Reading Doonesbury over the past several days has been most amusing. A word first about print comics. As I understand it, generally syndicated comic-strip writers submit their strips to the distribution networks as much as two weeks in advance, which makes commenting on current events a chancy business.
Apparently, Garry Trudeau heard about the recent ethics controversies surrounding Congressman Tom DeLay, and made the judgment that the Republican Party and the President would withdraw their support in short order. Therefore, his latest comic strips have been following the plotline that DeLay is on a political "deathwatch," having been made bereft of allies. The President, in this plot, is hanging DeLay out to dry, disregarding his years of loyal service to the party and callously calling him "the Leper" in today's strip.
Apparently Trudeau meant to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would he have gotten in a few cheap shots at DeLay, but in his portrayal, any retreat by the President would not be out of any sense of morals but out of pure political calculation, and hence would be a betrayal of his close ally.
Sadly, real life did not follow Trudeau's script. The President just yesterday gave DeLay a ride on Air Force One, and though the White House spin doctors are denying that the appearance implied any political support, the messsage is obvious. DeLay is certainly in hot water, but the rest of the party is not going to abandon him to the wolves.
I have not beeen following the DeLay issue closely. More interesting to me is what this episode shows about tightening feedback cycles. Trudeau, operating with an antiquated distribution model, must make his calls weeks in advance. Normally, he would not risk such a blunder as he just committed, except that a new breed of comics has arisen on the Internet that responds to major events in real time. One popular comic, Day By Day by Chris Muir, often has quotes from major newspapers and blogs of the previous day (though at present, he is in the middle of a self-defense plotline).
Trudeau is trying to compete for relevance, with a crippling handicap. If he doesn't go to realtime distribution, he'll have to step back from the cutting edge of current events, and the internet strips will have secured a major victory.