The saga of the comic strip “Dilbert” and the racist rants of its creator, Scott Adams, isn’t the out-of-control cancel culture that Twitter boss Elon Musk and others on the right claim. It’s actually an example of the free market in action — the free market of newspapers responding to readers who are appalled at Adams’ outspoken racism. Adams has the right to those views, but no newspaper or reader has an obligation to support them with attention and money.
Adams has promoted Trumpian conspiracy theories for a while now, but two weeks ago he crossed a bright new line into overt racism. Adams’ popular comic strip about a dysfunctional office is biting in its treatment of a supervisor portrayed as ignorant, tone-deaf and cruel to those around him — which aptly describes Adams’ own behavior during a livestreaming YouTube show two weeks ago.
“If nearly half of all Blacks are not OK with white people … that’s a hate group,” he said, citing the dubious results of an unscientific opinion poll. “I don’t want to have anything to do with them … the best advice I would give to white people is to get the h*** away from Black people.”
To which numerous newspapers have responded by getting the heck away from “Dilbert.” The removal is part of an exodus that could ultimately total as many as 2,000 newspapers around the world.
There are a couple of details in the controversy that are worth clarifying. Adams’ rant stemmed from a Rasmussen poll which, he said, showed “47% of Black respondents were not willing to say it’s OK to be white.” As Slate notes, that pollster’s methods are suspect and its politics are clearly right-leaning. Also, the poll didn’t say what Adams claimed it did. In fact, just 26% of respondents answered “no” to the ill-defined “OK to be white” question, representing fewer than 35 individual Black respondents. Adams lumped them in with a “not sure” category to get his 47% claim. He also failed to mention that the question was worded to invoke a well-known white racist trolling slogan.
Others note that Adams’ descent into right-wing darkness didn’t happen entirely off the printed page. The editor of the San Francisco Chronicle told The Associated Press that the newspaper dropped “Dilbert” last year after it “went from being hilarious to being hurtful and mean.” On The Daily Cartoonist, blogger Mike Peterson argued that Adams let “his politics infiltrate his work” to the point that “the new material was off-topic and not just conservative … but openly offensive.”
It’s reasonable for newspapers and the public to reject Adams’ once-entertaining work, having finally seen his true colors.