March 13, 2010

Newspapers wary of Obama victory in 'Doonesbury'

— The Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's not exactly ''Dewey Defeats Truman,'' but newspapers around the country are pondering how to deal with a ''Doonesbury'' comic strip to be published the day after the election that assumes Barack Obama will win the presidency.

Comic creator Garry Trudeau delivered a series of strips for next week's papers showing his characters reacting to an Obama victory.

He offered no such option in the event of a John McCain victory.

Trudeau's syndicator, Universal Press Syndicate, is offering papers a series of rerun strips from August, but the Obama story line is forcing some editors to question whether ''Doonesbury'' could put them in a spot -- albeit in the funny pages -- similar to 1948, when the Chicago Daily Tribune infamously declared in huge, front-page type that Republican Thomas Dewey had beaten Democrat Harry Truman for the presidency.

The Portland Press Herald will run a replacement ''Doonesbury'' strip from August on Wednesday.

Because of production deadlines, that day's comics page must be prepared hours before the outcome of the election will be known, and the paper's top editors determined that any content presuming a winner would be in violation of the newspaper's commitment to fairness and accuracy.

The ''Obama wins'' strip shows three soldiers watching TV and reacting to this announcement: ''And it's official -- Barack Obama has won making him the first African-American president in history!''

''Hoo-Ah!'' one soldiers says.

''Son of a gun! What a great, great day! We did it!'' another soldier says.

''He's half-white, you know,'' says a white soldier.

''You must be so proud,'' responds a soldier who isn't white.

The rest of the week's strips also allude to an Obama victory.

Tim Bannon, editor of the Chicago Tribune's Live! section, where the paper's comics usually run, said the strip won't appear in that section because of deadline issues but might end up on another page.

''If McCain wins, we would never run it,'' he said. ''If Obama were to win, we would try to see if we can get it in somehow in some other place. It strikes us as being a little strange to have that strip if that's not how it ends up. It's not like he hedged it so it works either way.''

Kathie Kerr, a spokeswoman for Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate, said about a dozen calls have come in from newspaper editors.

''They're still coming in,'' Kerr said Friday. ''After we got the initial inquiries, we asked Garry to pick substitutes for the editors who were not comfortable with running the strips.''

Trudeau, who lives in New York, said he might have provided papers with a McCain option if he felt the election were a toss-up.

''From a risk-assessment viewpoint, I felt comfortable with the odds,'' Trudeau said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ''The way I see it, if Obama wins, I'm in the flow and commenting on an extraordinary phenomenon.''

''Doonesbury'' appears in nearly 1,400 daily and Sunday newspapers in the United States and overseas.

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