Monday, March 12, 2012

Doonesbury on abortion: Publish or not?

Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau told the Washington Post this weekend that it would have been "comedy malpractice" to ignore the topic of restrictive new state laws and bills surrounding abortion. The newspapers that publish his strip, including the O, have different dynamics to consider.


Several have decided not to run Doonesbury this week, with some publishing a week of substitute Doonesburys provided by Trudeau. (That includes, by the way, papers in progressive cities like Portland, Ore.) Among North Carolina's larger newspapers, the Greensboro News & Record and Winston-Salem Journal are not running the strip. Our neighbor, the Rock-Hill Herald, also decided no. Our sister paper in Raleigh decided yes.

Rick Thames, editor of the Observer, tells me today that the O will be publishing the comic in our print edition on all but one day - Thursday. That day's strip was deemed too graphic, Rick said, and losing the one day won't disrupt the narrative of the week.

It's a decision newspapers confront frequently - especially on our editorial pages, where we choose among dozens of letters to the editor and submissions to the Buzz each day. When does something add to the collective conversation about an issue, and when does it detract? When is shock an effective communications tool, and when is it merely gratuitous? In Doonesbury's case, while some might find his humor a powerful way to expose absurdity, some might consider it offensive to seek chuckles in so serious a topic.

With comics, there's an additional consideration, of course: audience. The journalist in me prefers to err on the side of including more voices in debates, not less, but as a dad with a 10-year old who goes directly to the comics when he gets home from school, welllllll...

Says Thames: "Readers of Doonesbury expect its creator to delve into politically and socially sensitive topics. That comes with the strip. But our comics page is a destination for all ages. Many would find that one day's installment too explicit."

John Robinson, former editor of the News & Record, writes in his excellent blog today that as an editor, he would have substituted the Doonesbury strip this week because if he's going to make readers angry, he'd rather do it with a news story.

But, he says:
Now, as a reader, I feel cheated. Doonesbury is an institution and by this time, you know what you’re going to get. Doonesbury is The Daily Show on the comics page. When people would complain that they didn’t like a particular strip, I would say, “That’s OK. We don’t expect people to like every comic we print. That’s why we publish two dozen of them with different styles and tones. You can pick and choose.”

I wish I had listened to myself and let readers pick and choose.

We don't always get these decisions right - on the editorial pages or elsewhere - but the O is finding a good balance this week. Thames notes that anyone who wants to see Thursday's strip has the option of viewing it online, in the comics section of CharlotteObserver.com, which can be found by going to the entertainment page.

Tell us what you think. Is the strip appropriate for the funny pages, the editorial pages, or no pages?

Peter St. Onge

34 comments:

John said...

There is no humor in the willful killing of unborn children.

You had a choice when you got pregnant!

Anonymous said...

You absolutely should publish the strips. The Observer is leaning farther and farther to the right all the time. The reason newspapers are dying is that in the '90s, they jumped on the bandwagon of courting readers instead of practicing journalism. Virginia has become a laughingstock of the nation with its attempts to force transvaginal ultrasounds. These are Republicans who campaign on smaller government and getting the government off peoples' back. We need to expose them for exactly what they are.

DistrictSix said...

If Liberals feel the Charlotte Observer is leaning to the right, it must be because they see a bit of light under the area, to the left, where the Observer has slammed left and has been laying for the last several years.

Anonymous said...

the Charlotte Disturber leaning right??!! Baaaahhaahaha, you have got to be kidding. Right leaning compared to what, the Huffington Post.

bagjunah said...

Where Trudeau's comidic efforts should be, if we could call them this, is on the Editorial pages with the rest of the 'leftest-leaning' CO, NYT, and other McClaskey owned excuses for printed journalism diatribe is posted... and as far as the Daily Show, Bill Maher, Al Franken, and others of their ilk, being a barometer for moralistic reasoning, for the majority of folks, you've got to be kidding... right.

Anonymous said...

Peter St. Onge said, "some might consider it offensive to seek chuckles in so serious a topic."

It is really naive to think that is all Gary Trudeau is doing in this week's "comics." For instance, today's issue in Slate was ANYTHING but "humorous." This is serious commentary and St. Onge's article is nothing but window dressing. Absolutely these should be published - ever day; every one.

Anonymous said...

What a bunch of New Age liberal agenda BS.

If this was a "simple little cartoon" making fun of gay marriage, the "right" of a woman to kill the human in her uterus, or degrading Obama (but not Bush Jr), there'd be cries of "old-foginess, old-fashioned geezers, out-of-date viewpoints, rednecks, teabaggers, and people from the 15th century" labels.

It's distasteful. And why should a cartoon have political/moral freedom but conservatives of any religion cannot?

Anonymous said...

You can still read it if you google doonesbury.

And John, get a grip. If you are against abortion, don't get one (and your mom had a choice when she got prego too; now we know why tigers eat their young).

DistrictSix said...

Political Donations tell the full story.

http://www.newsmeat.com/celebrity_political_donations/Garry_Trudeau.php

Zon said...

Nice to know that if you do not agree with His Highness the Editor they delete your comments. Why ask for opinions if you're only going to take the ones you like.

Anonymous said...

Trudeau intentionally goes over the line once every year or so to try to convince himself that he's relevant.

Ghoul said...

Of course the Observer will print it, who are they going to offend, the subscription base that has dropped 75% in 10 years, or the advertisers that have already left in droves?

IamHere said...

Personally, I do not read him because I rarely find that I see the humor in anything that he does or have ever done. I do not consider his works to be comedy and never have. Regards this weeks subject matter, abortion. I believe that my opinions are mine and that my position will not alter any other person's opinion. I discussed this issue years ago when my children were reaching an age where they might have to one day make such a decision. Personally, I do not believe in abortion; my belief. I also do not buy into the whole its a women's decision alone bit. It took two to create. My opinion is that it should take two to determine the fate; not withstanding the fact that the woman is the one who must bear the child. But really, my opinion only makes a difference to the ones that I love and those that love me. The rest of you can and should do as your conscience dictates.

Anonymous said...

To Doonesbury, the "transvaginal" law was in Virginia, not Texas.

Lynne said...

Like everything else in this life, people should be able to decide for themselves if they want to read the strip. It is only a cartoon, for heaven's sake. Just like with all of the television stations available, if something offends you, simply don't look at it. There are other options available that won't offend anyone...

Anonymous said...

Hard to wrap your head around so many who are against the death penalty for cold blooded killers and at the same time for the killing of unborn children. It's not just about the mother, but if that helps you sleep at night... I still don't know where your humanity lies.

Anonymous said...

It's. A. Comic. Strip.

Wiley Coyote said...

Why should you post it?

The Observer censors comments all day long from people by playing Censor God because they fear the N word, B word, C word, D word or anything that goes against "diversity".

I had a post deleted the other day because I used the word "shorthand".

Go figure.

I don't really care one way or the other, but if you print it, the Observer editorial staff will be a bunch of hypocrites.

Anonymous said...

Only a few people of a certain age and political persuasion (older liberals) pay attention to the strip anyway. I suspect this was a carefully considered and, frankly, wise business decision. Plus, Trudeau stopped being either funny or alarming a long time ago.

Michael said...

Anon 7:44 - Sorry to burst your bubble, but you're misinformed about this as you probably are about many things, being an older conservative and all.

I'm a twenty-seven year old professional with Wells Fargo and I can assure you Doonesbury is quite popular with the younger generation, just as The Daily Show and Colbert Report are. Trudeau speaks the truth, as do those other gentlemen, and has been doing it for decades with sharp humor and a sharper needle.

The Republican Party in particular and conservatives in general say and do the nuttiest things, and do them with such brazen hypocrisy, that it's really pretty easy to lampoon them. The material practically writes itself. Or, when a particularly clueless Republican politician like Sarah Palin says something, it often DOES write itself! It's not a tough job.

Sandra said...

Anon 7:06:
The people who shouldn't be able to sleep at night are those middle-aged, white male politicians who are advocating writing what some women have referred to as legal rape into law in Virginia. And if it passes, Texas will be next, and on throughout the southern basket case of red states. That's what the strip above is referencing.

The Observer should absolutely run them all. People need to be aware of how disgusting this measure is, and any forum to get that message out is welcome. Abortion is LEGAL, and all these measures religious conservatives use to degrade and humiliate women and destroy their right to medical privacy will only erode our constitutional freedoms even further.

Jay Hanig said...

I would definitely publish it but it probably is a better fit for the editorial page. The folks who don't approve aren't obligated to look at it. The rest of us would like to see it. But it doesn't really belong with the kid's comics.

Anonymous said...

i just read in Charlotteobserver.com the article on Doonesbury. right below the article was an article of a 14 year old rape victim giving berth in the family bathroom.
think about that!

Anonymous said...

Folks--have the stones to publish these strips. Put them on the editorial page--we all know it's not "Peanuts".
But stop being held hostage by the fascist women-haters....
They don't buy your paper anyway....

Anonymous said...

How perfectly "Observer," to try to meet all perceived perspective criticisms by both publish and NOT publishing this strip.

Satire is of course an incisive way to take on serious topics, and that's the brand of "humor" to which this comic rightfully belongs. By highlighting the absurdity of the Virginia, Texas and other laws, Doonesbury is hopefully asking those who might thing "it's not a big deal, it's just an ultrasound" to take another look.

When the Observer publishes only part of the strip and deeming Thursday's post too graphic ... what kind of comment is that on the actual LAWS being promoted -- and passed! -- in the US?? Or, perhaps, LACK of comment ... ?

bball1 said...

for all of you quoting the transvaginal US "rape" fomented on women seeking an abortion in virginia....i suggest that you take a look at the law. all this uninformed nonsense about vaginal us was promulgated by women's groups and planned parenthood, as the law makes no mention of vaginal us...it's sort of like the new women's initiative by the democrats/obama administration, to me it's an insult to women as it basically is suggesting that they think most women are to stupid to actually take the time to inform their opinions...what an insult

Jim said...

@Lynne 7:04 p.m.
I'll wager that you do not say regarding Rush Limbaugh "if you don't like him don't listen to him."

That said, run Doonesbury. Except for TB's young 'un, kids aren't reading the paper anyway.

Jim said...

correction: final line in foregoing should read "Except for Peter's young 'un. . ."

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sandra. You made my point with clarity. As long as it's legal, then what's the problem? That's the problem.

Anonymous said...

@bball1 The Texas law may not mention a transvaginal ultrasound specifically (the VA law did), but in reality, you are highly unlikely to be able to actually see an image of the fetus through a normal ultrasound in early pregnancy. As most terminations take place very soon after the woman finds out she's pregnant, this will be a serious problem with the law. What happens if the doctor is legally obliged to make the woman see the ultrasound, and the 'normal' way doesn't actually produce an image of the fetus?

Cedar Posts said...

It can't be any more graphic than the reported killing of 16 Afghans over the weekend.

Anonymous said...

I've read the comic, its not funny, its ironic there is a difference. Trudeau's strip has ALWAY been a social commentary about values. The juxtapositioning of value within the same group like "right to life" and "pre-emptive war". Those are both values of the Republican party, and yet they are inconsistent with each other; how can you reconcile saying all life is sacred (including the unborn), but it is just to attack someone who MIGHT be a threat to you? An on top of that, claiming Christian values, while promoting the wealth at the expense of the poor, I doubt Christ would think that typified his teachings (promoting tax cuts for the wealth and spending cut on benefits for the poor). Just some food for thought, also thanks CO for being big daddy and not letting us see things that might disturb us; now if you could also stop printing negative stories, like stories on crimes or corruption, I'm sure there are people who are offend by those stories too. Give it a rest, and quit the newspaper business, sell it to someone with journalist experience and doesn't have a big brother complex.

Chris C said...

This is purely a request for information: why did the Observer decide, after all this mulling, to run a substitute strip in the print edition, but to link to the "real" strip for today in the online version? Is this an implicit statement about online readership sensibilities vs. the sensibilities of those of us who still hanker for newsprint?

Anonymous said...

Got to say that I have seen Ask Amy's that are more graphic than that. Who decides about what to censor on Ask Amy? Same page ...