By: Joe Strupp

Advocacy Group Claims It Was Censored

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by Joe Strupp

Did The New York Times and USA Today censor a pro-life group’s
opposition to partial-birth abortion last month or was the newspapers’
rejection of an ad from the conservative Focus on the Family an
exercise in policing offensive material? The answer depends on who
you ask.

‘There is censorship going on,’ said Paul Hetrick, a spokesman for
the Colorado-based organization that submitted the ad to both papers.
‘It shows how profound the pro-choice biases are in the newspaper
that you can’t present it in this way.’

USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson disagreed, defending the paper’s
decision: ‘Somehow, USA Today is being seen as stifling the pro-life
movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have carried
ads for other pro-life groups.’

The dust-up began when Focus on the Family wanted to promote its
opposition to partial-birth abortion in early August by placing a
full-page ad in USA Today. But when USA Today advertising executives
saw the ad, which included a cartoon with graphic descriptions of
the abortion procedure, they rejected it. That sent the organization,
still seeking a national audience, to The New York Times, which also
declined the ad, saying it was ‘in questionable taste.’

The ad included a cartoon by Chuck Asay of The Gazette in Colorado
Springs, Colo. &3151; the same city where Focus on the Family is
based. The six-panel cartoon depicted drawings of a newborn baby
with descriptions of his entry into the world stating, ‘The time had
come,’ ‘He felt movement,’ and ‘He felt air touch his body for the
first time.’

In the fifth panel, the description turned suddenly to partial-birth
abortion, saying, ‘He felt a sharp pain at the base of his skull, he
jerked violently, and then it was over.’ The cartoon ended with a
drawing of the U.S. Supreme Court, with the response: ‘So, what’s the

Asay, a 20-year cartoonist who draws daily for the 91,201-circulation
paper, said the refusal of two major papers to publish his cartoon
was surprising. ‘I didn’t think it was in bad taste,’ he said.

Eventually, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times published
the ad Aug. 11 and Aug. 17, respectively.

‘Every ad you take in, you try to make the best judgment,’ said Post
spokesman Stephen Hills. ‘It’s a balance between the right of free
speech and good taste. We try to err on the side of free speech, but
there are ads we do turn down.’


Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor
for E&P.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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