- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chimpgate looks like a go.

Critics are not quite done with the New York Post, though the newspaper has issued a public apology to some people, but not all, for an editorial cartoon that prompted protests, outrage, assorted calls for the paper’s demise - and more cartoons.

From other artists.

For example, Universal Press cartoonist Tony Auth’s take on it depicted a blase monkey, a New York Post sign and a quizzical man asking, “Are you the cartoonist, or the editor?”

The Rev. Al Sharpton is the fiercest critic of all, though, and he’s not mollified.

“All of us can only wish the New York Post had taken a more mature position when the issue was first raised rather than belatedly coming up with a conditional statement after people began mobilizing,” he said.

Joined by several hundred activists, Mr. Sharpton picketed the Post’s Manhattan offices Thursday, armed with placards emblazoned with such mottos as “Shut down the Post” and “Not Funny. Shameful.”

He’s planning an even bigger rally for Saturday.

Mr. Sharpton, New York Gov. David Paterson, the National Association of Black Journalists, the YWCA and other organizations issued public criticisms of the cartoon, which included a bloodied chimp, a smoking gun, two cops and the caption “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”

The Post stood by artist Sean Delonas, framing the cartoon as a “clear parody of a current news event.” But the paper wavered after 24 hours and apologized - sort of - after many observers took the chimp as a symbol for President Obama.

“Wednesday’s Page Six cartoon - caricaturing Monday’s police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut - has created considerable controversy … It was meant to mock an ineptly written federal stimulus bill. Period,” the paper said in an editorial in Friday’s editions, which was posted online Thursday.

“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.”

The Post monkeyed with its mea culpa.

“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,” the Post continued. “To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon - even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.”

Then there are those pesky press ethics to consider, given that Chimpgate has attracted worldwide attention from news organizations in Britain, India, Australia, China and other nations.

“Editorial cartoons are meant to evoke and provoke. They should have some spice. They should have impact. They also should measure up ethically,” said Bob Steele, media ethicist for the Poynter Institute.

“The cartoonist and the Post’s editors have fought back from a defensive crouch. They should be much more reflective. They should reveal more about why they did what they did, what ethical values were guiding them, and how they made their decisions,” he said.

Some pundits are revisiting the idea that the press - and late-night TV in particular - have long been cautious about using humor with Mr. Obama, both on the campaign trail and in office.

Still, Big Hollywood blogger Tim Slagle thinks he sighted the “first actual Obama joke” - a quip by CBS’ David Letterman on Wednesday night, suggesting Hillary Rodham Clinton was travelling overseas expressly to buy Mr. Obama duty-free cigarettes.

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