Trudeau On His New ‘Roland Hedley’ Book — and War Coverage

By: Joe Strupp

Garry Trudeau, the legendary and opinionated Doonesbury creator, may have been the first top cartoonist to put a cartoon character on Twitter, launching tweets from his fictional Fox News war reporter Roland Hedley last March.

That resulted in The New Yorker printing a collection of his tweets, and now a new book of these 140-character missives, titled “My Shorts R Bunching. Thoughts?: The Tweets of Roland Hedley” (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2009).

Among the book’s tweets: “Kabul. Awakened by huge blast in hotel lobby. Suicide bomber blew up complimentary breakfast buffet. Off to find bagel. 3:14 PM Apr 8th”

In a Q&A with E&P, Trudeau offered his views on the book, war and news coverage:

Q. Why did you want to do a book in this form?

A. The form didn’t drive the book, although it certainly makes it a
novelty. I’d previously published a swath of Roland’s tweets in The New Yorker, and a great clamor arose for a more comprehensive
collection. Okay, maybe not a clamor. More like a suggestion. From me. To my publisher. Who was too polite to decline. All the folks from
Andrews McMeel are from the Midwest, and their natural fear of
offending gets them into a lot of trouble.

Q. Do you see this as a critique of war journalists, or praising them?
How and why?

A. Roland isn’t exactly a war journalist. Actually, he isn’t exactly a
journalist, except to the extent that he covers himself. You may be
referring to a section in the book where Roland finds himself in
Afghanistan — the result of a White House head-fake during the G-12
Summit that rockets Roland east while Obama heads west. It began as a screw-up, but if you give Roland Hedley lemons, you can be sure he’ll suck on them. After surviving a bombing of his hotel’s breakfast
buffet, he bounces around the country, gets a tour of the poppy fields
and then heads to Pakistan in time for the Taliban offensive in the Swat Valley.

He tweets incessantly, but at no time does he commit news. I’m not sure how you got that impression.

Q. What do you think Roland Hedley does to present the image of war
coverage?

A. He improves it by making everyone else seem wildly competent in
comparison. For Roland, it’s all about dressing in desert camo and being able to use words like “downrange” and “robust” on-camera. While obsessed with imaginary dangers, he’s oddly oblivious to actual ones, eschewing all things Kevlar, which he derides as a “nanny” fabric.

Q. How has war cover improved or worsened since the invasion of Iraq?

A. Hard to make a generalization, because conditions on the ground have changed so much. War coverage is always about access. When you have none — as happened on the ground during the sectarian strife — coverage suffers. It was simply too dangerous for many journalists to get about and do their jobs, which is now also true in Afghanistan. But access to the US military piece of the story has probably improved. There’s been more embedding, more transparency generally helped along by the internet, which has empowered thousands of soldier bloggers to tell the story from the grunt’s POV.

Q. Is Roland Hedley meant to be a true commentary on the war or its
coverage or simply a humorous book?

A. If not the latter, there’s been some terrible misunderstanding.

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