The distributor of “Doonesbury” called it an “unfortunate coincidence” that a strip depicting a man’s head on a platter is set to run in newspapers days after the release of a videotape showing an American’s beheading by Iraqi militants.
Kansas City-based Universal Press Syndicate said Friday the strip, scheduled to run May 23, was drawn before Nicholas Berg’s death in Iraq; it will offer a substitute comic strip.
Berg’s headless body was found last Saturday in Baghdad. Three days later, a videotape posted on an al-Qaida-related Web site showed him decapitated. Berg was buried Friday in Pennsylvania.
In the strip, the character Joanie, angry about her friend’s firing from her university coaching job, begins daydreaming. In the last frame, she’s pictured carrying a platter with the head of the university president on it. He says, “What’s this.” She responds, “A good start.”
“Given its timing following the recent grisly tragedy in Iraq and the realities of Sunday color production cycles, we felt we should call this to your attention,” Lee Salem, editor of Universal Press Syndicate, told newspaper editors in a statement.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning strip by Garry Trudeau appears in 1,400 newspapers.
“I regret the poor timing, and apologize to anyone who is offended by an image that is now clearly inappropriate,” Trudeau said.
Several newspapers said the distributor’s warning came too late.
“We may write some sort of letter to our readers the day the strip runs explaining that fact that we didn’t receive notice until after the comic was printed and ready to go,” said Andrea Buck, interim editor of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.
David Green, managing editor of The (Nashville) Tennessean, said a final decision hadn’t been made, but he anticipated the paper also would include a note.
Mike Needs, public editor of The Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, said the strip would run.
“We have looked at it, and while we think the timing is unfortunate, the content of the strip is not related to the Iraq War situation and therefore we are going to go ahead with publishing that comic strip,” he said.