Cartoonists Struggle With Patriotism, Terror Attacks

Thanks to a wave of patriotism following the terrorist attacks on the United States, cartoonist Aaron McGruder's strip "The Boondocks" really has gone to the boondocks — and even disappeared — in some newspapers.

Last week, Huey Freeman — McGruder's Afro-wearing, pre-pubescent black revolutionary in "The Boondocks" — called the FBI's terrorist tip line and said he had the names of several Americans who helped train and finance Osama bin Laden, the United States' prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on America. When the FBI agent on the other end of the phone asks for the names, Huey responds, "All right, let's see … the first one is Reagan. That's R-E-A-G …"

Huey, trying to convince the FBI of his leads, then accuses the CIA of training bin Laden in terrorist tactics against the then-Soviet Union during the Reagan-Bush administration and suggests the current Bush presidency has funded the Taliban government U.S. forces are now fighting. [The CIA has denied training bin Laden or his associates in terror tactics.]

Print editions of the New York Daily News, perhaps leery of the outrage the series of strips would cause, especially in New York, decided to yank "The Boondocks" for three days that week. Long Island's Newsday also chose not to run "The Boondocks" but replaced them with previously run, less controversial editions of the strip.

Un-American, Too Political, … or Not Reader-Friendly?

Cartoonists say the controversy over "Boondocks" reflects a dilemma they face in whether and how to address attacks, especially in volatile times where contrarian views seen as unpatriotic are in danger of being suppressed.

"I find that a little scary, that just because someone can take another point of view that they're seen as unpatriotric or sympathetic to the terrorists," said Rick Stromoski, cartoonist of "Soup To Nutz" and spokesman for the National Cartoonists Society. "And that's not true at all. What Aaron's done is to try to get people to step back and ask why things have happened. Things don't happen in a vacuum, and Aaron's trying to get people to discuss why things are happening."

The Daily News defended its decision to pull "The Boondocks," saying the material was more suited to political commentary and editorial pages than the funny pages.

Newsday had a similar response. "The points he [McGruder] made we've had in newspaper reports and editorials," said Newsday editor Anthony Marro in Monday's edition of the paper.

Another factor may have influenced the New York tabloids' decisions to yank The Boondocks: fear of offending — and losing — readers. The Boondocks is no stranger to controversy as McGruder has tackled racism, politics, black self-hatred and other issues, causing some readers to label the strip racist and divisive.

"Sales and subscriptions are down [in general], and papers are afraid of offending their communities and losing even more readers," Stromoski said. "And I think it's going to continue. … Newspapers and cartoonists are going to be gun-shy about running anything that will be offensive to readers."

Compromise in The Lone Star State

Still, The Dallas Morning News — which runs in President Bush's home state of Texas — found a compromise solution. The editors there decided to run the strips but moved them out of the comics page and into the paper's Variety page, which features various columnists and crossword puzzles. (Both pages are in the paper's "Texas Living" section.)

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