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Cartoon Takes On Frank Sinatra, Organized Crime Figures

June 11, 1985 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Legal concerns and fairness were among the reasons some newspapers decided not to run this week’s ″Doonesbury″ cartoon, featuring a scathing look at Frank Sinatra and his alleged organized crime connections.

″I just had a lot of objections to it on fairness and accuracy,″ said Robert Landauer, editorial page editor of the Oregonian in Portland, Ore. ″One particular point was libelous. I just decided that’s not the way we want to make our living.″

The Oregonian, which like a lot of papers runs ″Doonesbury″ on the editorial page, will not run the strips this week, Landauer said. The Los Angeles Times also decided against using the strip today through Saturday because ″we were strongly advised by our legal counsel not to publish the rest of the series,″ said spokeswoman Carolyn Hom. But most of the 835 newspapers that regularly carry Garry Trudeau’s ″Doonesbury″ have decided to use it, and the syndicate that distributed the strips assured some newspapers that it was not libelous.

″There are no questions about the facts as cited in the strip,″ said Lee Salem, editorial director of Universal Press Syndicate. About 40 to 45 newspapers called Universal when the series was distributed, he said.

″I think most people understand the strip deals with satire, humor and commentary,″ said Salem.

On Monday, the first cartoon in the series quoted the words President Reagan used when he gave Sinatra the Medal of Freedom last month. The last frame of the strip shows a photo of Sinatra posing with six other men. The caption reads: ″Medal of Freedom recipient Frank Sinatra doing it his way with Tommy ‘Fatso’ Marson, Don Carlo Gambino, Richard ‘Nerves’ Fusco, Jimmy ″The Weasel″ Fratianno, Joseph Gambino and Greg DePalma.″

The photo was taken in Sinatra’s dressing room at the Westchester Premier Theater in 1976 and was introduced as a government exhibit in the 1978 fraud trial of De Palma and Fusco.

Sinatra responded to the strip in a statement which said, ″Garry Trudeau makes his living by his attempts at humor without regard to fairness or decency. I don’t know if he has ever made any efforts on behalf of others or done anything to help the less fortunate in this country or elsewhere. I am happy to have the President and the people of the United States judge us by our respective track records.″

Asked if Sinatra was planning a lawsuit, spokesman Len Rosen said he could not elaborate on the statement.

Today’s strip in the weeklong series is the most controversial: it contains a photograph of Sinatra with reputed crime family kingpin Aniello Dellacroce, whom the strip said was ″charged with the murder of Gambino family member Charley Calise.″ What the strip failed to mention was that Dellacroce was acquitted of the murder.

Because the cartoon did not mention Dellacroce’s acquittal, the Philadelphia Inquirer eliminated any reference to murder, changing the text to read that Dellacroce, was ″later identified as ‘underboss’ of the ’Gambino crime family,‴ said John V.R. Bull, assistant to the executive editor and the newspaper’s ombudsman.

Phelps Dewey, assistant publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, said the newspaper had planned to cancel Tuesday’s strip, but agreed to run it at the request of the comic’s syndicate. He said the strip would appear with an editor’s note saying Dellacroce was acquitted.

Deborah Howell, executive editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, said she ″agonized″ about running the strip and then decided to do so - along with a story about reaction to it across the country.

″I’m a Doonesbury fan and I’m loathe to censor Trudeau. But I thought it was only fair to let out readers know that Dellacroce was acquitted,″ she said.

″Stevens Institute of Technology seems to hold fascination for Mr. Trudeau,″ the Hoboken, N.J., school said Monday in a statement. ″For many years, (former U.S. Rep.) Millicent Fenwick, who was awarded our honorary degree of doctor of engineering in 1974, was one source of his inspiration.

″Frank Sinatra, a 1985 recipient of the same honorary degree, has now captured his imagination.

″We would be delighted to share our roster of all Stevens’ honorary degree holders with Mr. Trudeau to ensure his continued interest in this college.″