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Doonesbury strip stirs up controversy

Sunday, April 25, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A few newspapers around the country edited or pulled out Friday's "Doonesbury" comic strip to remove an expletive used by a character injured while fighting in Iraq.

In a story line that began Monday, B.D., a football coach-turned-soldier, lost a leg after being reactivated in the Army at the end of 2002.

In Friday's strip, his doctor explains how amputees go through a grieving process that starts with denial, followed by anger.

In the final panel, B.D. curses from behind a hospital curtain, skipping the denial.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning comic strip written by Garry Trudeau appears in 1,400 newspapers nationwide. The Anchorage Daily News declined to run the strip, instead publishing a note saying the comic "contained an unnecessary profanity."

The (Nashville) Tennessean also declined to run the comic. Editor Frank Sutherland said in a column that it uses language "we consider inappropriate for newspaper use."

The Green Bay News-Chronicle in Wisconsin edited out the mild expletive.

"I'd have a hard time printing that phrase as a direct quote in a news story, let alone as part of a piece of fiction on the comics page in big, bold letters," editor Tom Brooker wrote in a story published Friday.

The phrase was, "Son of a bitch!"

The Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, also removed the expletive.

"Context is everything," managing editor Mike Burbach said in an article explaining his decision. "In the Beacon Journal, 'Doonesbury' runs on the comics page. In that context, we decided it was best to bleep out the bad word."

The Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune ran the strip on its editorial page instead of the comics section, and said the move would be permanent.

The strip's distributor, Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate, said newspapers weren't contractually allowed to edit the strip, and the syndicate said it planned to contact those that did.

"I don't know what will happen," said Kathie Kerr, a spokesman for Universal Press. "It may just be a heads up just to refresh their memory about the protocol."

Kerr said 11 newspapers had called Universal to talk about the strip. She said she knew of two papers that were not going to print Friday's installment but declined to name them. Newspapers are not required to inform the syndicate when they pull a comic strip.

Trudeau said he started the story line to illustrate the sacrifices American soldiers are making.

"We are at war, and we can't lose sight of the hardships war inflicts on individual lives," said Trudeau, who began writing "Doonesbury" in 1968 while a student at Yale University.

The strip has a history of addressing controversial topics.

Just before the 2000 presidential election, at least two newspapers pulled an installment that accused George W. Bush of cocaine abuse. In February 1998, at least four newspapers refused to run strips about accusations that President Clinton had sex with a White House intern.


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