided not to talk about, in this instance or any other."
Zuckerman did not return messages left at his office and home; an assistant said he was out of the country.
From the outset, Tomorrow had to tiptoe around the possibility of offending Zuckerman. The first strip he submitted to U.S. News was a parody of The McLaughlin Group, where Zuckerman is a regular fill-in guest.
"I thought it was probably not the best way for me to start" publishing Tomorrow's strip, Fallows said, and thus the debut strip did not run. Tomorrow eventually sent the strip out to the 100 or so alternative papers that publish him.
Fallows said that the decision to stop publishing the cartoon reflected the difficulty of running a magazine for a mass audience. "It is impossible to understate the importance of audience scale," he insisted. The millions of U.S. News readers, in his view, "mainly expect from this magazine analysis, and a useful assessment of the news, and not just to be entertained or amused." The magazine's editorial budget and space, Fallows argued, is best devoted to serving that purpose.
Fallows categorized Tomorrow's tenure as one of several experiments to change the mix of U.S. News that have not worked out. Others included humor columns by Christopher Buckley and a piece on sadomasochism by Daphne Merkin.
From Tomorrow's perspective, his short tenure at the newsweekly "confirms everything I've ever said about mainstream media, and the range of acceptable opinion allowed within." Noting that former Voice cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty did not stay at Time, Tomorrow said that his strips on sweatshops and the Promise Keepers confused and angered U.S. News's "mostly conservative" readership. One letter published last year called Tomorrow's cartoon on the Promise Keepers "a cheap shot in poor taste...a one-sided, negative stab at a major movement."
Tomorrow's dismissal also adds to the tradition of Zuckerman's meddling in the editorial areas of his publications. He removed Pete Hamill as editor of the Daily News after just eight months. And former Clinton money guru Terry McAuliffe boasted to The Washington Post that he got Zuckerman to fire News reporter David Eisenstadt after an Eisenstadt story linked McAuliffe to the Democratic fundraising scandal.
Asked about Tomorrow's cartoon reaction to being let go, Fallows said: "It confirms both why he's so funny and why this was not a marriage made in heaven."
Research: Kaelen Wilson-Goldie