Free speech stripped away

By pulling Doonesbury, newspapers failed to defend free speech.

Daily Editorial Board

While most students were off last week celebrating spring break, the war over abortion raged on as it has for decades. Editorial boards across the U.S. grappled with the oft-times inflammatory comic strip Doonesbury and its creator Garry Trudeau. In a five-day series, Trudeau tackled a newly minted Texas law requiring transvaginal sonograms for those seeking abortions. At one point, Trudeau compared the procedure to rape and caught the ire of newspaper editors from coast to coast.

Here in the Twin Cities, both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press made the decision not to run Doonesbury due to its inflammatory nature. While not seemingly appropriate for the more family-friendly comics page, it is our sense that not running the strip squandered an opportunity to spur further dialogue regarding the law and ones like it.

Many newspapers across the nation opted to run the strip in the editorial pages and in so doing have avoided the criticisms regarding political expression and the inevitable cries concerning freedom of speech itself.

While newspapers often make judgment calls concerning political debate, the cutting of Trudeau’s strip has created controversy not about laws restricting abortion but concerning the nature of editorials and media reactions. Shying away from controversy has become the true story here, and that is the real shame.

In the end, Trudeau’s strip was meant as political satire and was created to stir the proverbial pot as the Doonesbury strip often does. Controversial or not, issues such as abortion require open and frank discussion.