Like all kids, I was quick to say, "I'm sorry" when I realized that I had crossed the line into "go get the belt" territory. But my mom, like all good parents, was unimpressed with my scene-of-the-crime apologies. Her standard retort was, "If you were sorry you wouldn't have done it in the first place!" Mommy was right, of course - especially since many of the whuppings I received were over my doing things for which I had been whupped on previous occasions. (See? Hard-headed!) What my mother knew, and forced me to confront, was that I wasn't sorry for what I had done; I was only sorry that I'd gotten caught and was being made to pay the penalty. My mother's wise, pre-whupping words came back to me as the New York Post issued one empty apology after another for the inexcusably racist and violent cartoon that it published recently. You know the drawing I'm referring to; the one with the two white police officers standing with smoking gun in hand over the bullet-riddled corpse of a chimpanzee. One cop says to the other: "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." Critics recognized right away that this alleged satire was an attack on President Barack Obama (architect of the federal stimulus package) that traded on old racist imagery (comparing black men to monkeys and apes) and even suggested assassination.
At first, the New York Post reacted by arrogantly rationalizing the cartoon and taking aim at one of the drawing's most visible critics. Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the Post, released this two-sentence statement on Wednesday (February 18): "The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist."
That condescending dismissal didn't quiet the controversy (big surprise!) so, two days later the Post formally apologized...but not really. On Friday (February 20), the paper said it was sorry if anyone had been offended by the cartoon, but it was not sorry for the cartoon itself. And, once again, the Post accused its critics of pursuing a vendetta. Statement number two went like this:
"It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period. But it has been taken as something else - as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism. This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize. However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with the Post in the past - and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback. To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else."
But wait! There's more! On Tuesday (February 24), Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the Post's parent company, News Corp. (which also owns the conservative and frequently race-bating Fox News Channel) weighed in with his own attempt at damage control. While it lacked the indignant tone of the two previous Post statements, Murdoch's apology was nonetheless condescending as it blamed the readers for misunderstanding the newspaper intent. Murdoch wrote:
"Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted. I can assure you-without a doubt-that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such. We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard, and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community."
The New York Post's three patronizing and disingenuous so-called apologies will come in handy the next time I'm fertilizing the lawn. Post editors and executives want us to believe that this is all a matter of perception - that the offense was all in our heads and not in their actions. Moreover, they're actually peddling the impossible-to-believe idea that they did not see the obvious racial implications of the cartoon before it was published. Singer/songwriter John Legend refuted all of that nonsense in an eloquent and forceful letter that smashed all of the Post's lame, insulting excuses. Legend broke it down this way:
"Did it occur to you that this suggestion would imply a connection between President Barack Obama and the deranged chimpanzee? Did it occur to you that our President has been receiving death threats since early in his candidacy? Did it occur to you that blacks have historically been compared to various apes as a way of racist insult and mockery? Did you intend to invoke these painful themes when you printed the cartoon?
If that's not what you intended, then it was stupid and willfully ignorant of you not to connect these easily connectable dots. If it is what you intended, then you obviously wanted to be grossly provocative, racist and offensive to the sensibilities of most reasonable Americans. Either way, you should not have printed this cartoon, and the fact that you did is truly reprehensible."
The New York Post was either supremely naïve or deliberately racist by running that cartoon. I believe the latter explanation (racism) fits because it would be impossible for professional news people working in the United States today to not have known better. How could the Post staff have witnessed the racist attacks on Barack Obama during the campaign (including those Curious George t-shirts) and not realize that linking the cop-shot chimp story to landmark legislation authored by the first black President of the United States would hurt and enrage people. As my mom would say, "If they were sorry they wouldn't have done it in the first place."
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
Think! It ain't illegal...yet!