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New York Post Cartoon Demeans Darwin’s 200th Birthday

Feb 23rd, 2009 by James Breedlove | 0

The New York Post last Wednesday, in what obviously must be considered an attempt to capitalize on English naturalist Charles R. Darwin’s 200th birthday, published its controversial cartoon that appears to link President Obama to a violent chimpanzee that was killed by police officers.

The cartoon’s caption shows one of the policemen uttering, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill,” as his partner stands over the dead chimp’s bullet riddled body with his automatic weapon still smoking.

There was an immediate outcry to the cartoon, demonstrations and protests were conducted outside The Post’s New York headquarters and elected officials voiced their criticism.

Brooklyn Councilman Bill de Blasio said in a statement, “We now live in a time when our nation can make real and substantive progress on race relations. However, commentary like the offensive cartoon published yesterday by The New York Post only sets us back. There is a growing pattern of certain media outlets choosing sensationalism over sensitivity and fear over facts. All of us have a responsibility to demand better from the media and ourselves.”

One wonders how The New York Post, the 13th-oldest newspaper published in the United States and the oldest to have been published continually as a daily, could have let this incendiary cartoon pass through editorial muster.

Founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801 the Post has had distinguished names on its masthead over the years as owners, editors and columnists that included abolitionist William Cullen Bryant, Oswald Garrison Villard (a founding member of both the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Drew Pearson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Max Lerner, Murray Kempton, Pete Hamill, and Eric Sevareid.

For most of its history the Post had a politically liberal orientation until 1993 when conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch repurchased the paper after high level political officials persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to grant him a permanent waiver from the multi media ownership rules that had forced him to sell the paper five years earlier.

The New York Post has been criticized since Murdoch’s initial ownership for its lurid headlines, sensationalism, blatant advocacy and conservative bias. The Columbia Journalism Review asserted that “the New York Post is no longer merely a journalistic problem. It is a social problem–a force for evil.”

According to a survey conducted by Pace University in 2004, the New York Post was rated the least credible major news outlet in New York, and the only news outlet to receive more responses calling it “not credible” (44 percent) than credible (39 percent).

In a strange coincidence while The Post was misusing Darwin with its racist cartoon a new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, argues that Darwin’s hatred of slavery was one motive for his insistence that mankind was a single species with a common origin.

Those ideas were not universally held in the mid-19th century, either among Christians or scholars. Darwin’s scientific contemporaries were hypothesizing that mankind was made up of from two to 63 distinctly different species. Leading advocates for slavery at the time argued that blacks and whites had originated as separate species, with whites created superior. Such conclusions led to the belief that human rights didn’t extend to blacks, who could be treated as lesser beings.

“Destitute of morality, incapable of civilization, black people were hardly above the ape themselves,” was a common attitude in the US South and Latin America states the book’s authors Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

Darwin abhorred such arrogance. Many members of Darwin’s extended family were deeply devoted to the abolitionist cause, including his grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, who founded a chinaware company and produced cameos distributed by anti-slavery campaigners.

During his data collection voyages on the Beagle, Darwin saw scenes of slavery in South America that horrified him. He saw the aftermath of slave revolts and the instruments of torture. He wrote in his journal, “It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble.”

Recent DNA studies confirm Darwin’s theory and reveal that all people are more than 99.9 percent genetically identical proving that race is and has been just an environmental adaptation and that all humans are of one species.

Did cartoonist Sean Delonas intend for his chimpanzee cartoon to be racist? Or was it, as the newspaper claimed in its quasi apology, “clear parody connecting a current news event to Washington’s inept efforts to revive the economy”?

Whether intentional or not the cartoon depicted violence, death, brutality, incitement, and animal like imagery. It is a deliberate attempt to capitalize on the age old highly effective practice of dehumanizing black people by identifying them with sub-human apes. In this specific case the cartoon conveys to any gun toting vigilante that President Obama is an animal and can be legitimately hunted down.

The Post has overstepped any rights afforded under the first amendment freedom of speech and press. Anything that can be construed as acceptable rationale for assassinating the President of the United States is not debatable as parody.

In this case the Post’s presumptions, based on a prevalent habit of sensationalizing too much, convey too little.

Darwin would not be pleased.

James W. Breedlove
Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: jaydubub@swbell.net

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