The New York Post ran a political cartoon Wednesday depicting a chimp being gunned down by the police. As the chimp lies bleeding on the ground, one cop says to the other, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
The Rev. Al Sharpton and others reacted swiftly by saying the cartoon suggested a racist depiction of President Barack Obama.
But the New York Post is standing by its decision to publish the image.
The cartoon follows a recent incident in Stamford, Conn., where a chimp attacked the best friend of its owner and the police shot it to death.
The New York Post's editor-in-chief, Col Allan, issued a statement that said the cartoon is a clear parody of a news event.
In response to that statement, St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans tells NPR's Michele Norris that the conservative-leaning Post is "willfully ignoring" what may have caused the uproar.
The biggest proponent of the stimulus package is also the first black president, and "black people historically have been depicted as apes and in simian ways in stereotypical media in the past," Deggans says.
"I don't necessarily think that this was intentional, but I can understand why some people might wonder" if this was a disguised jab at Obama, Deggans says.
Deggans says he doesn't know much about the cartoonist Sean Delonas and has not talked to anyone in editorial at the newspaper.
But he says an important question is whether there was anyone at the newspaper who said, "There might be a connection here between a chimpanzee and a black person," Deggans says.
"If there wasn't somebody in that chain who raised this issue, that's disturbing because frankly it's an association that's pretty easy to see," Deggans says. "And if the notion was raised, and they printed it anyway, that's even more disturbing. I mean, this is a newspaper that has had a long history of tangled and trouble racial relations."
Along with Al Sharpton, New York Gov. David Paterson said that the newspaper needs to explain itself.
"Unfortunately I think the editor's response does not do that," Deggans says. "They don't acknowledge that there is a way you can look at this image and draw a connotation that references racial prejudice."
Also, Deggans says, Delanos has satirized Sharpton in the past and some critics of Sharpton are using that to invalidate his criticism.
As for whether the critics are coming down unfairly on the newspaper, Deggans says no.
"I almost hate to quote Dr. Phil, but I'm going to do it anyway," Deggans says. "He says, 'Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?' That's what I would say to the folks at the New York Post. If you want to say that people are raising an unfair point, certainly there's room to make that argument.
"But you have to accept the fact that there is a percentage of your audience and a percentage of the population who is going to assume that this reference was made deliberately. They're going to see the racial connotation and they're going to respond negatively to it. And if you don't want to be seen like that, why would you print something that might cause that idea to be out there?"