Controversy Is Garry Trudeau's Winning Media Strategy

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For the second time in a year, newspapers are temporarily removing controversial Doonesbury strips from their papers, meaning that, for the second time in a year, Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau has stumbled into a winning publicity strategy. Next week's Doonesbury comics are indeed fairly graphic. (Jim Romenesko's blog has all the scripts.) They depict a woman waiting to get an abortion while being forced to undergo humiliating episodes. A state legislator calls her a slut. She's examined with a "10 inch shaming wand." So "Garfield" this is not. And, obviously, it's an overtly political message in response to several states attempting to pass controversial laws, like one that would've required vaginal ultrasound exams in Virginia.

Most papers aren't wading into the abortion debate itself, but citing "taste" and "family paper" considerations. According to the Associated Press, some will just direct their readers online, others will run "flashbacks" in its place, and still others will move the comic strip to the Op-Ed pages. 

This all reminds us of the mini-furor that ensued when Trudeau excerpted pieces from Joe McGinniss's briefly ubiquitous Sarah Palin book, causing The Chicago Tribune to remove the comic strips because the facts in the book couldn't be verified by reporters. Whatever the merits of that excuse, we wrote then that the controversy was only helping Trudeau and McGinniss spread the word about the book and the allegations against Palin it held. We'll say the same now. Trudeau has an important message in the wake of an upswing in prominent abortion battles. And he might have his cartoon pulled, but in doing so, he's getting the cartoon's script into the front section of the newspaper. We're pretty sure Trudeau will let the funny pages pull his cartoon any day -- particularly a day in which he most wants folks to read it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.