Accuracy in Media

Jittery newspaper editors in some cities including Washington, D.C.  decided to pull the comic strip ‘Non Sequitur for mentioning ‘Muhammad’.

Some newspapers chose instead to run a Sunday replacement strip featuring the recurring character Obvious-Man. So what was the editorial thinking behind the choice?

“I have absolutely no information on why any of the editors chose not to run it,” “Non Sequitur” creator Wiley Miller tells Comic Riffs. “All I can do is surmise that the irony of their being afraid to run a cartoon that satirizes media’s knee-jerk reaction to anything involving Islam bounced right of their foreheads. So what they’ve actually accomplished is, sadly, [to] validate the point.”

“Non Sequitur” is syndicated by Universal UClick. The syndicate’s Sue Roush tells Comic Riffs that about 20 newspapers inquired about the option of a replacement comic but that as of Friday, Universal UClick did not know which papers would actually use the surrogate comic.

“Both of the papers I get that carry comics, the Portland Press Herald and the Boston Globe, ran the substitute,” says the cartoonist, who goes by “Wiley.” “Really disappointing.”

The caption to the single-panel comic — which depicts a cheery, slightly surreal park scene — says: “Picture book titled voted least likely to ever find a publisher…’Where’s Muhammad?’ “ The cartoon was one of the “most favorited” Sunday on the syndicate’s website, where readers on the comments thread were mentioning where they had — or had not — found the “Muhammad” strip in their local papers.

The Washington Post chose to run the “Where’s Muhammad?” comic in its online edition but not in its Sunday print funnies, running an “Obvious-Man” replacement. Spokeswoman Kris Coratti said The Post had no comment on that decision. Update: Style Editor Ned Martel tells Post ombudsman Andy Alexander that he chose to pull the cartoon after conferring with Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli and others because “it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” He adds that “the point of the joke was not immediately clear” and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.

“Non Sequitur,” launched in 1991 by the Washington Post Writers Group, has won National Cartoonists Society division awards for Best Comic Strip and Best Comic Panel. Prior to creating “Non Sequitur,” Wiley Miller was an editorial cartoonist at the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record and the San Francisco Examiner.

That one mention was apparently enough to strike fear in the hearts of  some newspaper editors but the decision by the Washington Post to not run the Sunday comic infuriated the paper’s ombudsman Andy Alexander who had this to say on the matter;

“Non Sequitur” is a popular comic that runs daily in about 800 newspapers, including this one. But the “Non Sequitur” cartoon that appeared in last Sunday’s Post was not the one creator Wiley Miller drew for that day.

Editors at The Post and many other papers pulled the cartoon and replaced it with one that had appeared previously. They were concerned it might offend and provoke some Post readers, especially Muslims.

Miller is known for social satire. But at first glance, the single-panel cartoon he drew for last Sunday seems benign. It is a bucolic scene imitating the best-selling children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” A grassy park is jammed with activity. Animals frolic. Children buy ice cream. Adults stroll and sunbathe. A caption reads: “Where’s Muhammad?”

Miller’s cartoon is clearly a satirical reference to the global furor that ensued in 2006 after a Danish newspaper invited cartoonists to draw the prophet Muhammad as they see him. After the cartoons were published, Muslims in many countries demonstrated against what they viewed as the lampooning of Islam’s holiest figure.

Miller’s Sunday drawing also keyed on “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!,” a free-speech protest this year by cartoonists responding to what was widely interpreted as a death threat from an Islamic cleric against two animators who depicted Muhammad wearing a bear suit in an episode of the “South Park” television show. If enough cartoonists drew Muhammad, protest organizers reasoned, it would be impractical to threaten all of them.

What is clever about last Sunday’s “Where’s Muhammad?” comic is that the prophet does not appear in it.

Still, Style editor Ned Martel said he decided to yank it, after conferring with others, including Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli, because “it seemed a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” He added that “the point of the joke was not immediately clear” and that readers might think that Muhammad was somewhere in the drawing.

Have we gone so far that even the mere mention of anything related to Islam in a Sunday comic has to be scrutinized to make sure it doesn’t offend anyone and drag politics into it as well?

Well the answer is yes if you are the Style editor of the Washington Post but maybe Martel and Brauchli will take Alexander’s advice and not be so timid or in other words not so politically correct.

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