Chicago Tribune Public Editor Timothy McNulty has written a response to many a questioning readers as to why a September 14th Get Fuzzy strip was yanked and what criteria does the paper use to determine whether a comic feature should be removed. Readers asked why the Sept. 14th Get Fuzzy, which used the words like “nut crunch,” was pulled but not a Doonesbury comic that ran that same day that dealt with sex habits of national senators.
So where is the consistency? What standard did one comic violate but the others did not? It seems to me that no topic is out of bounds throughout the paper, but how it is presented is up for debate.
I asked Geoff Brown, associate managing editor for features, when and how often he decides to pull a comic strip.
Brown said he might determine that a particular comic’s content is offensive once or twice a year. “Some people claim it’s censorship, but I call it editing,” he said. “We don’t allow our own reporters to write vulgarities, double-entendres or untruths, even in jest.” He thought the “nut-crunch” joke was just vulgar.
He didn’t see any double standard compared with the “Doonesbury” comic because he thought the homosexual contact versus call-girl scandal made a valid point about political and social hypocrisy, using true incidents.
Use of the term “cracker,” however, was one he missed. “I don’t like that kind of name-calling. He could have just said ‘yahoo’ or something else. To me, that strays over the line.”
Brown and comics editor Barbara Schaffner oversee the daily and Sunday comics pages. Knowing that replacing any comic will create complaints and possibly controversy, they routinely consult other editors before making their decision.
Recently, they asked me about two edgy “Opus” comics that referred to modest Muslim beachwear and talked of radical Islamists being the “hot new fad on the planet.” I thought it was topical. The Tribune ran both strips and got barely a complaint.
Based on comments from syndicated Daily Cartoonists in the past, I’m interested in hearing what they have to say about this issue. On the one hand, I’m pretty sure they would disagree with the paper’s decision to pull a comic for a word play – but I also hear a consistent whine that editors have no spine and what they ought to do is be “editors” – which is what Geoff Brown did. He made an editorial decision based on content he felt was not up to his paper’s standard.