Censored Illustrations "Bare breast and a nipple"

While art directing The New York Times´s Op’Ed page —though twice fired from that controversial position, I managed to hold onto  it for thirteen of my thirty years at The Times— I commissioned daily illustrations for the editorial and Op-Ed pages.

Work began with reading each text and deciding on a general visual approach. Then I´d contact an artist (anywhere in the world) to create the illustration. The illustrator and I would discuss ideas and imagery, and sketches would be presented. Once there was a finished illustration, I´d take it to the editor for approval. 

Since the job never let up —we went through this process for each of 365 editions of The Times every year — we counted on things going smoothly. Sometimes they didn’t.

A 1996 text proposed that all internet content be free. Every intellectual property claim, the argument went, is a chunk taken out of the public domain. Artist Nancy Stahl, a digital drawing pioneer, created the brilliant (literally) image you see here: a copyrighted idea glowing on a locked computer window. An ideal accompaniment to the essay. 

Nancy Stahl, 1996

Nancy Stahl, 1996

Lightbulb image in hand, I climbed the three short flights of stairs from my ninth-floor art department office to the tenth-floor editorial department, where I offered the artwork to the Op-Ed editor. 

"That´s a wicked drawing," he said. "It´s right on." 

The page would still have to be okayed by über-editor Howell Raines, whose fiefdom included all opinion pages. (The paper’s editorial wing is considered “the church;” the newsroom is “the state.”) 

But I rarely concerned myself with Howell; my immediate editor´s hearty approval meant the image, the artist, and I were safe. I could finesse the overall layout, close the page, and go on to tomorrow’s. 

While I was congratulating myself for a job well done and locating tomorrow’s text, the Op-Ed editor called to tell me the shocking news: the copyright image had been killed. 

“The clever drawing you loved?” I asked.

“Yes,¨ he answered. “When i showed it to Howell, he chastised me for approving it and pronounced, ‘We can´t publish a bare breast and a nipple in The New York Times!’”

Credit: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times

Credit: Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times