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Doonesbury and Mohammed

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An old pal forwarded a piece from Power Line, taking Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes to task for her op-ed yesterday equating not publishing the Prophet Mohammed cartoons with not publishing Doonesbury’s week of Texas abortion-law strips.

The Power Line guys don’t lack self-assurance, so it’s pretty funny when John Hindraker writes about the “rape” strip:

One could say a number of things about this comic strip: It is politically strident. It is almost unbelievably stupid. It purports to address a serious political issue, but doesn’t say anything remotely serious about it. It is, at the same time, not funny. So why would anyone carry such a lousy comic strip?

I pity the person who thinks satire is always played for laughs.

Of course, what Doonesbury is saying is that hard plastic wands shouldn’t be inserted in vaginas as state dictat; you’d think freedom-loving conservative bloggers would recognize strident mockery as a “serious” act.

But never mind; Barnes’ “Mohammed” argument is a lot more interesting. She writes:

“A few years ago, we had a similar controversy over a decision not to publish some highly controversial cartoons circulated in a Danish newspaper that caricatured the prophet Mohammed.

“Those cartoons became the center of a worldwide controversy and news story; we chose not to run them in the Star Tribune because they would have been inflammatory and offensive to many readers. That time, it was conservatives who were infuriated.”

Are the two equivalent? Hinderaker thinks the Mohammed cartoons were more important to publish because they were “not comic strips from a cartoonist that the Strib regularly published on its comics page” but a “news story,” where “readers needed to see the cartoons and judge for themselves whether they fell within the broad range of fair political comment, or were somehow so ‘offensive’ as to justify the murder of more than 100 human beings.”

I don’t see the comic-strip/news-story distinction as meaningful. Even if you think Doonesbury is in the wrong part of the paper, both it and Mohammed are political comment. Hinderaker may prioritize Muslim violence over needless state-mandated vaginal penetration, but that’s just tendentiousness at work.

You can flip Hinderaker’s analysis and say some things are intentionally so provocative that they are more subject to editorial scrutiny. And please, let’s not kid ourselves that the Mohammed cartoons weren’t meant to provoke violence, given Muslim strictures against the prophet’s likeness. Journalists can decide when not to yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

As for whether the Strib should’ve published the Doonesbury strips, I spent a lot of time arguing with my biases last week

 I thought the strips were right-on and a damn sight better than anything involving Rick Redfern’s “Red Rascal” kid.  The mandatory sonogram policy was so outrageous that Virginia pols had to slink away on the verge of passing a similar law.

I also think highly enough of (most) Strib print readers that they could have handled Doonesbury’s version of the truth. Let’s be honest: the only difference between Doonesbury tackling the sexual assault of women soldiers (which the Strib published) and last week’s strips was the partisan political dimension.  Sorry, that shouldn’t be enough to spike them.

That bias argument I was having with myself? I remember all the years the Strib published “Mallard Fillmore,” a rightie strip I regard about as highly as Hinderaker regards Doonesbury. If “Mallard” had referred to some Obama policy in as stark terms as Doonesbury and Texas, would I have been pissed off? Probably. Would I have been able to see through angry eyes to whether the lampoon had a reasonable basis in accuracy? Hope so; not sure.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/19/2012 - 03:54 pm.

    Power Line

    Why do we bother? It’s not news; it’s purely opinion, and a questionable one at that. I can’t believe that John actually believes that he can separate the two different instances with any justification that passes the sniff test. But then, he’s not writing to thinking people. He’s writing to the people waiting to devour his next snarky comment, regardless of its validity. Let’s just say it’s not his day job.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2012 - 05:08 pm.


    Now that I’ve got your attention….
    Children are taught about ‘inappropriate touching’ in elementary schools.
    To think that they need shielding from the concept in a newspaper (but not online) is fatuous.
    It’s the STrib that is trying to shield itself from its (largely Republican leaning) advertisers.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/19/2012 - 06:40 pm.

    Re: the Doonesbury ‘Rape’ strips

    What I read in both the Power Line rant and the editor’s defense of choosing not to run the strip boils down to dissembling. Like David, I saw Mallard Fillmore in another city on a regular basis, and though it mean-spirited and unfunny, but that didn’t keep the paper from running it, nor should it, if there’s enough reader interest.

    Trudeau’s latest “Doonesbury” series is controversial because, using language that’s not without its inflammatory dimension, it’s basically telling the truth. I don’t expect right wing blogs to recognize the truth very often, but it ought to be a newspaper’s stock in trade, so when the ‘Strib decides not to run something like that, they’re either caving to outside pressures, or deciding on their own that they’re publishing for children instead of adults. Either way, it reflects poorly on the editorial decision.

    As for Republicans who might be offended: sometimes the truth hurts What we’re witnessing, with the abortion debate acting as a catalyst, is a high-tech reversion to the pre-industrial, agricultural age, when it was assumed in practice and in law that a woman’s body belonged not to her, but to her family or her husband. To say that it’s outrageous doesn’t even scratch the surface… Were males the objects of this sort of treatment, there might be armed rebellion.

  4. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 03/19/2012 - 06:56 pm.

    Not equivalent in another way

    Publishing Doonesbury might’ve attracted nasty grams from readers, but that’s about it. Editors who ran Mohammed cartoons in the wake of the controversy had to worry about a car bomb at 425 Portland.

    Courageous ones ran it. Others chose not to offend.

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/19/2012 - 09:22 pm.

    Donnesbury !

    Glad I read it ! Did anyone see the Anne Telanes animate at the Washington Post ? As far as the Strib they really don’t seem to be covering these anti women ant choice laws in any form. In fact the Strib has not much to offer. How will the yung learn to parse the news. At least Tevlin got some space over the bizzare claim on the welfare users are animals outrage, But where else in the strib as a reported news article and on and on.

  6. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/19/2012 - 09:24 pm.

    opps I forgot !

    Yea that’s right the only piece we saw was from Franson herself the maker of the outrageous claim.

  7. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 03/19/2012 - 09:55 pm.

    I don’t always agree with Doonesbury but it should have been published. There is truth in all satire and in this case most of it is truth. I lean right and believe in freedom of expression and speech. Doonesbury really nails an important current event and calling attention to it is healthy. Strib and Powerline both have this wrong. And P.S. to my more strictly right Republican fans. If you want to ban abortion, go ahead and try that angle. But please do not violate women and consider that to be fair. It shows no compassion or respect.

  8. Submitted by Jeffrey Klein on 03/20/2012 - 09:11 am.

    “Fire” in a crowded theater

    I disagree with the analogy of the Mohammed cartoons being like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. The violence in question would be done by the hands of human beings, and it would be their wrongdoing. Not printing those cartoons is paying off the hostage-taker by allowing a group to control the bounds of free speech with threats.

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