Boston Herald's Racist Obama Cartoon Was A Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Mistake
The Boston Herald is the (unofficial) conservative rival to The Boston Globe, so it's not too unusual to see critical op-eds of Democratic leaders as you flip through it. But readers and critics alike say the Boston-area newspaper went way too far with a recent political cartoon satirizing the White House intruder scandal. Drawn by syndicated editorial comic artist Jerry Holbert, the political cartoon depicts the intruder asking Obama about watermelon toothpaste. Racist? Pretty much.
Holbert's cartoon could have been amusing without the racist element: The comic showed a man taking a bath in Obama's bathroom while the president brushes his teeth, accompanied with the caption, "White House invader got father than originally thought." It's a play on The Washington Post story on Monday that revealed the White House intruder made it well into the mansion's East Room, and not just inside the front doors, as the Secret Service initially claimed.
Unfortunately, the cartoon also gave the White House intruder a line of dialogue, which would've been best left off the page. "Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste?" the intruder asks. Cartoon Obama doesn't reply, but instead looks appropriately bewildered, confused and traumatized. If Holbert had given him a thought bubble, it would've said something along the lines of, "Even in my own bathroom, I can't escape B.S. racist stereotypes."
Once the cartoon was published, it inevitably spread across social media — and no one was too happy about it. On Wednesday, Holbert went on Boston Herald Radio to address the backlash and apologize for his cartoon's tasteless joke. "It was certainly, absolutely, not my intention [to hurt anyone]" Holbert said.
The nationally syndicated cartoonist insisted that he wasn't trying to peddle an offensive racist stereotype when he decided on "watermelon-flavored toothpaste." It was just an innocent flavor that he found in his child's bathroom cabinet, Holbert said:
I was completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations. I wasn’t thinking along those lines at all.
But there's some more interesting background: Holbert said he received a call from his syndicate on Tuesday night, asking for his permission to change the toothpaste flavor. Holbert agreed and settled on raspberry, but it didn't dawn on him then why the syndicate would want to switch flavors. If it did, then maybe he should have called the Boston Herald before it went to press. "That was where I would say I wish I had done that," Holbert told Boston Herald Radio.
The Boston Herald ended up being the only newspaper to run the watermelon cartoon. So, good job, Boston Herald.
At least the paper issued its own statement on Wednesday, though it reads more like a standard PR faux-apology:
His cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize. His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful. We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity.
And as it turns out, not many people were happy with the newspaper's flimsy response.
At least there's one person we can be grateful for in this ink mess: Reed Jackson, Holbert's editor at the syndicate. Jackson told The Washington Post on Wednesday that the watermelon-flavored toothpaste immediately sent a warning signal in his editor brain:
When I saw the cartoon, the ‘watermelon’ flavor immediately stood out to me, for two reasons: First, the racial subtext that the line unintentionally introduced distracted from the cartoon’s point; and second, watermelon flavoring is only available in children’s toothpaste, so it would be a weird thing for adults to brush their teeth with.
Jackson added that Holbert not only understood his concerns, but was also completely unaware about the cartoon's racial undertones. "He made it very clear via [email] that the racial element hadn’t occurred to him," Jackson told The Washington Post.Lesson learned: When your editor emails or calls you with concern, you better listen. Image: Getty Image