WashPost Ombud Shames 'Opus' Censors: Even CAIR Wasn't Offended

In Sunday's Washington Post, ombudsman Deborah Howell laid out the internal deliberations behind the Post's decision to shelve two "Opus" Sunday comic strips mocking the character Lola Granola's flirtation with radical Islam. Howell concluded: "I think Post editors overreacted in killing the strips. Comics are meant to be artful, fun and provocative. The two strips were all of that and worth publishing. Let comics be comics."

Worse yet for the Post pluckers, Howell found that the Council for Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) didn't favor the censorship. CAIR's Ibraham Hooper said the strip "poked fun at the strip's characters, not Muslims or Islam. I see hundreds worse on the Internet every day." And:

Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University, also wasn't offended. He said there is a strong Muslim tradition of satire and self-deprecation. "I think there is a danger of us becoming so politically correct that we end up by blunting the critics' bent and the satirists' wit. Muslims need to be sensitive to the fact that in Western culture there is a healthy tradition of not taking things too seriously."

The odd thing about all this is that the Washington Post was refusing to publish a comic strip distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group syndicate. (They'd profess their independence from another division of the company.) Executive Editor Leonard Downie decided to shelve the first Lola Granola-converts-to-Islam Muslim strip after consulting with a Muslim on the Post staff:

Executive Editor Len Downie decided to kill the strip because he felt the language and depiction of Muslim female dress could be offensive. He consulted with other editors, one of whom talked to a Muslim staff member, who believed the strip was problematic.

But Downie washed his hands on the spiking of a second Lola Granola strip:

The reasons that strip wasn't published are murky. Downie said he did not kill it. Other editors thought that the Writers Group thought it would be hard to understand without seeing the first strip. Alan Shearer, Writers Group editorial director, said he made that point but did not want either strip killed.

About 25 of the 200 "Opus" clients told Shearer they would not run the first strip. Old strips were sent as alternatives. Many ran the second strip. Most papers ran both, Shearer said, including the Chicago Tribune, the Oregonia, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun. A check with editors showed that only the Sun and the Tribune got complaints -- one each.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis