Mallard Fillmore: Not funny, not true

As someone whose morning bowl of Cheerios cannot be properly digested unless accompanied by a perusal of the comics page, I’ve been looking at the “funnies” for many decades. Because of its placement–on the comics page, just below the fold and within close range of the Sudoku puzzle–in my daily newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Yes, I still subscribe. Old habit.], I can’t avoid seeing “Mallard Fillmore.”

Last Friday, my longtime annoyance with the strip boiled over.

In case you didn’t already know: Mallard Fillmore is a duck, portrayed as a TV reporter, who channels the strong conservative views of his creator, Bruce Tinsley. Mallard has been reporting his ideas since 1994, and is syndicated in 400 newspapers around the US. When it debuted, Tinsley called the comic strip an “antidote” to  Doonesbury, which is reviled among conservatives for its liberal viewpoint.

One big difference between the two comic strips is that, while conservatives managed to force Doonesbury off the comic page and onto the editorial page of many newspapers, including the Post-Dispatch, Mallard has kept its reserved spot in the P-D’s neighborhood of “Mother Goose and Grimm,” and directly above distinctly non-political “Hi and Lois” and “Beetle Bailey.” And, while Doonesbury conveys so-called liberal ideas via subtlety, satire [admittedly, often biting] and storytelling, “Mallard Fillmore” delivers the conservative party line with a blunt instrument.

Which brings me to last Friday’s strip. You may argue that it was an April Fool’s joke, but judging from Tinsley’s 17-year track record, I’d say not. For the record, here it is.

I don’t object to Tinsley expressing conservative ideas. I don’t have a problem with satirizing progressives. Our behavior at times has earned the right to be spoofed. What I do take exception to is Mallard’s distortion of facts and the accusation that anyone who believes said facts is “delusional.” When Mallard says that Head Start doesn’t work, he’s parroting [can a duck “parrot?”] a dangerous, war-against-the poor, conservative meme currently circulating in the spending-cut-happy, Republican-dominated US Congress.

Where does he get this idea? In 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services released the findings of its Head Start Impact Study, a decades-long analysis of the effectiveness of the early-childhood program.  The key finding of the study shows that Head Start works. The study’s authors say:

Providing access to Head Start has a positive impact on children’s preschool experiences. There are statistically significant differences between the Head Start group and the control group on every measure of children’s preschool experiences measured in this study.…The Head Start children outperformed the control group in every domain that the study measured, including positive cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting impacts. The Head Start children left Head Start more ready for school than their peers in the control group.

However, the study goes on to say that—and here’s the part Tinsley zeroes in on– by the end of first grade, the Head Start children lost many of the advantages they had when they began kindergarten.

“Long-standing opponents of Head Start and other publicly funded early-childhood programs have selectively used these losses to try to discredit such programs” “says the National Head Start Association. “Instead of weakening programs that work, the task now is to figure out how to continue the children’s progress through the early years in formal education.”

Back in 1994, when Tinsley was asked to develop the character that eventually evolved into Mallard Fillmore, he offered three options: a blue hippopotamus, a big nose in tuxedo and cane, and a duck. Tinsley says the hippo went unused for fear of offending overweight people, and the nose was axed because it would “offend people of Jewish and Mediterranean descent, not to mention Arabs and anyone else with a big nose.”

Good decision by the editors to nix the first two, but while the image of Mallard is relatively benign, his views are not.

Gloria Shur Bilchik Gloria Shur Bilchik (480 Posts)

Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.


  • Bill Miller

    Yeah, Tinsley is nuts. He used to post links in his strips referencing articles the strips were about. I checked out one that supposedly showed a ‘liberal media bias’, only to find that it didn’t. He’d completely misrepresented the article.

  • BillJones

    So if children lose many of the advantages, why is that something that “works”? If I paint my house, and it looks terrific compared to my neighbor’s house, but a month later it looks the same, was the money spent on paint and labor justified? I’m not answering the question, just asking it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bill-Miller/100000101820475 Bill Miller

    Yes, the money is well spent. If you read the link in the article, you’ll find that there are many long-term benefits to Head Start.

  • Tackman

    Gloria is right! Tinsley distorts and lies on a daily basis. Lately, he is taking Obama to task for using a (gasp!) teleprompter! Maybe the last president didn’t, and that’s why he so seldom spoke English.

    As an avatar of rightiousness, I think we could do better than Tinsley. I mean, someone who doesn’t have a history of alcohol arrests.

  • Jbchilton926

    Today, 7/10/12, Tinsley gleefully prattles that the EPA will fine oil refiners for not using “…cellulosic alcohol, a substance that doesn’t exist.” If this right wing nutcase had used Google instead of using Fox “News” as his source, he might have found out that indeed, the substance does exist. But Tinsley never lets facts get in his way. Maybe he’s having another “alcohol-related incident.”

  • Steve

    Cry me a river. The first things you Libs do when offended is to go ballistic, as can be seen below. The next time you want to whine go to Syria with a big ‘shoot me, I’m offended’ sign.

  • Tackman

    Oh Steve, take your head out of that dark place where the sun don’t shine. and look again at that post. It’s not really “going ballistic” to point out when Tinsley lies or is just totally out of contact. He was talking about something that just didn’t happen. Use Google and see for yourself. You guys really love to use the word “Libs” as a perjorative. After all, I didn’t refer to you as a Repube or wingnut.

  • Harv Bauman

    Recently, Mallard has been repeating Pres.Obama’s “didn’t build this” out of context. Let us try Willard Mitt Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the very poor-” out of context.
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    “I’m not concerned about the very poor-”
    Does that make it true?
    Harv 9/6/2012

  • http://www.facebook.com/XiaoGui17 Vanessa Hutcheson

    It’s a substance that technically exists, but not in amounts that actually make it viable for fuel producers to use. There’s not enough of it. It’s been produced in tiny quantities in labs, but there’s nowhere near the amount necessary to comply with the regulation. Here’s my source, those right-wing blowhards at…the National Academies Press.
    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=13105&page=3

  • William

    Oh, gee… what to say? Its just terrible that Mallard is in the wrong place in your newspaper, but then turns out that believing Head Start isn’t working as advertised is denied by, gosh, the National Head Start Association. Who’d’ve thought. Actually, do libs believe that cows infest women’s underpants?

  • Dhov28

    The guys a drunk. He and the right wing hate social programs because they feel that the money used to help the less fortunate should be funneled into the pockets of the well heeled.

    The GOP is no longer a conservative party. They have become anarchists whose only goal is the destruction of government and the looting of the treasury. The only thing that can stop them is an informed electorate so of course they are going after education. In their view if they can convince us to get rid of head start a free pubic education is next. I will say one thing for them they got all their ducks in a row. They all speak using the same lies and half truths. The problem too many people believe them.