OPINION: Comic cancellation isn't funny

·4 min read

Mar. 4—C'mon. It's just a comic strip.

That'll be the response of the folks on the left after "Mallard Fillmore," a comic strip that depicts a politically conservative duck who works as a reporter at a television station in Washington, D.C., was dropped from Gannett newspapers across the country after two cartoons that were vaguely critical of President Joe Biden and his encouragement of transgender participation in women's sports.

If the media corporation ordered the particular strips not to be used, that would be taking a stance. If it also removed left-leaning "Doonesbury" from its pages — the route the Knoxville News Sentinel took in 2015 — that would indicate it wanted politics out of its comic strips. Dropping only "Mallard Fillmore" from a group of newspapers is a blatant attempt to silence a conservative voice, no matter how much political relevance one might give to a comic strip.

The Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger told its readers about the move this way: "Effective today, we're making a change to our comics line-up to replace the 'Mallard Fillmore' comic strip. We're continually reviewing the comics we provide."

It didn't say why, and it didn't note the directive came from its parent company.

Bruce Tinsley, creator of the 27-year-old strip, said King Features, which syndicates "Mallard Fillmore," told him "a decision was made at the [Gannett] corporate level, and they weren't sure exactly why, except that they were sure it was about those two cartoons," according to the Washington Times.

The two strips ran Feb. 19-20. The first depicts the president musing: "For too long, segregation sullied women's sports They were restricted to women! Thank goodness those dark days are over."

In the second, Biden says, "I hear what you, the American people, want me to do kill fossil-fuel jobs devalue Americans' labor ... and help more transgender athletes beat the —@!# out of biological females."

We think it's an abomination to allow athletes born men to compete in women's sports, which for years were lacking in comparison to those offered for men. But, at a minimum, there is disagreement on the issue.

However, most of the disagreement is with the side held by the president, who signed an executive order on the day of his inauguration to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in school sports and elsewhere. In a 2020 poll, 60% of respondents said biological males should not participate in women's sports. Only 21% said they should, and 19% were undecided.

Tinsley told the Washington Times he'd had strips temporarily dropped before and wondered when his number would be called by the cancel culture.

"I've thought a million times, 'This is it, I don't even know if I'm going to turn this in'," he said. "But of all the cartoons — it vaguely centers on Biden's doing that as his first executive order. There certainly was nothing derogatory about transgender people. It was just about what I see as a really unfair environment in sports."

King Features told Tinsley nothing similar had ever happened.

"From what I'm hearing," he said, "it was unprecedented."

Tinsley said King Features has stood behind him but warned him his royalty check would be significantly smaller.

The Times Free Press still publishes both "Mallard Fillmore" and "Doonesbury" on its comics and puzzles pages. Some newspapers run them on their editorial pages. Both have been targeted by Times Free Press readers on occasion.

Readers elsewhere were quick to let their Gannett papers know of their displeasure — or pleasure.

The Indianapolis Star printed "Mallard Fillmore" before it was syndicated, but it was no different in canceling the strip. Reader Anita Sewall, for one, wasn't happy about it.

""Every day, I think that this newspaper was not published for someone like me," she wrote in a letter to the editor. "Every day, I think, is it worth the money ... With the cancellation of the 'Mallard Fillmore' comic strip, you have completely stilled any conservative voice in your publication, and in the process you have answered my question: No, it isn't worth the money ."

Jerry Saylor of Engelwood, Florida, expressed similar sentiments about the Sarasota paper.

"Since Gannett acquired the Herald-Tribune, the leftward drift of the newspaper has continued unabated," he wrote. "The announcement Feb. 24 that the 'Mallard Fillmore' comic strip will be discontinued, while 'Doonesbury' remains, confirms the trend. Why you wish to alienate your readership only you understand."

A poster to an online message board said the San Diego Union-Tribune dropped the strip several years ago when it pointed out the anti-Semitism of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota.

"I dropped the U-T," he wrote. "They made the mistake of calling me to ask why. The poor guy's ears are still ringing, and I'll bet he never had the guts to report on what I [said]."

Tinsley told the Washington Times the cancel culture has been the subject of numerous editorial cartoons. His strip could be next.

"I know how it feels now," he said.

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