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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Doonesbury debacle: a debate of free speech

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Opinions

In the United States of America all citizens are granted the freedom of speech. This is perhaps the most well-known and most sanctified clause of the Bill of Rights. It is a clause meant to protect to the ideas of the citizens and a clause meant to prevent the American government from ruling as a monarchy. Throughout history, art has been a prevalent form of portraying ideas. Political plays, movies, books, songs and cartoons have circulated for centuries in an attempt, either by the author or artist, to spread a specific idea to a large percentage of the population.
These artistic portrayals of belief do not often come from the government; they come instead from ordinary people yearning to be heard. Back in my high school AP U.S. history class, almost every PowerPoint presentation seemed to contain at least one “political cartoon” to help us further understand the political situation of whatever era we were studying. Furthermore, we wrote bi-weekly “DBQs” in which we had to synthesize various cartoons (and other documents) into coherent papers on that specific era. The immense time spent studying political cartoons highlights their immense importance in our country’s history. Perhaps the fear of the political cartoon’s power is the very reason that many newspapers took it upon themselves to cut this past week’s Doonesbury comic, depicting a very controversial strip dealing with the new Texas laws regarding abortion.
The strip mocked the new laws, creating a short political satire. It was greeted with great applause from many pro-choice readers. Many conservatives, however, viewed it as being offensive because it compared Texas’ new legislation to rape. The blunt brutality of Gary Trudeau, the comic, polarizing as it may be, succeeded in one thing: It reached the national news. Had this comic been printed per usual, it probably wouldn’t be receiving all the hype and attention it is now, but since it was treated differently it wound up reaching an even greater audience, thereby negating the efforts of newspapers to shield it from the public eye. Clearly the newspapers, when making the decision not to print such a provocative strip, were afraid of the strip’s consequences, but the consequences for not printing the strip were even greater.
With that being said, the main question at hand is whether or not newspapers should even have the power to censor the opinions published within the paper. If all citizens are given the inherent right to publish ideas, an artist should be allowed to as well. The author of Doonesbury being penalized for sharing a specific point of view clearly goes against the value of free speech. Although not everyone may agree with his convictions, and although his art may even be offensive to some, it is important that his strips are published where they rightly belong. By removing his strips, newspapers are not protecting their readers from specific beliefs, but they are instead restricting the channels through which free speech can flow. Political cartoons are powerful channels for expressing ideas, and it is important to preserve this historically sanctified venue.