The Atlanta-Journal Constitution this week declined to publish Gary Trudeau’s Doonesbury strip in the paper paper because… well we’ll get to that.
In 1996 Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics. Perhaps one of the reasons the International Olympic Committee didn’t pronounce the games “the best ever!” had to do with a small explosion in the then new Centennial Olympic Park. A couple of people died.
Richard Jewell, a hapless security guard, was identified in an AJC story as a suspect based on unnamed sources. There’s a lot of background and back and forth; but, as it turns out, he wasn’t the bomber, he was a hero – he urged people to leave the area. The bomber and villain was Eric Rudolph, who is currently a resident in one of the supermax prisons we maintain, the name of which I forget.
The AJC has spent hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars defending Mr. Jewell’s, and since his death, his family’s, defamation suit. One of it’s defenses was that Mr. Jewell was a “public figure,” something it made him, and thus he had to prove that the AJC acted with actual malice in publishing admittedly false information about him.
To date, the AJC has won and I think the case is finally over.
Back to the former Alaskan Governor and Mr. Trudeau. Doonesbury this week was about the new book coming out about Sarah Palin that accuses her of cocaine use and interracial, pre-marital sex, matters not exactly fitting with her image.
Let’s assume that the book and Doonesbury got all of it wrong.
The AJC, and a number of other newspapers, didn’t run the strips. The AJC’s editor stumbled and dissembled in an interview with the local public radio station which you can listen to here.
After being caught with giving some bogus reasons for censoring the strip, he settled on the matter being breaking news and it not being fair to Ms. Palin to run the satire before she had a chance to respond. “Readers expect and demand that we be fair.”
The AJC was hardly fair in its coverage of Richard Jewell. I know it didn’t wait to report the allegations until he responded to them. Perhaps it has learned something from its treatment of him in the past decade and a half which informs its decision about the Palin “reporting.” More likely, it considered him a schlub, unworthy of proper sourcing and fair reporting and decided to censor obvious satire about Palin which it felt would offend what it thinks are its mostly conservative readers.
For me, I do want fair reporting. I didn’t get it with respect to Mr. Jewell from the AJC. Political cartoons are by definition biased, that is their whole point and I do want them published by the newspapers I read. I didn’t get that from the AJC.