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Doonesbury and Mohammed

Was Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes right to link last week’s “Doonesbury” cartoons to ones depicting the Prophet Mohammed’s face?

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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.

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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.

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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.