Starr Reporter Takes on Pundit Payola

By: Greg Mitchell There?s at least one famous mainstream reporter who continues to hit hard on the ?pundit payola? scandal. She has bright red hair, but it's not Maureen Dowd. She's been around since 1940, but it's not Helen Thomas.

Unfortunately, she happens to be a comic strip character.

For more than a week now, legendary gal reporter Brenda Starr, in her daily strip syndicated by Tribune Media Services, has been lambasting and lampooning the punditocracy. In today's edition, giving a speech at Pundit Party 2005 in Washington, D.C., she denounces "bribes" that ?compromise us all.?

The story line began a week ago, with flame-haired Brenda attending the pundit party, even while expressing qualms about the ?self-importance? of it all. Another character declares that you have to sell your soul to hobnob with the D.C. in-crowd. Guest speaker: a U.S. president who looks suspiciously like George W. Bush. Other attendees: pundits who look a lot like Pat Buchanan, Arianna Huffington, and Al Franken (or Fred Barnes, you pick).

When the president announces an award to Brenda?s colleague Slash Burns (a thinly disguised Bill O?Reilly), who has not yet arrived, she has to go up to the stage to accept it for him. When the President greets her by name, she is momentarily flattered, but then her conscience (perhaps a Poynter Institute ethicist) warns, ?That?s how the seduction and corruption begin, Starr!"

Accepting the award, Brenda notes that Slash Burns is probably in the bathroom (?You know men?), then proclaims: ?Imagine! In a democracy, the government tries to bribe journalists!"

Next panel: "And some journalists can be bought as easily as chewing gum!? The president, Huffington and Buchanan all appear stricken.

Finally, waving the tainted award before her, she concludes: "Most journalists are honest. But parties like this and awards like this compromise us all!? That strip ends with the suggestion, from another character watching it all on TV, that the speech might ?kill? Brenda?s career.

Then, in the Sunday color strip, Slash (O'Reilly) arrives, disheveled--Brenda wonders if he's fooling around with a woman not his wife--and angrily seizes the award, announcing, "I feel I've scaled journalism's Mt. Everest!"

The strip is now written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich and drawn by June Brigman. Brenda does not appear to have aged a day since she reported her first story on the comics page in 1940. Perhaps botox has long been mixed in with the color inks.

Brenda has long been known as a globetrotting adventurer, but in recent years the strip has carried some sharp topical commentary, and other famous characters have appeared over the years. Back when she was still a conservative, Huffington was known as ?Vanity Puffington.?

And, god bless her, just last week Brenda told Dennis Miller she'd never heard of him.


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