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By Dave Astors
NEW YORK Was this past Sunday's "Doonesbury" -- which had George W. Bush defending the burning of Yale University fraternity initiates with a brand in 1967 -- fact or fiction?
"Totally fact-based," replied Garry Trudeau, in response to an E&P e-mail query. "Bush's comment in panel seven is a direct quote, which is why I put it in quotation marks. In the original Yale Daily News expose, we ran a photo of a pledge's seared backside."
Trudeau, a Yale grad, added: "I did a week on this in the strip back during the 2000 election. The reason I revisited the episode is that it's gained in relevance with the president's reluctance to forego torture in intelligence-gathering."
The branding, which was exposed by the Yale paper, was first covered by The New York Times in a Nov. 8, 1967, article. Trudeau much later told Rolling Stone in an interview that he drew his first editorial cartoon for the Yale Daily News during the branding controversy.
According to that 1967 Times article, "The charge that has caused the most controversy on the Yale campus is that Delta Kappa Epsilon applied a 'hot branding iron' to the small of the back of its 40 new members in the shape of the Greek letter Delta, approximately a half inch wide, appeared with the article." It added that a former president of Delta revealed, "the branding is done with a hot coathanger. But the former president, George Bush, a Yale senior, said that the resulting wound is 'only a cigarette burn.'"
This week's Sunday strip, available here, shows the Mark Slackmeyer character mentioning that Bush's alleged support of torture has roots in 1967 Yale. The Universal Press Syndicate-distributed comic then switches back in time to show screams emanating from the true-life Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.
"The student paper breaks the story: DKE has been branding their pledges on their backsides with red-hot coathangers," Slackmeyer narrates. "DKE President George W. Bush defends the branding ritual in statements to the press."
The collegiate Bush is then quoted in panel seven as saying: "Insignificant! There's no scarring mark physically or mentally!"
In the eighth and last panel, Slackmeyer is shown again in 2005 as he says: "The rest is history. This has been 'Defining Moments in Torture'!" And the present-day Bush, sitting in the White House, says: "Human pyramids? Hell, I did those as a cheerleader!"