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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Doonesbury’s comics spot spurs reader complaints

BY JACK LESSENBERRY
BLADE OMBUDSMAN

Why does The Blade run Doonesbury on the comics page?

Every election year, a number of readers — mainly conservatives — complain that Garry Trudeau’s strip should not run with the other comics because it often has a political point of view. Other readers are just curious. Indeed, the strip, which has been around since the 1970s, is frequently overtly political. Doonesbury has skewered many candidates in both parties, but Republicans seem to come in for the most savage ridicule.

Newspapers around the country vary in how they handle the comic. Some do run Doonesbury in their opinion pages, though my own unscientific survey found more that keep it with other comics.

The Blade’s editors run it with the comics for a variety of reasons. One big one is technical, not ideological. Garry Trudeau insists that the Doonebury be run at a certain size, and those dimensions don’t fit the format on the Pages of Opinion.

Then too, sometimes Doonesbury is not especially ideological, and for days the strip may revolve around the lives of the characters.

Your ombudsman doesn’t have a strong opinion about this. If I owned The Blade, I would leave Doonesbury on the comics page. In fact, I would think those who disagree with the political thrust of the strip ought to prefer keeping the strip on the comics page.

After all, comics are, by definition, not to be taken seriously.

———

Toledoan Helen Kieswetter is upset with Doonesbury for a different reason. She was “mortally offended“ by last Sunday‘s strip, which featured a parody of a science teacher forced to teach what those opposed to the theory of evolution call creationism.

“Don‘t you think casting doubt on the creation of the world, making fun of those who believe the biblical account and scorning our belief in the same is an attack on Christianity?”

Well, no, your ombudsman doesn’t think that. Many, if not most, Christian denominations long ago accepted the theory of evolution and see the Biblical account of the world’s creation in seven days as either an allegory or a fable.

Scientists have expressed concern that injecting creation theory into the classroom, a theory that has no scientific validity, will harm our children’s ability to learn proper science and do well on the all-important achievement tests.

Beyond that, however, if freedom of the press and democracy mean anything at all, they mean the right to express unpopular views.

———

John Weber of Swanton hated Editor David Kushma’s Sept. 16 column, “Crunching the Ohio numbers in Romney’s plan.”

Mr. Weber said “the article parrots liberal advocacy groups and Democrat politicians” and added “this goes beyond simple bias, and becomes propaganda.’’

Your ombudsman needs to note two things here. The piece in question is a column, not a news article, and appeared on the Pages of Opinion, which means the reader can expect, well, the writer’s opinion.

Beyond that, however, the article doesn’t endorse any candidate but presents an analysis of Mitt Romney’s economic plan by what are clearly labeled as “liberal advocacy groups.”

They indeed argue that the plan would help the super-rich and hurt the middle class.

But the main theme of the column was not to run down Mr. Romney. It was, as Mr. Kushma concluded, to note that “any effort to shift the focus of the presidential campaign from personalities, attack ads, and sound bites to facts and figures deserves commendation.”

And he added, “Even if you’re not ready to buy what [these groups] are selling, it’s still worth listening to what they have to say.”

That implies an openness to considering an economic analysis of the candidates’ plans presented by a conservative think tank, something your ombudsman would like to see.

———

The Blade did screw up on a headline back on Sept. 2, when it referred to a retired dermatologist who has opened a book and art store in Grand Rapids, Ohio, as an “ex-doctor.”

Jim Hennessy, a pediatric cardiologist, wrote to say “she may be a retired doctor or nonpracticing doctor, but she still is a doctor.”

When I brought this to the editors’ attention, they agreed that it was a matter of careless editing and changed the headline in the online version of the newspaper.

Incidentally, Dr. Hennessy also wanted to weigh in on the controversy where some readers have complained about The Blade’s practice of identifying the University of Toledo Medical Center as the former Medical College of Ohio.

“I can avow that physicians, new and older, still refer to the “Medical College of Ohio,” or, more accurately, MCO, in my conversations. I do not think the medical community has any qualms about ‘‘MCO,” said Dr. Hennessy, a former longtime faculty member. “And another way to look at it, by using MCO we reinforce the history that this community went through to get this academic institution,” he added.

With that, your ombudsman would like to say that he believes that on this topic, ’nuff said.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 563 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me at 1-888-746-8610 or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.



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