The media giant Gannett denied Thursday dropping the conservative comic “Mallard Fillmore” for political reasons, saying that the strip “did not meet our standards.”
Amalie Nash, senior vice president of local news at USA Today Network, the Gannett newspaper brand, said the decision to stop running the 27-year-old cartoon was based on a recent review.
“We made a decision last month to discontinue the Mallard Fillmore comic strip in our newspapers because a review of the recent work showed it did not meet our standards,” said Ms. Nash in an email to The Washington Times.
“It is inaccurate to say it was based on any anti-Biden comics — we value and publish work that showcases perspectives across the political spectrum,” she said.
“Mallard Fillmore” creator Bruce Tinsley said he was informed Monday by King Features, his syndication company, that Gannett pulled the comic over two cartoons that ran Feb. 19-20 critical of President Biden’s executive order on combating gender-identity discrimination.
The first cartoon depicts Mr. Biden musing: “For too long, segregation sullied women’s sports … They were restricted to women! Thank goodness those dark days are over.”
In the second comic, Mr. 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.”
“All I can say is that both the president of King Features, C.J. Kettler, and my Editor at King Features, Tea Fougner, explicitly told me that the two comics in question were the reason for the cancellations,” said Mr. Tinsley in an email. “They further said that Gannett’s objection was not to the cartoons’ being ‘anti-Biden,’ but that they thought they were insensitive to transgender athletes who compete against biologically female ones.”
Mr. Tinsley said newspapers have dropped his strip before—sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently—but that the specter of an entire media chain dumping a comic across its platforms simultaneously was in his experience unprecedented.
“My editor at my syndicate said it was unprecedented, that they had never seen that happen before,” he said.
Mr. Tinsley, who has also worked as a reporter and copy editor, said that decisions about what meets a newspaper’s standards are typically determined by editors and reader polls, and “occasionally publishers.”
“In this case, all of those people were bypassed,” he said. “Fifty-five local papers’ staffs, and readers, were overruled, in one day, by a central corporate office.”
Those newspapers include the Arizona Republic, the Austin American-Statesman, the Detroit Free Press, the Indianapolis Star, the Oklahoman, and the Pueblo Chieftain, he said.
Gannett operates 261 daily newspapers, “including USA TODAY and our local property network in the U.S. and Guam, with total paid circulation of over 2.5 million and Sunday circulation of 3.3 million,” as 302 weekly newspapers with a total circulation of about 1.7 million, according to the company’s 2019 annual report.
Mr. Tinsley speculated that the company may be reacting to pushback over the decision to cancel his cartoon.
“If I could guess why a giant media corporation might want to give inquiring reporters the impression that a political comic strip was canceled because of nebulous ‘standards,’ instead of the message of particular cartoons,” he said, “I’d guess that it might be because of the recent popular backlash against a ‘Cancel Culture,’ that favors suppression of free discussion and debate over healthy, robust dialogue.”
He called such debate “the stuff that Americans, at their best, are all about.”