I’ve talked with more than 100 readers this week, all but a handful expressing anywhere from mild disgust to complete outrage with my decision to drop “Non Sequitur” from our pages starting Monday.
I knew before I took this step that newspaper readers are passionate about their favorite comics. I greatly appreciate that passion and it made this decision difficult — but in the end I did what I thought was right.
The complaints and questions I’ve received fall under a few common themes, which I share here for readers who are disappointed but haven’t called or emailed. I don’t expect to change your mind, but would like you to know more about what went into this decision. Thanks to the readers whose comments I have excerpted here.
“The ‘Non Sequitur’ cartoon was not even a blip for kids who use ‘WTF’ and way worse in texts and casual conversation every single day.”
For me, the biggest problem wasn’t the words Wiley Miller hid in the cartoon but the fact that he slipped them into our paper in a way that circumvented our editing process and prevented us from being able to make a decision about whether we wanted to run them.
(Would we have run his hidden phrase had we known? Almost certainly not, but we would have talked about and made our own decision.)
“Non Sequitur’ is pablum compared to what comes out of the mouth of Donald Trump.”
Yes, we have printed some rough quotes from President (and candidate) Trump, but in every case we talked about it in advance and decided we needed to share exactly what he said in order to accurately tell the story. Because the message was hidden in ‘Non Sequitur,’ we did not get that chance. And just because someone on one end of the political spectrum says something shocking doesn’t mean those on the other end should match or exceed it.
“The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”
Actually, he exhibited a major breach of trust by hiding a message and basically tricking us into printing it. That’s unethical behavior we wouldn’t tolerate in any employee.
“Mr. Miller has acknowledged he made a mistake — the first in 30 years of writing this strip — apologized and promised it will not happen again.”
Yes, he did apologize through a press release distributed by the syndicate that carries his cartoon, but he posted this on Twitter: “Some of my sharp-eyed readers have spotted a little Easter egg from Leonardo Bear-Vinci. Can you find it?” That’s a classic “sorry, not sorry” response and, to me, negates the apology.
“What you have decided to do is censorship. You’re making the decision for me, your subscriber, to allow me to read what you think I should.”
At the Star we make choices every day about what stories, words and images to include in our pages. We do not throw things in without review (although mistakes do get by us), and what we run obviously does not begin to encompass all the world’s information.
“What happened to free speech?”
Free speech means that we all can say whatever we want free from government interference. It does not give anyone the right to tell the president or anyone else to “go f*** yourself” in the pages of their local newspaper, which is what Miller did.
“I believe the real reason you decided to drop the strip is you are afraid to lose subscribers.”
Tucson is a liberal-leaning city and honestly the easy decision would have been to do nothing.
I knew that dropping one of our most popular comics would outrage a lot of our most loyal readers and I feel terrible about that. And yes, my decision would have been the same had a cartoonist hidden a nasty message to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“The Star’s proof reader(s) also missed the text — are they too to be fired?”
No newspaper in America has the staff to pay someone to go over every corner of a comic with a magnifier looking for naughty words. Our local copy editors focus most of their time on stories produced by our staff, and the rest on syndicated wire stories.