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Media Critic Examines N.Y. Post Cartoon Flap

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Media Critic Examines N.Y. Post Cartoon Flap

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Media Critic Examines N.Y. Post Cartoon Flap

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T: They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.

The Reverend Al Sharpton was quick to point out that the cartoon is a racist depiction of Barack Obama.

Eric Deggans is a media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. He says it's a little unclear what the artist, Sean Delonas, was after with this picture.

: I've heard that he has satirized Al Sharpton in the past, and that that was something that critics of Sharpton are, kind of, using to invalidate his criticism.

: The newspaper's editor-in-chief issued a statement. He said: 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.

Al Sharpton said that this was in bad taste, in part because it shows the depiction of an animal that was shot - an animal that, in this case, is compared to a sitting president, and because it involved this particular animal, a chimpanzee.

: Right. Well, you know, I do think that the Post is rather willfully, kind of, ignoring an important element of this, which is that the biggest proponent of the stimulus package is also the man who is the first black president of this country. And black people, historically, have been depicted as apes and in simian ways - in stereotypical media depictions in the past.

So, is this a way in which a conservative-leaning newspaper, you know, sort of disguises a jab at Barack Obama? I mean, I don't necessarily think that this was intentional, but I can understand why some people might wonder that.

: I don't know if you, as a media critic, have had a chance to talk to anyone on the editorial board or within the editorial staff at the New York Post. But I'm wondering if they are talking at all about the process by which this cartoon landed in the paper.

: No, I haven't talked to anyone at the newspaper. And I think that's an important question. Was there anyone in the process who, sort of said, you know, there might be a connection here between a chimpanzee and a black person - and, indeed, someone who has broken a lot of racial barriers.

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. 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, sort of, tangled and troubled racial relations. And you would like to think that it was something that they did with some kind of deliberation. But if - even if that's the case, it's a little horrifying.

: We noted that the activist, the Reverend Al Sharpton, was among the first out of the gate to criticize the paper. But is he the lone voice out there? Have other people spoken out about this?

: The governor, David Paterson - the governor of New York, the state's first black chief executive - has said that the newspaper needs to explain itself. And unfortunately, I think the editor's response does not do that. They don't acknowledge that there's a way that you can look at this image and draw a connotation that references racial prejudice.

: Now, political cartoonists often press the envelope. They often sort of, you know, push right out to that outer edge to highlight, reflect, perhaps even exaggerate our world to make us look at something more closely. Are the critics perhaps coming down on this cartoon unfairly?

: As I've often said about these issues - and, you know, I almost hate to quote Dr. Phil, but I'm going to do it anyway. You know, he says, do you want to be right or do want to be happy?

: Mm-hmm.

: And 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's a percentage of your audience - and a percentage of the population - who's 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?

: Eric Deggans is the media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. His blog is called The Feed. Eric, thanks so much.

: Thank you.

: And we tried to reach the cartoonist, Sean Delonas, for comment today. Despite several attempts, we have not heard back from him.

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