By: Dave Astor
Why is Garry Trudeau doing a “Doonesbury” sequence inspired by disgraced Republican-friendly reporter Jeff Gannon?
“I’m not sure it’s commonly understood to what lengths this administration is willing to go to bypass the ‘filter,’ as Bush calls the media,” the cartoonist replied in an e-mail interview. “The president made it official Wednesday — his Justice Department, fresh from signing off on torture, apparently thinks propaganda’s OK too.”
When asked if he thought the press has underreported the Gannon episode, pundit payola, and other examples of media manipulation, Trudeau said: “It’s not that it’s been underreported so far. It’s just that the media, in both its own and the public’s interest, ought to stay with this story. If Bush is prepared to defend fake news, then the media should be equally prepared to say why it’s anti-democratic and an abuse of power.”
Trudeau, who was referring to George W. Bush’s remarks about government-created video news releases for TV stations, started the “Doonesbury” sequence this Monday and said he will continue it through next week. In it, Secretary of Toady Affairs Andrews finds a “stooge” to replace Gannon as a lobber of softball questions in the White House press corps. He’s Roland Hedley, the narcissistic journalist long known to “Doonesbury” readers.
Andrews contacted Hedley in the Monday comic after noting that Bush needs someone to “point to when the questioning gets snarky.” By Wednesday, an initially reluctant Hedley starts to express interest when Andrews tells him he won’t be compromising his journalistic integrity. “You’ll still be asking questions — you’ll just be asking them for your country,” says the Secretary of Toady Affairs. “You’d be like Pedro Martinez moving to the Mets. He’s a professional no matter who pays him!”
Yesterday, Andrews tells Hedley they’ll work out a “pay grade.” Hedley responds: “That’s civil service money. My agent’ll freak!” Today, Hedley starts practicing the Bush-administration-written questions he’ll ask. One of them: “Why do Senate Democrats hate America?” To which Hedley says to himself: “Good question, actually….”
Gannon is the former GOPUSA/Talon News White House correspondent who made the news after asking Bush softball questions, getting into press conferences under an alias (his real name is James Guckert), and being involved with sexual Web sites.
Trudeau said he hasn’t received any direct reaction from Gannon to the sequence. But on his personal Web site, Gannon on Monday linked to the first “Doonesbury” strip in the sequence, and on Thursday wrote that Trudeau “showed his leanings 30 years ago” — while linking to one of his old strips that offered a pro-John Kerry view.
“Doonesbury” appears in 1,400 newspapers via Universal Press Syndicate.
Universal also distributes another comic, “La Cucaracha,” which featured a Gannon-inspired sequence that ran before the “Doonesbury” one.
Lalo Alcaraz, who started the 10-day story line on March 2, showed “Barrio Bugle” cub reporter Eddie Lopez joining the White House press corps. In a reference to Gannon allegedly being gay, Lopez and a couple of other reporters were dressed like members of the Village People. At one point, Lopez is asked by the president to read a question from a card. “Who is your favorite ‘Queer Eye’ cast member?” reads Lopez. The president responds: “Whoa! Who said these were softball questions?!”
“I tried to keep it light as I pointed out how outrageous and funny it was that a guy [with Gannon’s history] was posing as a White House reporter,” said Alcaraz, whose comic appears in 55 newspapers.
Alcaraz said one reason he did the sequence was because he saw very little coverage of Gannon in the mainstream media. Was some of the media protecting the Bush administration? Alcaraz said this was possible, but added that a number of press outlets might have held back because of fear they might be misperceived as anti-gay even though the intent would have been to cover the Gannon situation as another example of the Bush administration’s media manipulation.