By Andy Schotz | February 25th, 2009
Whether Rupert Murdoch’s apology (http://www.nypost.com/seven/02242009/news/regionalnews/statement_from_rupert_murdoch_156676.htm) for the New York Post’s dead chimpanzee cartoon will stem the raging backlash is hard to say.
The Post deserves the criticism it got for its terrible judgment. The paper’s halfhearted half-apology (http://www.nypost.com/seven/02192009/postopinion/editorials/that_cartoon_155984.htm) when the protest heated up only made things worse. Murdoch seems more heartfelt this time.
That said, it’s too much of an assumption to conclude that the Post’s intent was to spoof the assassination of the president after making a coarse racial insult about him.
The paper, in its defensive statement, and the cartoonist, in a CNN interview, both say the cartoon was not meant as critics have portrayed it.
The cartoon (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/chimp-stimulus-cartoon-raises-racism-concerns/) shows two police officers, one of whom has just shot and killed a chimp.
The chimp is lying dead in a pool of blood on a city sidewalk, two bullet holes in its chest. It has a crazed look on its face.
The caption: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
The red flags of offensiveness here are overwhelming.
It’s hard to see how anyone could miss the odious link between the stimulus bill – which is immediately connected to President Obama, whether he wrote it or not – and a murdered monkey. It smacks you right in the face.
I, for one, believe the artist and the editors might have meant the cartoon to be a comment on the stimulus bill: It was so bad, a crazed monkey must have written it.
This fits the Post’s longtime political stance, as well as its tendency to use sharp, sometimes bawdy humor. I’ve seen other tasteless cartoons in the Post; that’s its style.
(Never mind that the shooting of the chimp after it attacked and injured a woman was nothing to joke about either, even for a paper as low-class as the Post.)
I am baffled, though, why no one at the paper tried to clearly explain the joke after it had backfired so miserably. Simply defending the cartoon as satire leaves it to offended readers to decide what it meant. Many concluded that the satire was the shooting of the president, who is black, after comparing him to a psychotic monkey.
Let’s assume these terrible, blatant signs escaped everyone in the newsroom. Maybe they all had a brain cramp at the same time.
When the complaints came flooding in, the Post should have recognized the perception problem it had created and worked to fix it.
When so many people were offended, it was time to figure out what went wrong, not tell people to buzz off.
There are basic lessons in taste, sensitivity, history, racism, and responsiveness in this episode. Let’s hope the Post learned them.