Sunday, October 07, 2007

Editor apologizes for cartoon

The editor of The Kentucky Kernel has apologized for running a controversial cartoon after more than 100 University of Kentucky students protested outside the newspaper office.

"Sometimes it is necessary to be offensive or controversial to make a point," Editor-in-Chief Keith Smiley wrote in an editor's note posted on the newspaper's Web site Friday. "In this case, we crossed the line, and any message in the cartoon was obscured by its offensiveness." The note will be published in Monday's edition of the paper, according to the Associated Press.

The cartoon, published in Friday's paper, was intended to poke fun at the Greek system. It depicts a bare-chested African-American student on an auction block, one leg in chains. A white auctioneer, calling the student a "young buck," takes bids from three fictional fraternities, Aryan Omega, Kappa Kappa Kappa and Alpha Caucasian.

The day the cartoon was published students gathered outside the building that houses the newspaper office and the journalism school to protest.

Bradley Fletcher, the cartoonist, also apologized in a statement posted on the newspaper's Web site Friday.

"After hearing the many responses, I feel only apologetic and upset with myself for being so hasty in drawing the cartoon without thinking about how it could be read from perspectives besides my own," Fletcher wrote. "The fact that I drew the cartoon with the images I chose and did not realize how offensive they are shows quite clearly the racial divide in our society which I was attempting to attack."

To its credit, the newspaper responded promptly to the controversy, putting apologies on the Web within hours of the publication of the cartoon.

The Kentucky Kernel is at least the third student newspaper in the past month to make headlines for running a racially offensive cartoon.

In September The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, caught flak for a cartoon entitled “Ethiopian Food Fight,” which depicted emaciated black men dressed in loincloths fighting each other for food. (See previous post.) Cartoonist Grant Woolard, who had offended readers with several other cartoons, was forced to resign, according to The Washington Post.

On Sept. 17, students and faculty at Central Connecticut State University demonstrated against a comic strip printed by The Recorder, the weekly student newspaper there.

The strip depicted talking shapes in discussion about a 14-year-old Latina girl, who was tied up in a closet and urinated on. The Recorder printed a disclaimer under the cartoon stating it "does not support the kidnapping of (and subsequent urinating on) children of any age or ethnicity." (The paper was also criticized in February when it published a satirical column entitled "Rape only hurts if you fight it.") Many have called for the ouster of the student paper's executive editor, Mark Rowan, but he remains at the helm.

Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, issued a statement in response to cartoon, recognizing that the First Amendment protects the paper's right to publish it but chastising Rowan and the paper for poor judgment. He outlined several action steps, including pulling university advertising from the paper, hiring an adviser for the paper and establishing a journalism major.

What policies or safeguards does your paper have for the publication of cartoons and other potentially offensive material? Can a cartoonist make a sharp political statement without offending some people? Post a comment here.

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