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Cartoons and controversy

Mar 14, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The "Doonesbury comic strip is generating controversy again. This week's series satirizes -- ferociously -- the newly legislated medical requirements in Texas concerning women who seek contraception and abortion counseling or procedures.

The strips also touch on radio commentator Rush Limbaugh's much-criticized remarks on the issue earlier this month as well as on a similar health-care policy now taking shape in Virginia.

This is strong stuff, and some newspapers around the nation have decided not to publish "Doonesbury" this week or to use re-runs instead.

"Doonesbury" has created controversy many times before. Some papers this week have moved the strip to the opinion page. We did that more than 25 years ago. "Doonesbury" is not a standard comic strip like "Garfield" or ""Baby Blues." It is a topical, events-based comic, much more akin to the editorial cartoon than the joke-a-day comic panel.

Since the presidency of Richard Nixon, "Doonesbury" has touched raw nerves on both sides of the political seesaw. He drew fire for a series about a miniaturized reporter touring Ronald Reagan's brain and finding cobwebs. No one had more fun with former Vice President Dan Quayle. Bill Clinton was lacerated in "Doonesbury" during the Jennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky flaps. The strip, which never pictures presidents as actual human beings, later portrayed Clinton not as a man but as a waffle. Al Gore and Sarah Palin felt the "Doonesbury" sting and so has President Obama, depicted as a whiny teenager in the Oval Office.

But Trudeau also has gained acclaim within the U.S. military community for his in-person communication with U.S. military personnel, both veterans and active duty, as well as his long-running portrayal of a U.S. veteran who loses a leg in combat, as well as two other veterans and their challenges after service.

Now comes a new batch of "Doonesbury" comics likely to offend. We've decided to run them as submitted by Trudeau and his distributor, Universal Press Syndicate. Substitute strips have been offered in the past to publishers and editors who were queasy about a particular "Doonesbury" series. Each time, we have evaluated the comic strips and the controversy, and each time we have decided to publish the strips as they were created by Trudeau. The same goes this time. Love it or hate it, we think it's OK to see it.

Some readers never read "Doonesbury." Others never miss it. For those who fall in between those positions, this week's strips will help you understand why "Doonesbury" often generates such strong response.

Finally, remember this: These are comic strips. They are not public policy. They are not legislation. They are not high finance, religion or disease research. They are not military action or law enforcement. They are not life or death. They are cartoons.

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