Below is an interesting article that I received from SPJ President Allie Musante from Professor Jeff Cohen...
imho, important argument in very last sentence --jc
NY Post Failed in Its Ethical Obligations by Publishing Cartoon
Last week, the New York Post published a cartoon that was widely interpreted by many press observers as an attack on President Barack Obama, applying the racially-charged stereotype of a chimp to the author of the stimulus bill proposed to Congress by the country's first African American president.
We believe that the Post failed in its ethical obligation to its diverse constituency -- not simply by publishing the cartoon, which it had every legal right to do, but by failing to appreciate the racial overtones before publication and, more damningly, by its narrow-minded defensiveness after the heated reaction to its publication.
The cartoon portrays a recent attack of a Connecticut woman by a chimpanzee later shot and killed by police. In the cartoon, one of the officers says over the body of the dead chimpanzee, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
The cartoon drew immediate condemnation from such groups as the NAACP and UNITY: Journalists of Color. The NAACP said the cartoon encourages violence against the president. That the reaction was so widespread and vociferous should have alerted the Post's editors to the fact that they had previously overlooked one obvious interpretation of its cartoon. Instead, the newspaper reacted by reiterating its initial interpretation of the cartoon to lampoon legislation, spurning an important ethical obligation to enter into a dialogue with its readers and the journalism professionals who were offended by its publication.
New York Post Chairman Rupert Murdoch has since personally apologized for the cartoon and to “any reader who felt offended, and even insulted." He said the Post will work to be more sensitive.
The apology is late and much of the damage has already been done, but the incident presents an opportunity for the Post and all other journalism organizations to learn.
The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics calls on journalists to “avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.” That respect for cultural sensitivity includes journalists' obligation to “examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.”
SPJ has traditionally encouraged the news media to diversify their hiring, so that their staffs are more reflective of the overall population they are serving. This controversy is a good example of how important that policy is to all news coverage. Through cultural ignorance, journalists can and often do -- as in this case -- fail to consider the racial and ethnic cues and stereotypes they are communicating through language and images.
The code also states that journalists "are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other" and should "clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct."
After the cartoon was published, the New York Post's weak apology showed no understanding of why its cartoon might have been deeply offensive to others. The newspaper said it was not their "intent" to express racism, and they blamed the criticism on critics who had other reasons to attack the newspaper.
Those ethical injunctions include any form of incendiary commentary on news events. Even aside from the racial overtones missed by the Post's tone-deaf editors, it's hard to accept that shooting a politician for a political act is not incendiary and therefore subject to more pre-publication deliberation.
The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists strongly opposes such misuses of power by journalists and believes journalism organizations can learn from this when reporting and commenting on news in a culturally diverse society.