There’s been an awful lot of phony moralizing by much of our print media about the content of this week’s “Doonesbury” comic strips. Artist/social commentator/cartoonist Gary Trudeau has been – you’ll pardon the word – “savaging” the legislatures in states where the content of a pregnant woman’s uterus has been – again, you’ll pardon the word – “savaged” by political ignorance.

Lest you have any doubt, I’m a “Doonesbury” fan of several decades. I support Trudeau, his right to draw-say-pillory as he has, and I’m absolutely disgusted by newspaper institutional censorship where it’s occurred. My personal/professional angst has been such that I’ve deliberately found – then passed on – the strips on a daily basis. If you’ve not seen them, go to http://www.doonesbury.com/ and see what all the fuss has been about.

Part of my long-standing criticism of print editors regarding “Doonesbury” has been about a previous decision many of them made to put the strip on the comic pages. “Doonesbury” is not – and never has been – a comic strip in the traditional sense.. Trudeau’s material is taken mostly from the news of the day or recent events and is – in most cases – satire. Nearly always very, very fine satire. It belongs on the editorial pages. Always has. It’s opinion. It’s commentary. Putting the strip in the comics section makes as much sense as running George Will’s columns between “Dagwood” and “Peanuts.”

But my professional hackles are raised most by the double standard nearly all newspapers maintain. When doors are closed, records withheld or any information they seek is out of their grasp, they have apoplexy about “the people’s right to know.” They go into “attack mode” with headlines and editorial damnation of those standing between the news staff and the “public’s right to know.” They often go to court. You can count on it.

So, along comes controversy in the news – legislative overreach in women’s health matters – with thousands of inches of newsprint going on and on and on about the subject. Complete, in many instances, with physiological artwork to make sure readers of all ages know exactly what portion of the body we’re talking about. Tell ‘em how it works. Put it all out there.

“Mommy, what’s this?”

Then Cartoonist/Commentator Gary Trudeau takes up the cudgel with pointed EDITORIAL satire and these same “public’s-right-to-know” institutions go into a frenzy of self-righteousness, telling the public it does NOT have a right to know and the “none-or-your-business” material is censored. Yes, Virginia. Censored!!!

Had the editors made the right decision years ago about where to place Trudeau’s work on a daily basis, none of them would likely be knee-jerking today about the strip’s current content appearing in a “family newspaper.”

ED NOTE: I’ve always thought “family newspaper” was redundant and possibly an oxymoron. Oh, well.

I’m painfully aware – in the first person – of the constant struggle within a newspaper between the editorial and the business sides. The best ones drew a firewall between the two many years ago. And kept it strong. The worst ones – and there are a lot of “worst ones” today – have removed most of the bricks in that wall. Not only are they hedging news coverage at the behest – or imagined behest – of major local advertisers, they are also making value judgements about what local readers should be exposed to.

I understand the editorial logic of the firewall. And I totally reject its dismantling. When you start making judgements about what your readers should see for any reason – “Doonesbury” being today’s excellent example – you get into an editorial thicket of arbitrary decision-making that is unnecessary and self-defeating. Can you say C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P?

Treating Trudeau’s work as if it were a nudie magazine by putting it under the counter – or picking and choosing what is and what isn’t proper – is editorially amateurish at best; rank censorship at worst. If these journalistic do-gooders keep running “Doonesbury” strips in the comics section, they either don’t know the informational product they’re dealing with or they’ll soon start running pie recipes on the sports pages.

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