Cartoon's Message Backfires In Calif. p.

By: M.L. Stein Editorial cartoon intended to take a slap at
racism results in boycott of the Sacramento Bee sp.

A Feb. 4 editorial cartoon intended to take a slap at racism backfired on the Sacramento Bee, bringing a torrent of criticism of the use of the term "nigger" in the caption.
Dr. Nate White, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, called for a boycott of the paper and the firing of editorial page editor Peter Schrag.
City councilman Sam Pannell, who is black, asked readers to cancel their subscriptions for two months "to fine the Bee for disrespecting our community."
A Bee spokesman said about 1,400 subscribers had canceled the paper by Feb. 12. Pannell told a community gathering of blacks that 3,000 people had stopped their subscriptions by Feb. 7.
Schrag said that initially, phone calls to the Bee were 95-5 against the cartoon by staffer Dennis Renault. However, the editor added, two days later, calls "were running in our favor by the same margin."
The cartoon shows two Ku Klux Klansmen, one hooded and the other holding up a quote from a statement that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan made at a recent press conference: "You can't be a racist by talking ? only by acting." The caption has the unhooded klansman saying, "That nigger makes a lot of sense."
Amid the uproar, a front-page apology by Erwin Potts, president and CEO of McClatchy Newspapers, the Bee's parent company, was published Feb. 8.
"The cartoon was intended to be a reaffirmation of our stand against bigotry," Potts explained. "Unfortunately, that anti-racism message has been lost in the ensuing controversy. And for that, we are sincerely sorry."
Potts said the Bee is proud of its record on human rights, having been in the "forefront of those who speak out against hatred, racism and bigotry of all sorts."
Schrag, in an inside commentary, indicated that the car-toon was a well-meant idea that went wrong.
Recalling Farrakhan's news conference in which he said words are not racist and only actions can do harm, Schrag remarked, "The cartoon sought to show the falsity of Farrakhan's claim. And it did so by using one of the most powerful and hateful words in our vocabulary. Sadly, the word itself proved to be so powerful that many readers never got beyond it, and for them, the cartoon failed."
In a later interview, Schrag said, "If I had to do it over, I would not use that word, but I stand behind the message it was supposed to deliver. It takes two to make a misunderstanding, and obviously, we didn't understand the extent to which people would take offense."
The cartoon's underpinning was a recent speech made at a New Jersey college by a Farrakhan aide, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who viciously attacked Jews, the pope, South African whites, homosexuals and some black leaders. His remarks drew stinging criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus, the Senate and many prominent individuals in the white and black communities.
The Black Caucus and Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) called on Farrakhan to repudiate Muhammad's remarks. The Nation of Islam leader then expressed regret about his aide's choice of words but said he stood by "the truths" Muhammad spoke.
White termed Renault's cartoon "libelous." "He could have left out the N word and the cartoon would have had the same impact," he said.
The official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People contended that the cartoon particularly was offensive in a city where there have been five racial fire bombings in the past several months and where Black History Month was being observed in schools.
White said white children on school buses were calling black children "niggers" "because the Sacramento Bee is saying it's all right to use the N word."
The black leader said he was seeking to have Schrag fired. He also accused the Bee of previously printing slurs against blacks in news stories and on the editorial page.
"They want my head but that's not going to happen," Schrag retorted.
White drafted a resolution for city council passage that asked that body and the mayor to "declare that those articles, opinions and cartoons published in the Sacramento Bee that depict African-Americans and their leaders in a denigrating manner offensive."
At its regular meeting Feb. 8, the council put off a vote on the resolution until the next week. Pannell urged passage of the measure, commenting, "This is an issue where the Bee called our community a name. It's time for us to take back the media. It's time for us to send them a message."
Mayor Joe Serna Jr. credited the Bee with being sensitive to ethnic issues but added, "The Bee's good work in the past has been overshadowed by this needless controversy that only serves to divide and polarize this community."
?(The controversial cartoon) [Caption]


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