Nowadays there can be more truth in what fails to appear in the comics pages of the Chicago Tribune than what does appear elsewhere in that paper masquerading as news or sage editorial opinion.
Humor just isn’t funny unless it reflects some semblance of truth, and for more than four years Aaron McGruder has authored some of the funniest scathing satire to ever to run in daily newspapers. On Wednesday, March 2, the Chicago Tribune resumed running McGruder’s comic strip “The Boondocks” after the associate managing editor for features/lifestyles, Geoff Brown, decided to pull the previous Monday and Tuesday strips.
According to Don Wycliff, the Tribune’s public editor, Brown circulated an in-house memo defending his decision. Wycliff stated, “Brown said the problem was the same on both days: 'The Boondocks' creator Aaron McGruder had characters stating as fact things that were not.”
In Monday’s strip Caesar, Huey’s best friend, said, “Bush got recorded admitting that he smoked weed.” Huey then suggests that, “Maybe he smoked it to take the edge off the coke.” Tuesday’s strip continued with a play on words showing the irony of Bush being taped by a close friend whose last name happens to be Wead: Huey is watching a television news broadcast: “Reportedly, a conversation in which President Bush admitted to smoking marijuana was recorded by Doug Wead. . . . This just in. We just got two more revelations from Joe Blow and Petey Crack.”
On March 1, Dave Astor reported in Editor and Publisher that most of the e-mails to the Tribune accused it of censorship, and Brown’s response was, “If we were censors, we’d cancel ‘The Boondocks’ and ‘Prickly City’ and any other strips whose point of view clashed with some supposed ideology." Brown went on to say, “We have no ideology on the comics pages.”
That last statement, I might ad, cannot be said of the rest of the paper.
To cancel the strip would have been too obvious when there is a more subtle solution: Use semantics. And why not? It has been a very successful strategy for the White House. So in his weekly column, Wycliff responded to an email sent in by an astute reader by denying that Brown's decision to pull the strip was censorship: "Let the record show that what Mr. McWilliams calls censorship we at the newspaper call editing."
Brown is correct with his assessment as stated in his in-house memo: “All reputable news sources reporting [on] the tapes were careful to draw INFERENCES, but no one can say Bush admitted to drug use.” That's a safe thing to say since George Bush does not admit mistakes. Yet Bush hasn’t denied using drugs either, and he won’t be given the opportunity any time soon by any of the toadies from the press who have been granted limited access to the president.
Brown's decision to pull McGruder's comic was based on his assumption that in the absence of an admission to any wrongdoing by Bush, it did not happen. Brown told Editor and Publisher: "[W]hen they [cartoonists] inaccurately attribute to a public figure a real-life fact, quote, or action that never happened [emphasis mine], then lampoon him or her for a fictional fact, quote, or action, that's unfair."
How noble to give the president the benefit of the doubt while they both operate under an obvious double standard. And to make matters worse, Wycliff stated in his commentary, "Brown doesn't say it, but he might as well have: A commentator is entitled to pick and choose his opinions, but he can't pick and choose his facts." Since when? President Bush (granted, the president is not a "commentator" -- he's not that literate) has been getting away with picking and choosing his "facts" since the very beginning of his presidency.
The Chicago Tribune endorsed George Bush for a second term as president in spite of the FACT that Bush’s decision to illegally invade Iraq was based on mere allegations that were proven to be false, resulting in thousands of casualties and heaping misery upon millions. The irony now is that by giving the president the benefit of the doubt, the Tribune is continuing to be complicit with an administration that has repeatedly used smear tactics for political gain, used shills like Jeff Gannon and dupes like Judith Miller to sway public opinion, and has hired public relations firms to produce right-wing propaganda in the form of faux-news videos.
After Bush was re-elected, the question was asked on the cover of London’s Daily Mirror: “How can 59,054, 087 people be so dumb?” Since much of America's public opinion is derived from the corporate-sponsored press, the answer is obvious. Meanwhile, the world burns while America’s hypocritical fourth estate fiddles with its purse strings.
And it is true, my friends, that the joke is on us. But somehow I just don't feel like laughing.
Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2005 Harold Williamson.
Other Articles by Harold Williamson