As we commented yesterday, news outlets have a record of issuing halfhearted and carefully parsed apologies.
Now comes Boston Herald editorial pages editor Rachelle G. Cohen with these words of regret for the “watermelon” cartoon that her paper published two weeks ago:
A little over a week ago and just days after the cartoon appeared, it was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and so surrounded by friends I stood in temple and prayed for forgiveness. But there’s a footnote to all of those traditional prayers. It is that God can forgive for offenses committed against God — but not for offenses committed against another human being. For that we must seek forgiveness from those we have wronged.
That is what I most humbly do now with all my heart.
The cartoon that prompted this record-breaking apology is at the top of this post. It was part of the satirical plume that grew from the news that 42-year-old Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez in September allegedly cleared the White House fence and made it into deep recesses of the presidential mansion. Jokesters around the country had fun with the things he could have done while the Secret Service failed to apprehend him.
Choosing such a racially charged toothpaste flavor, noted Cohen in her explainer, was an innocent mistake. Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert seized on “watermelon,” she writes, because that was the flavor of toothpaste used by his kids in his own house. “If only it had been bubblegum flavored. If only,” notes Cohen.
The “watermelon” scandalito had caused trouble at the Herald, Cohen writes. After a Herald politics reporter asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick about a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, the governor responded: “Is the Herald asking me a question about race? The Herald about race? I don’t think you want to do that.” Patrick later apologized to the reporter.
In any case, the cartoon in question never underwent scrutiny from a senior editor at the Herald, thanks to a misplacement of sorts: “Yes, a final page proof does go up to the 6th floor where a desk editor will read the editorials, make sure we haven’t made some obvious error of fact and in the event a topic has been overtaken by breaking news events will pick up the phone and advise me that we need an update. On the night in question — the night the cartoon appeared on a page proof, the proof was not left in the proper bin.”
Big mistake, small explanation. Or, as Cohen writes, “So there you have it. The remarkably simple way in which bad stuff can happen.”
Holbert has also apologized.