BITCH, BITCH, BITCH. If you turn to page E13 of today's Boston Globe, you'll find this where Doonesbury usually appears:
To our readers
The Globe has decided not to publish today's installment of "Doonesbury" because the strip includes language inappropriate for a general readership. The strip's creator declined to change the wording or offer a substitute. "Doonesbury" resumes in tomorrow's comics pages. Today's strip is available online at www.boston.com/ae/comics/.
Now, I already knew that B.D.'s leg had been blown off in Iraq. When I saw the disclaimer this morning, I figured cartoonist Garry Trudeau must have had him let loose an F-bomb. So I was more than a little surprised when I learned the offending phrase was "son of a bitch." Pretty mild stuff.
Romenesko's got a round-up of newspaper reaction. To me, the proof that the Globe overreacted was the decision by the Tallahassee Democrat to run the strip unedited.
A couple of additional observations:
- Adam Gaffin, the Roslindale guy behind Boston Online, did a quick search and found that the Globe published 12 articles last year that used the word "bitch." His suggestion: if "bitch" is too rough for the funny pages, move Doonesbury to the op-ed page. (He also suggests moving Mallard Fillmore and maybe Boondocks to op-ed, but, uh, don't you need room for columns and stuff?)
- The Globe's wimp-out suggests that the Internet has made it too easy for editors to err on the side of hypercaution. Doonesbury has always been controversial, and a number of newspapers have pulled it from time to time over the years. (And, kids, you're not going to believe this: Doonesbury used to be funny, too. It was during a time called the '70s.) Ten years ago, an editor would have to think long and hard before dumping that day's Doonesbury, since it would have been very difficult for readers to see it elsewhere. Today, not only can Globe readers find it on the Web, but the Globe gives them the URL.
The good part is that even if something like today's Doonesbury gets dumped, it's still widely available to almost everyone. The bad part is that this encourages fuzzy thinking: the consequences are much lower for an editor who decides not to run a cartoon if he or she knows that readers will be no more than mildly inconvenienced.
ANOTHER MAGIC WOODWARD MOMENT. The reason that the Bush-Cheney website recommends Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack is that George W. Bush is running for re-election and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld isn't.
In September 2002, according to Woodward, Bush met with congressional leaders and outlined the reasons he was considering going to war. By Woodward's account, it went well. Then it was Rumsfeld's turn. Woodward writes:
In the "Night Note for September 4," Christine M. Ciccone, a young lawyer who covered the Senate for [Nicholas] Calio [Bush's congressional liaison], reported on Rumsfeld's one-and-a-half-hour briefing. "You have already heard it was a disaster and [Trent] Lott views it as having destroyed all of the goodwill and groundwork that the president accomplished during his meeting this morning. I found myself struggling to keep from laughing out loud at times, especially when Sec. Rumsfeld became a caricature of himself with the 'we know what we know, we know there are things we do not know, and we know there are things we know we don't know we don't know.'"
Senators had expected that the briefing, coming on the heels of the president's meeting that morning, would begin the process of making the administration's case, she reported. "Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld was not prepared to discuss Iraq issues, was unwilling to share even the most basic intelligence information, and wasn't having a good day.... There is a lot of cleanup work to do here."
Obviously the senators didn't realize that Rummy was reciting poetry.