A cartoon likening the author of the stimulus bill with the rampaging chimpanzee that was shot dead in Thursday's New York Post has been the subject of much discussion in the States. The cartoon depicts two police officers standing over the dead chimp, with one of them saying, “They'll have to find someone else to write the next bill.” According to some politicians and various human rights organizations, the chimpanzee was supposed to represent President Obama and that this depiction was an unacceptably racist move by the New York Post that exceeded the limits of freedom of expression. Other criticisms included the fact that making fun of a situation in which a woman was seriously hurt was not appropriate.
A day after the cartoon crisis and hundreds of demonstrators' complaints, an official response came from the New York Post: “It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. But it has been taken as something else – as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism. This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize.” Unfortunately, the following statement makes this apology conditional: “However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with the Post in the past – and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback. To them, no apology is due.” These last two sentences may be a tactical step by the newspaper in order to get out from under taking responsibility by calling attention to those who 'benefited from the situation' as the real trigger for raising the issue. At this point, I understand the newspaper's concern regarding the intention of the cartoon and appreciate the apology but making an apology conditional without being specific about the "some in the media and in public life," one is addressing overshadows the sincerity of the apology. In addition to this, I also agree with the criticism that it is absolutely not ethical to use such a dramatic event after which the chimp victim was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic, which performed the first successful face transplant in the United States of America. The Post's editorial team should have considered the seriousness of the situation before publishing the cartoon.
Some remember the cartoon crisis that took place between Muslims and the Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper, that published Mohammed cartoons in 2005. As we all remember, months-long protests targeted Israeli, Danish and American flags and embassies around the world. Even after what the protesters wanted – an apology from the newspaper – came in January 2006, the publication of similar cartoons by others re-strained relations. Yes, this recent cartoon has been the most controversial one since the 2005 crisis. However, in terms of freedom of expression, I do not think that the two cases are comparable. Although both newspapers have apologized to those who felt offended, the misunderstanding of what had been intended by the New York Post is somewhat different to the offense caused to Muslims that picturing the prophet Mohammed caused. The real reaction behind the 2005 cartoon crisis was not that the pictures showed Mohammed as a 'terrorist' , but that he was pictured for any reason. We should take this fine distinction into consideration before comparing these two cases.
At the end of the day, the apology of from the New York Post is likely to diminish the tension. However the criticisms --- that the New York Post's editors should have realised that the chimp could be perceived as Obama himself (and by extension whether shooting Obama was being encouraged), and that they should have considered the critical situation of the woman who was seriously hurt by the chimp --- are unlikely to end.