"Doonesbury" has taken on the president, the press, the Congress, the antiabortion movement, the yuppie movement, the drug movement, you name it. But this time cartoonist Garry Trudeau has gone for a tough one -- Ol' Blue Eyes himself.
In a set of comic strips starting in today's papers and set to run through Saturday, Trudeau creates his now-familiar White House set with the real words of President Reagan as he gave Frank Sinatra the Medal of Freedom last month. Reagan praised the famed crooner for his "love of country, his generosity . . . his distinctive art . . . his winning and compassionate persona . . . one who truly did it his way."
Laying out the theme of the week, today's strip closes with a photo of Sinatra, "doing it his way with Tommy 'Fatso' Marson, Don Carlo Gambino, Richard 'Nerves' Fusco, Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno, Joseph Gambino and Greg DePalma," as Trudeau puts it.
But for some editors the big rub comes on Tuesday, when the strip includes a photo of Sinatra and Gambino family kingpin Aniello Dellacroce, whom Trudeau describes as one "charged with the murder of Gambino family member Charley Calise."
Dellacroce was indeed charged, but he was also acquitted, and a number of editors began calling Universal Press Syndicate President John McMeel last week to complain.
"It's vintage Trudeau," McMeel said in a telephone interview, acknowledging that a lot of clients had called with a lot of questions. "A smashing series.
"But we're talking about satire here," McMeel said. "This is not a news story, and satire's not supposed to be fair."
McMeel said he has recommended that editors publish an article giving more of the historical details on Tuesday's strip, and some papers, including The Washington Post, are considering taking his suggestion.
Others, like The Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun, are simply planning to run it.
Los Angeles Times Editor Bill Thomas said that paper will run Monday's comic and skip the rest of the week. Newsday Managing Editor Tony Marro says his paper will run the strip the rest of the week and skip Tuesday.
The Akron Beacon Journal and the International Herald Tribune are not planning to run it, McMeel said he was told.
And as of late last week, the San Francisco Chronicle is scheduled to run the full series, except that Tuesday's strip is slightly edited, a precedent no doubt that Trudeau would prefer remain unset.
"We did one thing in Tuesday's panel," said Rosalie Muller Wright, Chronicle feature and Sunday editor. "We just deleted the reference to the murder."
Added Wright: "Trudeau can't edit our newspaper."
Sinatra spokesman Lee Solters could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Trudeau, who has made a fetish of not elaborating on his trade, said yesterday, laughing, "You don't really think you're going to get a quote from me on this, not after all these years."
It started out as a comparison of styles -- the yuppies versus the Italians, the suburbs versus the south side of St. Louis.
But by late last week, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat had issued a front-page apology to the south side, and a day later said goodbye to its humor columnist, Grady Jim Robinson.
Robinson, a professional comedian who wrote twice a week for the Globe-Democrat, touted an exchange program in his June 4 column that would "introduce suburbanites to the joys, rich traditions and supposed unspeakable wonders of life in South St. Louis."
Describing his version of a meal in South St. Louis, he said it was a "noisy table laden with spaghetti, veal and meat balls and anchored down with a tubful of lasagna. Each person will dip a large utensil into the tub and ravenously devour food as though he were in a race. The women will stand around and yell things like 'Eata some mora. We cooka alla for youa.'
"After dinner, you'll watch all star wrestling . . . and hear your first burping contest."
The column went on to describe outside plumbing, large Catholic families, rough bars and a society without credit cards where residents "rush to the bank on Friday to cash their paychecks from the brewery."
The day after Robinson's column appeared on Page 3 of the features section, the paper ran a front-page apology for "what was intended as a silly stereotyped contrast in lifestyles.
"The intent certainly was innocent but the edge on the words was too sharp and it cut good people, people who are dear friends of the Globe-Democrat and its workers," the apology read.
The next day, the paper announced in a brief article that Robinson had been dismissed, explaining that the column had "slipped into print without any review by the Globe's senior editors."
Robinson could not be reached over the weekend, but Globe-Democrat Managing Editor Patrick E. Gauen said Saturday that the paper received several hundred phone calls -- many angry or upset about the column, as well as some calling from South St. Louis to support Robinson.
Gauen said that after the paper apologized, editors asked Robinson to write another column, explaining himself. Gauen said the paper decided to sever ties with Robinson after "the second column was a bit condescending, more like, 'You guys missed the point.' It was more condescending than apologetic."
If Turner Broadcasting System Chairman Ted Turner is supposed to be keeping a low profile while the Federal Communications Commission assesses his bid to take over CBS, you could have fooled the people of Omaha.
Turner, who was in that Nebraska city for a dinner on May 22 to give a speech and an award to the Omaha World-Herald, was asked by Deborah Ward of KMTV in Omaha for a live, on-camera interview.
"He seemed fine at first," Ward said last week. "I introduced him and then, right when I'm on live, he starts waving behind my head. Then underneath the camera he started making these crude hand gestures.
"The viewers couldn't see a lot of it, but you can imagine the reaction of those around me, and I'm trying to keep my composure," she said. "Then, at the end, the camera zooms in on me and he puts his head on my shoulder.
"I was livid at the man. I just ignored him.
"Here's a man who owns a network, and he's supposed to know what it's like for us. He answered some questions seriously but his answer to my first question was 'Hi, Mom,' " she said. "I've had better luck interviewing junior high school students, and they're the worst."
Several days later, Warren Francke, a professor on the communications faculty of the University of Nebraska who does media commentary on WOWT, the CBS affiliate in Omaha, described the dinner to his viewers this way: "They ate chicken at the Friendship Force dinner, but Turner served fruitcake for dessert."
Francke said that Ward "deserved an award for not decking Turner."
He added that the fact that he was criticizing Turner on a CBS affiliate was "merely coincidental. I am very independent in my criticism -- I've criticized WOWT and I've criticized CBS."