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Cartoonist, White House Hurl Phone Numbers at Each Other

May 7, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater turned the tables on cartoonist Gerry Trudeau today after the White House telephone number appeared in the comic strip ″Doonesbury″ with a caption urging young people to call for information on safe sex.

Fitzwater told reporters that White House operators ″have had some calls″ as a result of the strip and, ″I’ve been giving them an alternate number.″

The number was 212-582-0650, the number of the New York office of Universal Press, the syndicate that distributes the comic strip.

Reporters’ calls to that number were referred to the syndicate’s Kansas City office, where Barbara Thompson, secretary to ″Doonesbury″ editor Lee Salem, said the syndicate had no objection to its number being given out.

A reporter who tried calling the White House switchboard, however, was referred not to the Universal number but to the number of the Executive Office of the President, which referred him to the press office.

When another reporter called the White House switchboard and asked for safe sex information, the operator hung up on him. When he called the Executive Office of the President, he was told, ″Apparently that is supposed to be funny. This has nothing to do with anything except a strange sense of humor.″

The press office would not say how many calls were received.

The cartoon featured a character who looked like President Reagan saying, ″Kids 3/8 Need rock-solid information on safe sex? Call this number on your screen 3/8″ The number is the general number of the White House, 202-456-1414, which is also listed in the government section of the District of Columbia telephone directory.

Reagan has urged young people to abstain from pre-marital sex as the best way to avoid the danger of AIDS, but has also said he believes information on other preventive measures should be provided.

Fitzwater, asked why the number appeared in the comic strip, said, ″I don’t know why. Mischief, I guess.″

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