By Chris Hoenig
The Boston Herald and an artist are apologizing after a political cartoon was published in the paper with racist overtones.
The cartoon, which ran in Wednesday’s edition of the Herald, poked fun at the recent ineptitude of the Secret Service—on Sept. 19, a man scaled a White House fence and made it inside and through several rooms before being stopped—but also included a racist stereotype.
“Have you tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste” the intruder, scrubbing away in the Presidential bathtub, asks President Obama, who is brushing his teeth.
The artist, Jerry Holbert, issued a half-hearted apology just hours after the paper hit newsstands, pleading ignorance and stupidity.
“I’m apologizing for my actions,” Holbert told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. “I’m apologizing for the fact that I didn’t think this all the way through. I am not going to apologize for actually creating a racist cartoon, because that is not the way I felt, I did not think that.”
He added: “I would be happy to apologize to the President. I apologize to the readers.”
Holbert went on to tell Boston Herald Radio: “I thought this was a very lighthearted cartoon, just suggesting that the guy got as far as the bathtub and he’s recommending a different toothpaste for the President.
“I also apologize to anyone I offended, it was not my intention at all. I don’t think along the lines of racial jokes, I never do. Naive, stupid—those kinds of things I understand. But racist, I am definitely not.”
An executive with Holbert’s syndicator said it reached out to Holbert on Tuesday night to change it.
“The editor suggested to Jerry that the use of watermelon as a toothpaste flavor could inject a racial subtext that would distract from the point of the cartoon,” GoComics Managing Editor Sue Roush said. “Jerry agreed and happily replaced it with raspberry.”
The raspberry version is on the GoComics website.
Holbert said he regrets not informing the Herald of the Tuesday-night request from his GoComics editor.
“They said there’s a racial element to it, and I disagreed to be honest with you, but I did it anyway because that’s what they were asking for,” Holbert said. “I didn’t think people would think that way. Obviously that was very naive on my part, that was stupid on my part.”
Holbert claimed the watermelon flavor came after finding a tube of watermelon-flavored kids toothpaste in his family’s cupboard.
“I myself love watermelon, and I thought that would be a great one,” he said.
The Herald, whose own editorial staff did not determine that the cartoon was too racist to publish, also issued a statement of apology.
“As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people, and to them we apologize,” a statement from the newspaper read. “His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful.”
It took little time for the cartoon to go viral, drawing ire all the way up to the Statehouse.
“It was stupid,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said. “I want to believe that the cartoonist’s explanation was as innocent and that the apology from the editor was genuine.”
The Herald’s racist cartoon comes just weeks after the Lancaster New Era apologized for publishing a political cartoon that compared airline seating to slave ships.