“Doonesbury” and The Chicago Tribune

13 Sep


One of our “current events” today was The Chicago Tribune’s decision to drop from the paper this week “Doonesbury” strips based on the upcoming Joe McGinniss book on Sarah Palin.

This story from The Washington Post explains the genesis of the strips. And here is the link to the official “Doonesbury” site where you can view the strips in question.

As reported on Romenesko (link here), Tribune editors defended their decision to drop the story arc because the facts being “reported in “Doonesbury” could not be independently verified and because Palin could not defend herself from assertions in a book not yet available to the public.

Now I agree with those who find this defense a bit odd. “Doonesbury” is a comic strip and artist/author Garry Trudeau has never described himself as a journalist. If we are going to apply journalistic standards of verification and fairness to cartoonists, especially cartoonists of the editorial variety, we’re going to be taking on an unachievable challenge.

Still Tribune editors can choose to apply standards of accuracy and fairness wherever they choose. They have cast this issue in ethical terms and students in our class have begun to see, by now I hope, that an ethical decisions is defined as much by process as by outcome.

Harder to get across this morning was the realization that The Tribune is not censoring Trudeau. This isn’t a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment deals with government action, not a business/ethics decision on the part of citizen editors. Trudeau’s rights are not being violated.

Perhaps a few of my students are willing to expand on this point.

In my years as an editor, I pulled a comic strip once. Yes, it was “Doonesbury,” a series run during the first Gulf War that seemed to me to be anti-military in a particularly offensive way. I was managing editor of The Wichita Eagle and Wichita was a military town and pulling the strip made sense in the moment. But Ii soon came to regret that decision. It seemed more cowardly than principled, sparing me the wrath of some readers who would have been offended but depriving others of a valid editorial point of view. I made it a rule after that to let controversial strips run and take the consequences.

Unless I have missed something that is what is most editors are doing this week with the exception of  those running The Chicago Tribune.




11 Responses to ““Doonesbury” and The Chicago Tribune”

  1. schi2196 September 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    It obviously isn’t censorship. A paper is a business just like any other. Granted they must adhere to a different set of rules, yet they are out to make a profit just like anyone else. The Chicago Tribune, as stated in class, is not censoring anyone. Media make decisions all the time on whether or not to pull an article from a media source. It was not the government censoring the Doonesbury strip, The Chicago Tribune chose not to run it.
    Now when trying to figure out the ethical situation on whether or not to run the strip the issue becomes more unclear. First we have to find the central question, ” to run, or not to run the strip?
    Then we must identify some value based conflict. Perhaps, Offending one of America’s political leaders.
    Reputation of the paper. They may appear cowardly for not running the strip.
    Defending Americans by satire for betterment of the people.
    If I were editor I would vote to run this article based on the fact that , my respect for the Constitution, First Amendment and the media’s duty as one of the single line of defenses between the citizens and their governments, outweighs the possible embarrassment my running the article could possibly cause Palin. Less importantly, If it was a different political head the decision may be different. However Palin has defamed herself so many times I doubt a comic strip would do any harm.

  2. lucia1025 September 13, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    It is very interesting why they decided not to run it. People may however suggest that the newspaper is bias and likes Palin’s political views which could stir up some issues with the papers democratic readers. On the other side it is only a comic maybe no one with notice or put much attention to the issue. The papers reasoning could have simple been they just didn’t want to deal with or add to the jokes of more public figures.

  3. Steve September 14, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    Noted on Romenesko this morning that Newsday and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also pulled “Doonesbury” this week.


  4. rachellane9 September 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    I agree with the other comments on this topic. I think that not running the ad made them seem cowardly. I also think that papers, just like any other business, need to make hard decisions that arent going to please everyone all of the time. I think that since it is a comic strip people may tend to not take it as seriously if it were a article written about the topic. I also agree that Palin has done herself a disjustice by making her campaigns and her whole governmental opinions about anything into sort of a joke. By having her own reality show has really given her the image that she isnt really serious about the government. I think that this comic strip, if it were published, would of course offend some people but i think it would also give some people another look on Palin and another look at the issues being discussed that maybe they never knew were happening.

  5. jcorona0108 September 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    I am going to go head and agree with the comets above. I don’t think/believe the paper should have pulled the strip. It’s a cartoon strip; people would probably overlook it anyway. As for Palin, she made herself a public figure by agreeing to be on a TV that documents her life. I think that the paper did just not want to deal with the consequences that could potentially arise; such as reader agreeing with the strip or some finding it offensive.

  6. sarahyama September 15, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    This would be different if it were a news story. But it’s not and as Steve said we can not hold artists to journalistic standards. that being said, it bothers me that this is some type of pr/ad/exposure ploy as well. Buy an ad!
    That being said, I would run the strip. Angering political leaders is no reason not to run something. A newspaper makes people angry probably everyday.
    as far as remembering the strip? People will remember it now after all the play this is getting. Ill probably try and find the connection when the book finally does come out. I’m sure many other people will as well.

  7. Samantha Storms September 16, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I am going to have to agree…the standards are different and I do believe that the information is already out there so they have nothing to loose by running the stripe at this point. It is situations like this that challenge people’s behavior, especailly people in the public eye.

  8. kise5805 September 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    I too, agree with all of the above comments. I was not in class Tuesday, but like Sarah said, we cannot hold artists to journalist’s standards. If it were an article or a column or something of that nature, it would be a completely different story.

    There are so many comics in newspapers that aren’t about political figures or issues, that still tend to offend people. It’s almost impossible nowadays to avoid offending at least one group of people.

    So, I would take a chance and run the strip. Especially because I found it interesting that in Steve’s case, he regretted not running the comic, and made a rule to run all controversial strips afterward.

  9. ryanhalligan September 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Honestly I don’t see a problem with their decision to not run the comic. It is the newspapers choice to do as they wish. It is not censorship because there is no way the government can tell the media what they can or can not publish or run. The editor of the paper didn’t agree with the comic so with his power within the paper, he chose not to run it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with him pulling the comic.

  10. brandoncary23 September 28, 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    I see nothing wrong with pulling the comic strip or running it. After all it is the newspaper itself that decides what they run. In my opinion the source is a shaky one and journalists are not supposed to report here-say and gossip. That alone is reason enough for a paper to not run the comic strip.

  11. Elena Harrington-- Media Relations October 19, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    The Chicago Tribune has the right to choose what does and does not meet the standards they strive to implement. There is no censorship of the content of “Doonesbury,” it is simply the choice of the Tribune staff to not publish pieces which are not factually verified regardless of which medium the information is shared in.

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