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On 'Doonesbury,' and what counts as good taste

This morning, you may or may not have today's edition of the syndicated comic strip "Doonesbury" in your local newspaper.
On 'Doonesbury,' and what counts as good taste
On 'Doonesbury,' and what counts as good taste

This morning, you may or may not have today's edition of the syndicated comic strip "Doonesbury" in your local newspaper. Starting today, cartoonist Garry Trudeau is shining a satirical light on the recent legislation in states like Virginia and Texas targeting women seeking an abortion -- using medically unnecessary procedures designed to shame them into a different reproductive choice.

The first strip, out today, depicts a young woman being directed to the "shaming room" to be consulted on her abortion to be consulted by a "middle-aged, male state legislator." As the week-long series continues, I expect this not to end well for the young woman.

This is getting some press not just because "Doonesbury" is a classic strip that is beloved by many, or because it is tackling a controversial topic. While many newspapers, including my hometown Plain Dealer, are running with the series, some newspapers are refusing to print it -- including two Florida dailies, the Ocala Star-Banner and the Gainesville Sun. Another newspaper, Portland's Oregonian, published instead their justification for the decision:

“Doonesbury” author Garry Trudeau, in our judgment, went over the line of good taste and humor in penning a series on abortion using graphic language and images inappropriate for a comics page.

The Oregonian's argument for, more or less, placing ratings on its various sections is understandable -- placing news about ladyparts laws on the news page, and keeping the comics page safe for Flash Gordon and Beetle Bailey. But two newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and Kansas City Star, have actually solved this problem by putting Trudeau's series on their opinion page. And the Oregonian folks, perhaps in a concession to online media, provide a link to the GoComics "Doonesbury" page. So what gives? Is "transvaginal" too much for their delicate print pages?

Actually, no. It isn't as though the Oregonian shied away from publishing articles about bills like Virginia's transvaginal ultrasound bill -- go ahead, search for it in their archives, it's there. Apparently, the topic is too "graphic" to appear on their editorial page, either. Aside from a mild scolding of Komen for the Cure after their later-reversed decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood, their editorial board has been silent on the rather visible and controversial upswing of attacks on both women's and reproductive rights.

Trudeau said in an interview with the Washington Post that to ignore this "would have been comedy malpractice." Editors who are banning "Doonesbury" this week fail to understand how essential comedy can be in the political sphere, and that laws like those in Virginia and Texas are "graphic language" in a wholly different sense.