Recently, The Washington Post opted not to print the above Barney & Clyde comic strip due to its very tame pun on a certain four-letter swear word. Creator Gene Weingarten, who also happens to be the Post’s own humor columnist, was more bemused than angry at the editorial decision, noting that the paper has a history of hypersensitivity on the comics page:
Time and again, the Post exercises more delicacy in comics editing decisions than other papers! We’ve had to rewrite or replace strips several times for the Post, but for none of the many other client papers [receiving syndicated comics.] For the record, I have no problem with a newspaper editing the comics…. I do find the Post‘s Victorian standards a little amusing, but it’s also sort of cute.
Indeed, it does seem that if readers in our nation’s capital can handle the grawlixes — AKA symbol swearing — that normally stand in for curse words in newspaper comics, they will not faint at the sight of a single-letter alternative that’s necessary to the punchline.
The Post’s extreme caution regarding comics was also in evidence in 2007 and 2010, when it chose not to run Opus and Non Sequitur strips that it feared might be offensive to Muslims. In both cases, the paper received enough reader complaints that its ombudsmen investigated and concluded that the editorial decisions were in fact overzealous. Several years later, however, it looks like the Post’s comics editors still have not gained much confidence in their readers’ tolerance for mild humor.
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Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.