In my latest for WGBHNews.org, I write about the heartfelt apology that appears in today’s Boston Herald from editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen over the infamous watermelon toothpaste cartoon — and explain why the real issue is a lack of diversity in the Herald newsroom.
Smart move by the Boston Herald: The paper will work with the NAACP following publication of the racist cartoon involving President Obama and watermelon-flavored toothpaste. More links:
Update: I’m not sure when this was added, but Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen tells Romenesko that she vetted the cartoon: “Herald editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen tells me neither she nor artist Jerry Holbert saw anything wrong with the cartoon. ‘Jerry doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,’ she says. He chose watermelon because he had just seen that flavor of toothpaste in his house, says Cohen.” So now we have the cartoonist and his editor both claiming that they didn’t see any racist intent in the watermelon reference. At best, this speaks to a lack of diversity in the newsroom.
To their credit, the folks at the Boston Herald clearly and quickly understood that they had a problem on their hands Wednesday after publishing an editorial cartoon by Jerry Holbert that was racist in its effect, if not in Holbert’s intent. The cartoon depicted an intruder in a White House bathroom asking President Obama if he had “tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste.”
Holbert went on the newspaper’s online radio station to apologize, and said he understood he compounded his error when he failed to notify the Herald that his syndicate had told him to alter the cartoon so as to eliminate the racial inference. And today, the paper publishes a straightforward apology. On the editorial page, Holbert apologizes again.
But now it’s time for the Herald to close the circle. Even if Holbert didn’t understand why African-Americans are offended by stereotypes of black people as placid, happy watermelon-eaters, are we to believe that editorial cartoons somehow leap onto the pages of the Herald with no intervention on the part of editors?
Here is an excerpt from a well-sourced article at Wikipedia:
While the exact origins of this stereotype remain unclear, an association of African Americans and watermelon goes back to the time of slavery in the United States. Defenders of slavery used the fruit to paint African Americans as a simple-minded people who were happy when provided watermelon and a little rest. The stereotype was perpetuated in minstrel shows often depicting African Americans as ignorant and workshy, given to song and dance and inordinately fond of watermelon.
I agree with my WGBH colleague Emily Rooney of “Greater Boston,” who said last night (above) that she believes Holbert when he says he had no racial intent — but that someone at the Herald should have caught it before publication. The Herald should tell us who approved the cartoon and why.
In case you missed it, here is how the story unfolded on Wednesday.
And it keeps on coming:
Here’s the link; screen image below.
So which came first? The watermelon or the raspberries?
Here’s the Herald’s story on Holbert’s apology, which he delivered on the newspaper’s online radio station.
This story may take another day or two to ripen. But Gov. Deval Patrick’s firing of two members of the Sex Offender Registry Board has all the ingredients of a major donnybrook between The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.
Globe reporter Michael Levenson writes that Patrick fired the two officials in part because of their insistence that his brother-in-law register as a sex offender. The brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh, was convicted of raping his wife (Patrick’s sister) in 1993 and served a short prison sentence. The couple later reconciled, but the Herald made it an issue during Patrick’s first run for governor in 2006. Levenson writes:
Blaming the Herald and the Republican Party for the revelation, Patrick said the disclosure that his brother-in-law had been convicted of raping his wife, Patrick’s sister, more than a decade earlier in California “nearly destroyed their lives.”
In the Herald, Erin Smith and Matt Stout offer a similar account, including Patrick’s lambasting of their paper. A Herald editorial criticizes Patrick mainly for the week-long delay in explaining the reason for the two officials’ firing: “Eight years and multiple bureaucratic scandals in, how has this administration not figured out that honesty — from the outset — is the best policy?”
Finally, if you’d like to read a thorough account by a neutral reporter, I recommend Gin Dumcius of State House News Service. [Update: I don't mean to imply that the Globe and Herald accounts today are not neutral; they both seem pretty straight. I simply mean that the two papers are rivals, and the Herald's 2006 reporting may become an issue.]
So will this spark another chapter in the Hundred Years’ War between the Globe and the Herald? I think it mainly comes down to how vigorously Herald editors want to defend their paper’s 2006 reporting. As they say, stay tuned.
Both James Foley, a freelance journalist who was reportedly beheaded by ISIS terrorists, and Steven Sotloff, a freelancer who has been threatened with execution, worked for Boston-based news organizations — Foley for GlobalPost, Sotloff for The Christian Science Monitor.
GlobalPost is currently going with a story reporting that the authenticity of the video apparently depicting Foley’s murder still hasn’t been confirmed. The story includes this statement from GlobalPost CEO and co-founder Phil Balboni:
On behalf of John and Diane Foley, and also GlobalPost, we deeply appreciate all of the messages of sympathy and support that have poured in since the news of Jim’s possible execution first broke. We have been informed that the FBI is in the process of evaluating the video posted by the Islamic State to determine if it is authentic. … We ask for your prayers for Jim and his family.
The Monitor so far has only run an Associated Press article on Foley with no mention of Sotloff. Foley is from Rochester, New Hampshire, and the Union Leader reports on the local angle. So, too, do The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.
The Washington Post reports on the unique dangers faced by freelance journalists in an era when fewer and fewer news organizations have the resources to send staff reporters into conflict zones.
Most journalists are like me: the biggest risk I take is that I might get overcharged for lunch. People like Foley and Sotloff — and all reporters and photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to bring back the story — are the true heroes of our craft.
More: GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott talks with WGBH Radio about Foley: “Jim had an amazing passion. He was courageous, he was fearless, and at times that caused great worry, concern and anguish for his editors. Foley took risks all over — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and definitely in Libya, where he was captured, and he was held for 45 days, and eventually released. That changed him. That changed his sense of the calculus of risk, but it didn’t change his passion for what he wanted to do.”
Photo via Northwestern University, where Foley spoke about his earlier captivity at the hands of Libyan militants.
Longtime Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan has left the paper and will write for The Boston Globe’s Catholic website when it debuts later this summer. Eagan is a colleague at WGBH, where she cohosts “Boston Public Radio” with Jim Braude.
“I’ll be joining the Catholic site when it begins,” Eagan tells me by email. “And I am thrilled.”
Eagan has been one of the Herald’s signature columnists for quite a few years; here is her most recent effort. This is a big loss for the local tabloid — a day after the paper announced it had hired Kimberly Atkins to be its first full-time Washington reporter in a decade.