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Yup, Jerry Holbert just used ‘watermelon’ in an Obama cartoon (UPDATED)

A cartoon by Jerry Holbert that ran yesterday in the Boston Herald has people speechless and wondering how it even made it into the paper. Here’s the cartoon as it ran in the Herald (online and print):

A less offensive version has been posted on GoComics (and I assume the one sent out to his syndicate subscribers.

Jim Romenesko reached out to Jerry’s editors for comment.

Herald editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen tells me neither she nor artist Jerry Holbert saw anything wrong with the cartoon. ?Jerry doesn?t have a racist bone in his body,? she says. He chose watermelon because he had just seen that flavor of toothpaste in his house, says Cohen.

She says she never anticipated controversy or cries of racism over the cartoon. That seems naive, I say. Her response: ?Guilty as charged.?

UPDATE: Michael Cavna talks to both Jerry and his Universal Uclick editor Reed Jackson for their reactions. Below is Jerry’s response to the public outcry.

?I feel awful about the perception that it was racist, but it was nothing of the sort,? Holbert tells The Post?s Comic Riffs. ?I wanted another flavor of toothpaste for the cartoon, and we had a bottle of Colgate kids? toothpaste that was watermelon-flavored ? watermelon seems to be a big flavor these days, so?I went with it.?

?It was a completely innocent attempt at humor, but it did not come across that way to some people,? Holbert continues. ?I have said I am sorry for offending anyone ? I never intended to do that. I never even thought about the racial element. I wish I had, but I did not. A bit dumb on my part ? I should have thought it through more.?

Community Comments

#1 Richard Crowson
October/1/2014
@ 3:13 pm

There are several elements of weirdness in this story. Jerry Holbert has no history of racism whatsoever that I’m aware of, the very opposite, in fact. But how do you not know about that stereotype? (I can easily imagine Jerry drawing a cartoon deriding someone who made a watermelon-Obama joke.)

And how did the cartoon get past anyone, from his editor to the copy editor to whomever else proofed the page? Are newspaper staffs really that depleted? (I’m afraid I know the answer to that question.)

The other issue to me is: how is this an editorial cartoon anyway? It just makes a joke. It does not state an opinion. The point of the cartoon is: “Golly, White House security is surprisingly lax.” Maybe that’s an opinion, but, really??? This is an old debate in the editorial cartooning world, of course.

This incident is a head-scratcher all the way around.

#2 Clay Jones
October/1/2014
@ 4:08 pm

You see plenty of examples or racism out there and even in cartoons. Most are subtle. I don’t think we should make charges of racism for everything. I don’t think this warrants that charge.

As stated by Richard, Holbert doesn’t have a history of racism. I think it’s crazy neither he nor his newspaper were aware of the connotation.

I rarely agree with Holbert’s viewpoints but I do enjoy his work and he’s a damn good cartoonists. I don’t know the guy personally but I am fully confident a racist joke was not his intention.
I always think when you accuse someone of a charge that heavy then you need to look at a larger body of their work. I think Holbert’s best defense is his history of great work.

Richard, it is a light weight cartoon and there were several others like it. Nick Anderson did a Secret Service bathroom joke last week and he did it better. It is an opinion, even if it’s the same as “litter is bad.”

And, Richard, you were slightly joking about depleted newsrooms being the problem here but that could very well be the case here.

#3 Mark Juhl
October/1/2014
@ 6:15 pm

It’d have been nice if people had gotten this upset about the editorial cartoons done of Condolezza Rice.

#4 Mike Peterson
October/1/2014
@ 7:24 pm

Can you link to a couple of those, Mark? Obviously, she was in a position to take a lot of heat, but I don’t recall anything racist.

Then again, I read a lot of cartoons. Maybe those just slipped past me.

#5 Stephen Nardini
October/1/2014
@ 7:27 pm

I actually happen to know Jerry personally. He’s genuinely one of the kindest people I know. Never in a million years would he intentionally make a joke that could be interpreted as racist.

#6 Mark Juhl
October/1/2014
@ 7:36 pm

Surely, and from a site that defends the cartoons.

http://amptoons.com/blog/2004/11/20/racist-cartoons-of-condoleezza-rice/

#7 Mark Juhl
October/1/2014
@ 7:41 pm

My mistake the site wasn’t defending them.

#8 Clay Jones
October/1/2014
@ 8:27 pm

So during the entire eight years of the Bush W. administration you can find three examples of arguable racist cartoons.

how many since 1998?

#9 Mark Juhl
October/1/2014
@ 8:46 pm

Really Clay? Didn’t realize there was a minimum number of cartoons I was suppose to dig up. Maybe I’m reading you wrong, if there were only those three, well then heck, nothing wrong with that?
The point of my post was the hyper sensitivity regarding racism whether it’s accidental, on purpose or obtusely implied depending on who the target is.

#10 Joe Engesser
October/1/2014
@ 10:21 pm

The statement embellishes the idiocy and stereotypes the intruder if anything. Media’s good at fueling discourse for their benefit by creating much ado about nothing. The watered down version loses some impact.

#11 Jim Lavery
October/2/2014
@ 9:28 am

Oh, raspberry flavored works too, let’s use that

#12 Jim Lavery
October/2/2014
@ 9:37 am

I think the problem lies in what Richard Crowson brought up in the first post. It’s more of a situation gag cartoon than an editorial cartoon and since the main thrust was yuk-yuks all thoughts of politics, history and opinion influencing go out the window in the pursuit of crafting a joke. I think when those things are brought into play when coming up with an idea to express then it’ll be less likely that an unintended slam would come up.

#13 Mike Lester
October/2/2014
@ 1:13 pm

“Yup, Jerry Holbert just used ?watermelon? in an Obama cartoon”
is funnier than the cartoon. Either one.

And fwiw: editorial cartoonists by definition know every dog whistle in the book -or should so while it might not have been intentional it was bucket full o’ hammers dumb. Pretty sure JH wishes he could have a mulligan.

(no offense to the mulligans)

#14 Jim Lavery
October/2/2014
@ 9:03 pm

In other news…….http://www.nbcchicago.com/entertainment/entertainment-news/Tom-and-Jerry-Comes-With-a-Racism-Warning-Online-Amazon-Prime-277945181.html?fullSite=y&_osource=SocialFlowFB_CHBrand

#15 Michael Pohrer
October/3/2014
@ 11:08 am

I don’t know Jerry or the Herald’s Editor personally, but I’m going to have to take a pass on the official statements from Jerry and The Boston Herald. There is no way that this wasn’t done on purpose.
As mentioned by Sean Kleefeld any other phrases would of still worked for the joke.

“Can you pass the shampoo?”

“Sleep well last night?”

“So when do they stop serving breakfast in this joint?”

“Looks like it’ll be a nice day out.”

“How about them Packers?”

Furthermore an apology also conveys that this was an intentional use of the wording, even though the official statements made do not reflect the way that it was perceived by the general public.

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