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Ron Headrest's revenge

By HELEN THOMAS, UPI White House Reporter

WASHINGTON -- The White House pulled a turnabout Thursday on a prank by Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and gave the telephone number of a newspaper syndicate to callers seeking information on safe sex.

Thursday's edition of the Doonesbury comic strip, which appeared in papers from coast-to-coast, triggered the telephone war.

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The strip depicted President Reagan as 'Ron Headrest' -- a takeoff on television's computer generated 'Max Headroom.'

Headrest is shown saying, 'That re-reminds me! Kids! Need rock-solid information on safe sex? Call this number on your screen!' - 202-456-1414, the White House.

They did.

After the initial shockwave, a grinning presidential spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, emerged to tell reporters the switchboard was referring calls to 212-582-0650 -- the New York office of Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Doonesbury.

A harried receptionist there said, 'We're really getting a lot of calls. I'm trying to get through to the White House and to tell them to change the number to Universal's headquaters in Kansas City, Mo.'

But the White House kept putting her on hold, she alleged.

In Kansas City, a Universal associate editor, Jake Morrissey, said a handful of editors were fielding a flurry of calls, with some of the callers apparently wanting real answers about 'safe sex,' and others trying to play along with Doonesbury.

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'Some will say, 'This is terrific. I just talked to the White House and now I'm talking to you.' Morrissey said, adding: 'Most people know this is a joke. It's not meant to be taken seriously.

'The ones who ask for information we are referring to their local health agency,' he said.

When he first heard of the cartoon strip, Fitzwater said, 'I wonder why he did that?' Later, he attributed it to 'mischief, I guess.'

Trudeau, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and other liberal cartoonists Herbert Block of the Washington Post and Paul Conrad of the Los Angeles Times were not invited to a Rose Garden ceremony where Reagan honored 250 members of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists Thursday.

Fitzwater explained they are not members of the group.

Another White House spokesman, Ben Jarratt, reported, the safe sex calls started 'this morning as people read the papers. It's something they (the operators) accept. They don't keep a log on those calls. It has happened with other groups.'

When the calls began coming into the White House in the morning, Jarratt said callers were told, 'Sorry, this is not the right number' for the information they are seeking.

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But a United Press International reporter who dialed 456-1414 and asked for information on safe sex was told by an operator: 'Sir, I don't know anything about it.'

The Department of Health and Human Services in Washington said the correct hotline number for information on safe sex and acquired immune deficiency syndrome is 1-800-342-AIDS.

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