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Chicago Tribune Once Again Removes 'Doonesbury' Comic Strip, Angers Fans

(2/6/12: Updated with a response from the Chicago Tribune.)
For the second time in less than five months, the Chicago Tribune has removed a "Doonesbury" comic strip from its newspaper, for reasons that again appear to be suspiciously conservative politically motivated. While "Doonesbury" appeared in over 1,400 newspapers and publications worldwide, as it normally does each day, only the Chicago Tribune chose to find fault with today's content and pull it from its newspaper and website.

Yesterday's strip of Doonesbury featured a QR code, which when scanned, would take the person to the Doonesbury website. In today's strip, it again featured a QR code, but this time, the QR code took the scanner to the website of the non-profit charitable organization, DonorsChoose.org. It also stated that any charitable donation made from that scan would be doubled by the Doonesbury team. The satirical comic still made a joke and did what it has been doing for over 40 years, the only difference was the inclusion of the QR code for the charitable website.

DonorsChoose.org is a multi-award winning non-profit organization, started in 2000 by a New York school teacher looking to improve the quality of public schools which have been severely hurt by State & Federal school funding cutbacks. The organization allows American public school teachers to post up classroom project requests on their website, asking for materials they desperately need to help enrich their children's education & lives. Individuals can then donate money or supplies for one or many of the schools in need. Once each project reaches its funding goal, the needed materials are then delivered.

According to DonorsChoose.org, over 210,000 projects have been helped & funded, improving the classroom experience for more than 5,150,000 U.S. students, as of last August.

Despite all the good the organization has achieved, it recently has found itself attacked for political reasons by a small minority on the political far-right. Their claims are that the charity is too liberal, and among their complaints are that science books distributed by DonorsChoose.org do not teach Creationism, and only push science with what they feel is a left-wing, anti-religious slant. DonorsChoose.org, denies this, showing proof that they are politically, philosophically, and religion neutral. Public schools and school teachers nationwide -- of all faiths and political beliefs -- side with DonorsChoose.org. That hasn't stopped some on the far-right fringe from raising their voices against DonorsChoose.org for their own political agendas.

In all, any controversy surrounding DonorsChoose.org has been an incredibly minor one. Until today. By removing the Doonesbury comic mentioning DonorsChoose.org today, the Chicago Tribune has tossed fuel on what was a small fire, which has suddenly become a much larger fire. The newspaper, long accused of having a conservative lean to its editorial decisions, faces those accusations once again.

In mid-September 2011, the Chicago Tribune also decided to pull a week's worth of "Doonesbury" comic strips from its paper, after it felt the strips were unfairly making fun of then-conservative favorite Sarah Palin. That week, "Doonesbury" printed excerpts from a book about Sarah Palin, which exposed some parts of her past many found to be embarrassing. Eventually, Editor Gerould Kern issued a statement claiming that those "Doonesbury" satirical comics "do not meet our standards of fairness." For the first time ever, Kern said those comics could not be printed unless they could get a "response from Palin." No satirical or editorial comic in the newspaper ever was pulled for a lack of rebuttal before.

Most felt that the Chicago Tribune pulled the comics purely for political reasons because they made fun of Sarah Palin, the failed Vice-Presidential candidate and the Alaskan Governor who abruptly quit her job after just over two years to become a conservative pundit, author, reality TV show star, and Tea Party icon.

It appears to many once again that "Doonesbury" was today pulled for political reasons, as well. There are already subscribers posting on Facebook that today's move was the last straw for them and they are canceling their Chicago Tribune subscriptions.

A request for clarification from Tribune Senior Vice President and Editor Gerould Kern has not yet been responded to. However, the following blurb was printed inside today's newspaper: "The Doonesbury cartoon is not running Friday. The comic strip broke from its satirical mission in order to deliver a direct fundraising appeal for a specific charity that the author favors. The Tribune's editorial practices do not allow individuals to promote their self-interests."

UPDATE 2/06/12: Geoff Brown, Chicago Tribune's Associate Managing Editor for Entertainment, tells CRM this morning that the reason for this latest pulling of a "Doonesbury" comic was because the strip felt too much like an ad, regardless of how well-meaning it might have been. He then reiterated the above blurb which was printed in Friday's paper.

In addition to pulling today's "Doonesbury" from today editions of the Chicago Tribune, the Tribune website has also pulled any mention of the comic strip's existence from its website. the Chicago Tribune online comics page lists every one of the comics they carry, with one very notable exception: "Doonesbury."

It also appears that the decision to pull today's "Doonesbury" was entirely local. Other newspapers across the country and world, had no issue with today's strip, including other newspapers that are owned by Tribune Company.

Inside today's Chicago Tribune newspaper, the spot normally filled with "Doonesbury" was instead filled with the comic strip "Thatababy." Today's "Thatababy" featured a cartoon infant wearing nothing but a diaper, watching reality TV. Luckily for fans of that strip, the Tribune editors found nothing wrong with a small, near-naked child watching a television show not age appropriate for itself, while being unsupervised.

Comic strips, especially ones that deal in current events such as "Doonesbury," often mention companies and organizations within the comic. In fact, "Doonesbury" mentioned DonorsChoose.org once before on September 9, 2007. That particular strip ran inside the Tribune with no problems. At that time, conservative groups were not trying to attack the organization, either.

"Doonesbury" started as a syndicated comic strip in October 1970. The strip, created by writer/cartoonist Garry Trudeau, is satirical in nature. It often makes fun of pop culture and political figures. It also has a decidedly liberal slant to it -- one Trudeau openly admits to. Republican political figures and policies are made fun of in the strip much more than Democratic ones. The left-wing angle to those comics has not deterred it from becoming a long-running favorite within the Chicago Tribune's pages.

Despite what some outraged readers claim, what the Chicago Tribune did today (and last September) was not truly censoring the comic strip, as the newspaper is free to make decisions on what it will and will not publish. If the editorial staff feels something is inappropriate for its newspaper or readers, the First Amendment guarantees the paper its right to not publish that potentially upsetting piece.

Where the line has become blurry lately is that the only strips pulled are those that help a conservative agenda by removing them. Also, being that similar comics from other creators, including their own editorial cartoonists, do not face the same scrutiny as those deemed too "liberal" by the current editorial staff.

Assuming the next comic strip does not offend a conservative Tribune Editor, "Doonesbury" should return to the Chicago Tribune lineup this weekend.

Here is today's "Doonesbury" comic strip, the very one the Chicago Tribune found too offensive and too "self-interested" to run...

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