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Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business

Posted by James McPherson on February 18, 2009

I haven’t understood why the story of a crazy chimpanzee has been worth days of coverage on virtually every news site. In fact, until today I had not read any of the stories, and have managed to tune out most of the television discussion of Gonzo Bonzo.

Now there’s another reason to hate the fact that the media have gone ape, so to speak, over the story: It helped prompt a cartoon that some perceive as racist, on the same day that attorney general Eric Holder calls the United States “a nation of cowards” on the issue of race. Ah, remember the good old days, when all we had to worry about with the attorney general was his unwillingness to follow the Constitution, and his inability to remember if he had followed it?

Syndicated columnist and regular TV talking head Roland Martin is among those now arguing that a New York Post cartoon offers a racist portrayal of Barack Obama. For its part, the Post, drawing international attention, pleads innocence. It claims that the dead stimulus-writing monkey in the cartoon simply represents the widely reported chimp gone crazy, which police shot and killed, while making fun of the flaws in the stimulus bill.

The Post argument would be more convincing if it weren’t known as a conservative anti-Obama newspaper. It also doesn’t help that today’s first story highlighted on the Post Web page is titled “From baby to beast,” while the second is headlined, “Bam’s $75B house call.” (The site also prominently carries a “pop video quiz” titled “Wet hot swimsuit models”–those conservatives do like their T & A.) And while the first complainant about the cartoon was publicity hound Al Sharpton (and no, Rev. Al, I’m not comparing African Americans to dogs), who would call someone a racist for commenting that a plane crash occurred on a dark night, Martin is not the same kind of loony that Sharpton is.

Even if we give the Post the benefit of the doubt–and I think that when it comes to matters of race we should be as gracious as possible in assuming the motives of others–we also shouldn’t automatically ignore the aggrieved parties, either. Regardless of any racist intent, the cartoon still represents a cluelessness on the part of the newspaper, because in fact African Americans have been negatively compared to apes throughout history. Not long ago a Voguemagazine cover featuring basketball star Lebron James drew similar criticism. Much longer ago, noted sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to black wide receiver Alvin Garrett as a “little monkey,” drawing considerable criticism (despite the fact that at one time Cosell may have been one of the best friends that black athletes–especially boxers, and especially Muhammad Ali–had in any press box).

Still, the racial aspect that probably bothers me most about this incident is one I’ve noted before, that any dead or missing little white girl or pretty white woman will get far more attention from the media than a missing or dead black or Latino child–and now it is clear that a dead chimpanzee can get more ink, as well.

Next-day update: The New York Times reports that even employees of the New York Postapparently are among those troubled by the cartoon, which ran one page after a large photo of Obama signing the stimulus photo. Ted Rall, president of the Association of Editorial Cartoonists also dislikes the cartoon, but not because he thinks it’s racist (he doesn’t). According to a Poynter piecewell worth reading, Rall calls the cartoon “a cheap form of editorial cartooning,” in which a not particularly ambition tries to combine two unrelated news events into a cartoon that is “rarely clever” and typically “doesn’t mean anything.”

Another cartoonist, Chip Bok, also didn’t consider the cartoon to be racist–just “in bad taste” because the chimp had seriously injured a woman. As Rall noted, however, there are almost no cartoonists who aren’t white men, so their depth of understanding as a group may be a bit limited.

Next day update #2: The Post now “apologizes for” and defends the cartoon, after singer John Legend urged people to boycott the newspaper.

The new cartoon, followed by the Labron Vogue cover and one of the comparisons from various sites:

monkey1

lebron21

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42 Responses to “Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business”

  1. Jim Samples said

    Is sharpton insinuating that he does not believe humans evolved from apes?

  2. Frog Prince said

    A Chimp in the White House and a Chump for Attorney General……….

    ………one lies and the other backs him up……..

  3. Nolan said

    Just to be clear, the underlying principle of this cartoon is, “our stimulus was drafted by a monkey.” Sharpton and company are once again reaching for attention. I’m suprised he didn’t call into question the use of “they.”

    Consider if this had ran under Bush’s watch. The joke would still have held. It is merely coincidence that someone can draw this obscure racial reference from the cartoon.

    The bottom line is it’s a joke which prima facie the meaning is a satire of recent events. As a secondary more laden interpertation, the meaning could be a racial reference. However, given that the first interperation holds massive dominance over the second, this is just Sharpton and Co. being picky.

  4. andy said

    I’m on the same page with you!!

    NY Post and Sean Delonas are a bunch of monkeys
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=65084034272

  5. Jason said

    Why do we tip toe around facts? Of all the different breeds of the human animal the ones indigenous to Africa tend to share more facial characteristics with simians.

    Let us test the racist theory.

    Bush (white) is a monkey. – No biggie, he’s white.

    Obama (multi-racial) is a monkey. – You can’t say that he’s black.

    So… In order to NOT be racist you must learn to treat people differently based on the color of their skin.

    So, do black people (from America) want to be treated the same as everyone else or differently?

    Racist? Al Sharpton is the one holding the smoking gun.

    Roland Martin is a much more reasonable man, but he is gonna make a comment on every issue he can as well. It is still riding the coattails of people with bad intentions. I don’t think Al Sharpton ACTUALLY has bad intentions, just that his result is bad for society. And that is because he is an idiot.

    I think the press issue, when children are abducted, is socioeconomic in nature. The more affluent the parent the more resources they have (generally).
    It might also have to do with an inherent racial bias that is programmed into us from birth.

    If you walked into a huge room and all the races/cultures were segregated in their own area you would walk toward the one most like you. Why is that wrong? I relate easier to white people because my upbringing and culture is more like them. Doesn’t mean I don’t like black people or hispanic people. Love ’em just as much as any white person on an individual basis, but as a group white folks are going to have more in common instantly. So of course white people will be drawn to an abducted child that reminds them more of their own child. White folks are still the majority, so voila!

    White people don’t get to bitch about anything black people do.
    Black males make up 6% of the population and commit 50% of the murders, check my facts with the justice department folks.
    There are folks that read that last statement and thought to themselves “this guy is a racist.”
    Just quoting facts can put you in that category.
    Why do whites have reservations with blacks? We see drugs, gangs, violence, gangstas and crime coming from the black population very disproportionately compared to the white population.
    We can list 100 reasons why that is. Education, culture, money, resources, evolution, the man, God, etc…

    None of that changes the result. No amount of understanding changes the fact that when we see a black man with pants hanging off his ass and 25 gold chains we think he is more likely to shoot us. He is. He is more likely to shoot his own race though. In the last 20 years blacks have killed more blacks than white people have, by a huge margin.

    Q: Why doesn’t Al jump on that? Every time a gang-banger kills another teenager why doesn’t Al go scream about that?

    A: He wouldn’t have time to race bait.

  6. zelda said

    Well for pete’s sake.
    Al Sharpton is a racist for sure….what the heck is he doing? Some of the black so called leaders always want the money and the limelight.Ya wanna get racist? Then lets rumble. Being a white woman I am treated like crap by black people. Can’t go into their area without horrible looks from the women and the men. The women are worse.
    I dated a black fellow and got more flack from his side by far than mine.Time we stood up to all of that.If treated a black woman like they treat me (which by the way I would never do),there would be a riot and screaming and a fight.
    They want this they want that.well hell who doesn’t?
    My family escaped the germans……..some were killed and tortured.We came here through Ellis Island and had a heck of a time.WE all have a story….let’s. get on with realizing we are all just humans…..all colors all creeds. Respect……..it’s all about that. Cripes!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Corker said

    It’s absolutely ridiculous. Al Sharpton sees racism everywhere because it’s exactly what he’s looking for. What was once a luminous, powerful man in the African-American community has become a media whore looking for exposure by condemning those whom he deems guilty of some ambiguous form of racism every time the opportunity arises.

  8. Corker said

    For example, when Michael Richards (Kramer of Seinfeld) went on a racist tyrade, which was completely worthy of some sort of reprimand, it was none other than Al Sharpton who took the offensive, demanding an apology to the black community. Given, it was probably the kind of incident that the Reverend himself had prayed for, it’s still a mystery to me how Al Sharpton gets a soapbox on CNN as if he were an elected official. The thing that I suppose bugs me is that I only see Al Sharpton’s face when something is overtly racist or in this case, completely misconstrued for face-time on the camera.

  9. MATT said

    SHUT THAT APE SHARPTON UP ALREADY.

  10. WhatCanWEdo? said

    Can and are you people really this dense? This cartoon is racist….How would most white men feel if this was a cartoon lambasting white men and the “myth” that all white men are child predators? What if the cartoon showed the image of a white priest with a child and a caption that read “Are Priest the only White Men Having Fun”? Stereotyping people, any group of people is wrong….Every white person in America above the age of ten, should by now KNOW what the symbolism of “apes, monkeys and chimps” are in comparison to African Americans….to trivialize the cartoon and what the Post has done is ignorant…this “cartoonist”, if that is how YOU describe him, should be brought up on charges of inciting violence against a President….and for any of you to just want to “brush” this off as nothing, shows your lack of intelligence and your attitude toward race in this racist and bigoted country….

  11. Steve said

    GET OVER IT!!! It’s a joke. The only reason that racial things keep coming up it that Al keeps pushing the subject. He needs to just shut-the-hell-up!!!

  12. James McPherson said

    Thanks for the comments, all. I do think it’s sad that we’ve reached a point where we’re physically comparing any president, current or past, to apes. I thought George W. Bush was a terrible president and a dishonest fool all too prone to smirking, but never less than human. To argue otherwise makes it too easy for us to forget that we also can slip into dishonestly and foolishness, even if most of us will never reach Bush/Cheney depths, and even if the rest of the nation isn’t watching.

  13. zelda said

    Where there is a human…..there will be foolishness and bigotry. Been that way since day one.To expect more is a hopeful prospect. I for one take the prospective that we are all crawling around on this tiny planet and have bigger things to worry about than racial slanders.How about plain old “survival” OF this planet? That’s a thought.

    Think bigger James……….

    Ask me how many times I have been called”white bread”……….and don’t think for one minute Blacks have not gotten out their pens and pencils in mimicry of whites????
    We haven’t SUDDENLY stooped to all of this crap………..it’s been here on both sides all along.

    By the way……….”white bread” was one of the nicer jabs.

    I treat people one on one like they treat me.

  14. zelda said

    Thank you Jason……….you are right on.

    You nailed it.

  15. James McPherson said

    “Can’t go into their area without horrible looks from the women and the men.”

    Interesting that you call it “their area,” and I’d be interested in how you define “their area.” How do you look at black women or men who go into “your area”?

    “I treat people one on one like they treat me.”

    That’s fair, I suppose, but what does that mean when you meet someone new of any given race? I’m assuming you don’t only react to others? Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  16. zelda said

    yes.I called it their area…because it is. There are virtually no white people in some areas of towns….do you not know this????? how would you like me to state that?

    People tend to group together according to race………..did you not know this either?

    like I said……..I treat people(meaning any color creed etc. etc. ) without any predjudice when I am in a mixed group. I was making the distinction of one group, and how I AM treated there.Get real.Go see for yourself.

    Your sentences are vague and actually make no sense.
    Why are you so defensive anyway?

    I

  17. James McPherson said

    “Your sentences are vague and actually make no sense.”

    Which didn’t you understand? If you tell me, I’ll try to explain better. And yes, I know that in some parts of some towns I’ll be viewed with mistrust–but my black friends and students deal with it in more parts of town (and more often in stores, etc.) than I do. If I come across as defensive, that’s why.

  18. zelda said

    I have black friends too.
    I cannot speak for other people…..just my own experiences.It’s a valid point .
    It is important to know what role the victim plays.It’s never a good part to play…….it furthers division and hampers social melding.
    It can get very uncomfortable for many of us to step back and be honest about racial problems.
    You cannot make blanket statements but can pay attention to the majority actions of a group.We all have “group” traits.We just do.
    I have sat around the fire talking with my black friends into the wee hours about racism.it depends totally on who you are talking to as it does in any group of any color.
    The United States will be facing a myriad of racial discussion this next four years. The lid will come off the box.
    Old Sharpton and those like him will look under every log and in every cranny for racist remarks to grandstand about. Again….that I believe is doing a disservice to the Black community .He is a showboater.
    Martin Luther King had it right.He was firm.Made his point but did it with the dignity he wanted his people to see and emulate.
    White people have had to genuflect to the racial problems and that is going to be a real bone of contention now.
    Interesting time to be alive eh?

  19. James McPherson said

    Indeed it is an interesting time to be alive, and I hope the discussion about race in America continues–as uncomfortable and defensive as it can make us, at times.

    And I agree with you totally about Sharpton. Last night he said the criticism of him indicates that he’s doing a good job as an activist, because he’s attracting attention. By that argument, the KKK also does wonders for race relations. I think Rev. Al is far more interested in getting attention for himself than for any particular cause.

    Thanks again for contributing, Zelda.

  20. zelda said

    I agree with you James……..
    These discussions are the life blood of our future. No matter how much that thorn in our backside hurts.
    I am confident that Sharpton will not be a leader for the Blacks too long…….if he even is now.He’s old news……….there are bigger and better goals for all of us……..
    The day of the showboater is over on all sides in my opinion.
    There is too much to gain and too much to lose.

    keep the blog rolling!!!

  21. James McPherson said

    Thank you for the encouragement. And I hope you’ll keep dropping in.

  22. zelda said

    Will do.

  23. Jarod said

    Our new Attorney General said Americans are “cowards” for not being able to have open and casual conversation regarding race and race issues; for people being too “cowardly” to share their feelings. So why are people giving the NY Times a hard time for sharing their opinion? I believe their is a racist message to the cartoon and am against its implication, but shouldn’t we applaud the NY Times for not being “cowards?” What about the old cartoon that compared President Bush to Curious George with regards to appearance similarities; why was there no public backlash to that cartoon? It seems the only people offended by race issues are the people who bank on race issues to get their way and receive public sympathy.

  24. James McPherson said

    Perhaps if the Post were actually taking a racist stand, we could at least give them some credit for honesty (though starting out by insulting people doesn’t seem like a great way to stimulate a dialogue). But the newspaper actually denies that the cartoon had any intended racial message, and then offered a politician-style apology about “to any one whose feelings are hurt.” That seems like a pretty cowardly combination to me.

    As I noted above, I don’t think we should be insulting people (including George Bush) based on their appearance. There’s plenty of ammunition to be offered by looking at their policy decisions. Of course those kinds of attacks are much more difficult to make, because to criticize someone’s policies the critic must have some credible idea of what the policies actually are.

    I can’t speak for others, but the “curious George” cartoon was less objectionable to me partly because there is not a long history of comparing whites to apes as a common insult, but mostly because I saw the cartoon as a criticism of Bush’s intellect and/or style of governing (both of which I think are far game for public officials)–because, in fact, some of his problems as president came from an apparent lack of curiosity. Thanks for the comment, Jarod.

  25. […] other interesting note about the BMI, in light of the controversy over the New York Post monkey cartoon. Below is the cartoon (dated Feb. 11) that is now on that organization’s front […]

  26. zelda said

    James……..

    Get yourself prepared for many back lashes of racial slurs etc. etc. White and Black.

    After re-reading your comments I see that you are indeed leaning to the left in that you are defensive for the “underdog” as you see it.

    That is old thinking James. Taking a “victim” stance has blinded you to higher thinking.You can do better………Things are changing.By drawing lines in the sand and hanging on for dear life to the proposition that Blacks are simply victims of the Whites is passe and unrealistic.It seems to imply that Blacks are helpless to forming a better standard for themselves. Not true. They need to grab onto Martin Luther King’s example of dignity and realize they are the authors of their own description today. As we all are.

    We have to “get on with it” Evolve………..rethink ,,,,,,in lieu of aggression, violence and expectation that we are owed anything in this life.Life is looking inward not outside ourselves for answers.

    It’s all elementary in the universal spectrum. I did not say it is easy.But nothing is that is quantum leaping in an evolutionary process.. You know this.

    By being defensive you play into a weakness of any group.

    This new world we are entering into with a Black President will have heavy playing afoot between races. Not just White and Black………You have already heard from an Asian gentleman on your blog here.After awhile (?) all the differences will be moot and survial of huanity will be on the front burner. Right now we are edging into the fires of baby steps and must not give over to thin skins. It is a design for disaster.

  27. zelda said

    humanity…………..previous typo

  28. zelda said

    How about that NAACP………..

    When are people going to understand the bully ?

    A bully thrives on attention and reaction. It takes the sting out to not stoop to their level. WHO SAYS IT’S EASY?????????? Not me.But reaction to some one saying or doing something terrible to you is the worst way to go…………….

    And the beat goes on.

  29. zelda said

    where are you james

  30. zelda said

    James..skuze me..another typo

  31. James McPherson said

    Zelda, with your “bully” comment about the NAACP, I assume you’re referring to their call for a boycott of the Post? I’m confused about how that constitutes bullying, any more than when the Southern Baptists call for a boycott of hotels that show pay-per-view porn. I’d be a bit surprised if such a call had any effect in either case, since probably not all that many liberals read the Post and apparently pay-per-view brings in big bucks. But I fully support the right of both groups to engage in whimsical efforts to effect meaningful change–as a blogger, how could I not?

    As for your comment about the helplessness of blacks, I’ve never made such a claim. But I do know that many inequities and a great deal of racism remain and to pretend that everyone is suddenly on equal footing is a bit silly. Two quick examples: In informal polling, it seems that my black students are more likely to be stopped by police than my white students for engaging in the same activities. Studies also have shown that black offenders are likely to face harsher sentences for the same crimes (even in the case of equal prior records, etc.) than whites.

    I don’t deny that things are far better than they have been at times in the past, nor that race is the only area in which people face inequalities (so do women, poor people and overweight people, among others). I also would agree that America has done better than many countries in regard to race relations–but that doesn’t mean that all of our race problems have been resolved, or that ignorance (as demonstrated by the New York Post) is something to admire. Thanks.

  32. zelda said

    Nope you got it wrong………..I didn’t mean the NAACP was the bully…….I was referring to the fact that their reaction to the Post would be better if they took the high road. The Post will get free publicity.I guess I didn’t make that too clear.Certainly I am not in favor of any group insulting any other.

    Hmm…….ok…..you just don’t get the message .What a mind you have.You don’t think “big picture”.Things must change………..the way we deal with race problems must change. The PEOPLE of that race , white or black or any other color must take responsibility for themselves and not fall into reactionary modes.
    The he said she said format gets us no where.

    What do you teach? . I am interested.

  33. James McPherson said

    Sorry I misunderstood–and I agree about the NAACP taking a different approach–kinda like when movie producers drum up negative publicity to attract attention to what often turn out to be relatively dull films.

    I also agree with you that action is far better than reaction, though I happen to think both are necessary. Sometimes we are blind to things until someone reacts–and then that reaction on someone else’s part might prompt action on our part. I teach media criticism, media history and various jouralism skills classes. You can see more about me, if interested, by clicking on the “about the blogger” link under “About” at the upper right, or with the short description–and a better photo 🙂 –at the top of the main page. Thanks.

  34. zelda said

    I checked out your info. Pretty impressive.
    I see you are in Spokane…………….I am here in Washington also.How about that.
    Your choice of study is interesting. I will have to read your book so I can give you some flack! hahahahah.

    Yes…I am mulling over what you said about reaction. I guess that definition can go all across the board. I think we are socialized to react violently for the most part. Or in a sensational manner.Maybe any reaction can be called sensational if you think about it.
    I think we humans have to learn to call attention to a problem using our higher selves.If we are to survive literally on this planet we must use that higher self .There is such beauty in that…….Right now we are mired in violence.
    One person(DR. KING for ex.) can change the tides.Those who manipulate us(long story) don’t want us to know the power of the positive. So he was killed.

    I will yak again soon. If you don’t mind

  35. James McPherson said

    Small world, indeed. I always think of those who comment (and who produce the other blogs I read) as being far away, and have been surprised (usually pleasantly) more than once.

    And please feel free to come back–and to correct me or critique my ideas–anytime. My hope is to stimulate thoughtful discussion, not necessarily any definite answers. I prefer that people reach those on their own, and hope that all of us are open to changing our minds as we get more information. For more on my views about that, you might be interested in reading a couple of my earlier posts: https://jmcpherson.wordpress.com/2008/06/09/begging-to-differ/ and https://jmcpherson.wordpress.com/2008/08/19/favoring-a-christian-president-or-not/.

  36. zelda said

    Ok James…….

  37. Tony said

    How many of you honestly believe they were trying to be racist with the cartoon? If they did make a mistake, are they not allowed to simply apologize for it? Do we as people not forgive people for making honest mistakes anymore? Personally I would have never made all those connections to come up with the conclusion that all those who are offended have offered. When I first saw the cartoon, I saw it as they intended. I can certainly see how it could have been viewed differently now that its been explained to me, but I think its just as bad to call someone ignorant for making what could have been and what I believe was, an honest mistake. I’m sure there are lots of things out there that blacks don’t understand of other races…and when they make similar honest mistakes are we to make such an uproar? Or is it better to accept their apology and ask that they don’t make that particular mistake again?

    I’m not condoning any type of deliberate racism, but I do believe there is a difference between real racism and honest free speech. We are such a mix of races in this country. Let’s not forget how easily we could offend anyone by something we say, but let’s also not forget to forgive when it wasn’t meant to be.

  38. […] a note about one other recent comment: In talking about the “crazed chimp” and an offensive New York Post cartoon, one respondent wrote: “How many of you […]

  39. […] Stimulus prompts cartoonish monkey business […]

  40. wardrobemalfunctions said

    I want to run this one to ground after all these years.

    To set the record straight, Howard Cosell DID NOT say “Look at that little monkey run” when he was referring to Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett. Cosell made this remark 11 years earlier in 1972 in reference to a play by Kansas City Chiefs Mike Adamle. It was 1983 on Monday Night Football when Cosell made his comment about Alvin Garrett which was “That little monkey gets loose doesn’t he.”

    I am still looking for a sound byte or video clip of Howard Cosell saying “Look at that little monkey run.” I hear that it might be contained in a Preseason 1972 K.C. Chiefs @ Giants 07/29/72 “Hall of Fame” Game. Can anyone locate the actual clip?

  41. James McPherson said

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll keep my eyes open for the clip.

  42. […] of race or gender.  (Examples on race can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Examples relevant to gender here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, […]

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