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Newspapers drop 'Dilbert' over creator's racist remarks

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, made a series of racist remarks last week, and the fallout keeps coming. Yesterday, the comic's distributor announced that it has severed ties with him, and today, a Penguin Random House imprint says it won't publish their next book with Adams. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: During a livestream on YouTube last Wednesday, Scott Adams launched into a racist rant. The white cartoonist began by citing a recent report from the conservative-leaning polling company Rasmussen Reports, which found that 26% of Black respondents disagreed with the phrase, it's okay to be white, a motto that the Anti-Defamation League has noted as hate speech for its use by white supremacist groups. Another 21% of Black respondents said they weren't sure of their response. Adams continued mockingly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT ADAMS: As you know, I've been identifying as Black for a while - years now - because I like - you know, I like to be on the winning team.

TSIOULCAS: He went on to call Black people, quote, "a hate group" and added...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAMS: The best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the f*** away. Wherever you have to go, just get away because there's no fixing this. You just have to escape, so that's what I did. I went to a neighborhood where, you know, I have a very low Black population.

TSIOULCAS: Adams had long been criticized for other comments, including questioning the number of people who died in the Holocaust and claiming that a television version of Dilbert was canceled because he's white. Last year, 33 years into Dilbert's run, Adams introduced the strip's first Black character, with the apparent intention of criticizing diversity initiatives in the workplace.

But last week's comments seemed to have been the final straw. Many major American newspapers, including The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, quickly announced they would no longer carry Dilbert, which premiered in 1989. Soon, across the country, the fallout was massive, with at least dozens of newspapers following suit. Many explained in letters to readers the reasons for their decisions. In one such note, Seattle Times' executive editor, Michele Matassa Flores, wrote, quote, "instead of inviting others to share the nation's promises, he angrily defends the status quo that privileges his own in-group." She added, "Adam's conduct is repulsive and collides with Seattle Times' values."

Up until last week, the comic's distributor, Andrews McMeel Universal, boasted that Dilbert was carried by 2,000 newspapers across 65 countries in 25 languages. By Sunday, however, Andrews McMeel Universal had announced it had cut all ties with Scott Adams, leaving Dilbert with no relationship with any newspapers.

One of Adams' most vocal defenders has been Elon Musk, the embattled CEO of Tesla and Twitter. In a series of tweets Sunday responding to the Dilbert backlash, Musk called the media and higher education racist against white people. On another YouTube livestream Sunday, Adams said that he knew and planned for this fallout all along.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAMS: Which - of course I did. Of course I did. You know, if I had just started my life in media, you could say to yourself, I feel like he just had a bad day. I don't make mistakes. I don't think I've ever made a mistake in public.

TSIOULCAS: By this morning, Adams had returned to his YouTube livestream to say that he didn't blame Andrews McMeel Universal for dropping him, that it was a business decision. Instead, he continued to blame the newspapers.

Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.