Newspapers pull ‘Doonesbury’ cartoons lampooning Clinton-intern controversy

Thursday, February 12, 1998

Several newspapers pulled the popular and controversial “Doonesbury” cartoon Monday or Tuesday because the strip contained sexual terms in its commentary on the intern scandal involving President Clinton.

The cartoons feature a “scandal facilitator” explaining to elementary school children the recent allegations surrounding Clinton's sexual activities with a White House intern. The cartoons use the phrases “oral sex” and “semen-streaked dress.”

Feb. 9 Doonesbu...
Feb. 9 Doonesbury cartoon. ©1998, Universal Press Syndicate.

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va., the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer and the Valley News in Lebanon, N.H., all pulled the comic strip on either Monday or Tuesday.

“We didn't run it because I thought the language was offensive and inappropriate for the comics page,” said Robert C. Gabordi, Herald-Dispatch executive editor.

Nanya Friend, Daily Mail managing editor, offered similar reasoning in pulling the Tuesday cartoon: “The big factor is that the comics page is read by a lot of kids. I think the story line is good. It's funny. We'll probably run the rest of it,” she told The Associated Press.

Charlotte Observer Editor Jennie Buckner penned an editorial defending her decision to pull the comic, writing: “I don't enjoy pulling the work of one of America's best cartoonists, but I enjoy even less the coarsening of our culture.”

Vic Stredicke, publisher of Cartoon World, a magazine for cartoonists, said: “Your take on this issue depends on how you regard a newspaper and its function. Every newspaper has its own set of guidelines. That is what makes the difference between a tabloid and The Wall Street Journal.

Feb. 10 Doonesb...
Feb. 10 Doonesbury cartoon. ©1998, Universal Press Syndicate.

“Newspaper editors have the right to choose which columns and cartoons they wish to run,” Stredicke said. “Many times readers see the newspaper's commitments differently, particularly when a regular running feature columnist or cartoonist's work is pulled. Readers often assume the cartoonist has a right to be there.

“A newspaper editor could reasonably believe that the term 'oral sex' has no place in its comics section. I perfectly understand the decision to pull the comics even if the topics are discussed on the front-page of the news section,” Stredicke said.

Joel Pett, president-elect of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, sees things differently. He said, “The words 'oral sex' and 'semen-streaked dress' have been used in many newspaper headline-type stories. I wonder if these same editors pulling the cartoons that make social commentary exercised the same judgment with respect to their news stories. Pulling these comic strips is ridiculous.”