Trudeau: Drop-‘Doonesbury’ Poll Was ‘Unfair’

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By: Dave Astor

Garry Trudeau said an “unfair process” led to a vote to drop his “Doonesbury” comic from a consortium of 38 newspapers.

These mostly Southeast papers carry a Sunday comics section produced by Continental Features, whose president polled Continental clients to see if they wanted “Doonesbury” pulled. Of the 36 that had a preference, 21 voted yes and 15 no.

“The popularity of individual comic strips naturally waxes and wanes, and newspaper lineups will naturally reflect the evolving preferences of editors and readers,” said Trudeau, in an e-mail response to an E&P request for comment. “Moreover, a consortium of papers will reflect those tastes imperfectly, a price the individual papers pay for joining it. However, in this case, ‘Doonesbury’ was singled out for internal polling because of the views of a single individual; other competing strips were not put to the same test. In this way, one opinion drove a process that eliminated the strip from 38 newspapers across the entire region, including 15 papers that wanted to keep it.”

One of the 15 was The Anniston (Ala.) Star. Trudeau said: “I greatly appreciate the Star’s speaking out against such an unfair process, asserting its right and responsibility to put in front of its readers a diversity of opinion. This seems particularly important during a time of war, with all its grave implications to public life.”

The cartoonist concluded: “Some years ago, the armed services paper Stars and Stripes received some criticism for carrying ‘Doonesbury.’ Shortly thereafter, the paper dedicated an entire page to responses from military personnel, almost all in support of the strip. Even some who didn’t care for ‘Doonesbury’ or its politics felt the strip should remain. More than most citizens, it seems, professional soldiers give a great deal of thought to what it is they’re defending. A free press that welcomes dissenting views is one of those ideals.”

Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes “Doonesbury” to more than 1,400 newspapers, also released a statement about Continental’s action. “It is regrettable that the decision was made right now when Garry Trudeau and ‘Doonesbury’ seem to be riding a new wave of popularity, what with the August cover story in Rolling Stone magazine and his selection as a 2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist,” said Director of Communications Kathie Kerr. “But we do respect the right of a newspaper’s management to make decisions of this nature.”

Continental President Van Wilkerson said in E&P’s July 21 story that his decision to conduct the poll “was not a political statement of any kind. I personally don’t have an opinion about ‘Doonesbury’ one way or another.” He said he conducted the survey because Trudeau’s strip generated more complaints than the other 21 comics in Continental’s package, and that the 21-15 vote reflected majority opinion.

It is not yet known when “Doonesbury” will actually be removed from Continental’s package.

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