Steve Leone: Why we will no longer run ‘Non Sequitur’ comic strip

Monitor editor
Published: 2/19/2019 9:57:05 AM

On Wednesday, we’ll introduce a new daily comic panel, “Close to Home,” which has long been part of the lineup in our Sunday comics section. On Sunday, we’ll debut “Born Loser,” a comic strip that launched nationally in 1964.

Both comics are taking the place of “Non Sequitur,” a favorite of some, but one we dropped last week after we learned that the strip’s author, Wiley Miller, placed a hidden vulgar remark in the Feb. 10 strip.

I heard from dozens of readers on Friday and over the weekend. They were mostly devout fans of “Non Sequitur,” and most had similar reactions, ranging from “Can you explain what he wrote because I can barely see it?” to “I agree it was offensive, but can you give him a second chance?”

Both are fair points that deserve a bit more of an explanation.

But first, let me give you a bit more of the background.

In the Feb. 10 strip featuring character “Leonardo Bear-Vinci,” the middle panel included the words “we fondly say go f--- yourself to Trump” in tiny writing.

No one at the Monitor noticed the message, and we never heard from any readers. In fact, we didn’t know about the issue until late Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, it was clear what had happened.

Miller said he inserted the language weeks earlier in frustration at the president and that he meant to go back to erase it but forgot. That strip published in more than 700 papers across the country. That same day, before most anyone noticed, Miller tweeted, “Some of my sharp-eyed readers have spotted a little Easter egg from Leonardo Bear-Vinci. Can you find it?”

That “Easter egg” caused a bit of a mess that newspapers across the country have been forced to deal with in the past few days.

We stopped running “Non Sequitur” on Thursday, and included a note to readers on the comics page. Many other papers have had the same reaction, and the list is growing by the day.

We made the cut for a simple reason. It broke a core tenet of journalism. We don’t plagiarize. We don’t fabricate stories or sources. We don’t doctor photos. And we don’t insert hidden messages into our stories, our news pages or even our comic strips, no matter how difficult they may be to find. All of these have the potential to undermine our credibility, which has always been the lifeblood of our business. This is why we have a zero-tolerance policy and why we decided to discontinue “Non Sequitur.”

Some who emailed me were quick to make the political connection. They wondered if we were killing the strip out of fear because it attacked President Trump. Others said comic strips like “Non Sequitur” are a critical part of standing against the president.

Our publication has never been shy about taking a stand on its editorial pages. That’s certainly been true in our editorial coverage of the current administration. But we strive to do it in clear terms and in ways that elevate the conversation, not with hidden messages.

Newspapers exist as an honest reflection of the communities they serve. You should never have to read between the lines, no matter how small the fine print.


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