Editor Who OK’d Obama Watermelon Cartoon: ‘Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Done’

October 15, 2014 1:33 p.m.

The Boston Herald editor who approved the use of an offensive political cartoon featuring President Obama and a reference to watermelons asked for forgiveness on Wednesday for what she called “the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.”

Editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen wrote in the Herald about how the usual checks, which are meant to prevent such mistakes, fell through. She said she accepted responsibility for allowing the cartoon to be printed.

The cartoon was published on Oct. 1, and Cohen said she had remained silent for too long since then. The reason she decided to write about it now, she said, was because it had an increasingly negative effect on her colleagues at the Herald.

“The dumbest thing I’ve ever done was without a second thought to give my approval to a cartoon — we all know which one — that has proven hurtful to so many people — people I care about,” Cohen wrote. “It has also proven hurtful to an institution I love and to colleagues who are blameless.”

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She recounted an instance in which the newspaper’s statehouse reporter had recently tried to ask Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) a question about police bias.

“Is the Herald asking me a question about race?” Patrick told the reporter, according to Cohen. “The Herald about race? I don’t think you want to do that.”

Although the governor later apologized to the reporter, Cohen directly appealed to Patrick.

“I’m the one you want,” she wrote. “I’m the one you should be snapping at. I’m the one who’s to blame — not my colleagues and not my paper.”

She also described how the system had also failed to catch the racial overtones within the cartoon:

Yes, a final page proof does go up to the 6th floor where a desk editor will read the editorials, make sure we haven’t made some obvious error of fact and in the event a topic has been overtaken by breaking news events will pick up the phone and advise me that we need an update. On the night in question — the night the cartoon appeared on a page proof, the proof was not left in the proper bin. No senior news editor ever saw it.

And every evening the publisher gets a copy of the editorials sent to his email — not the images — only the words.

So there you have it. The remarkably simple way in which bad stuff can happen.

The cartoon quickly incited a firestorm of criticism after it was published and drew the ire of social media users, prompting radio appearances by the illustrator, Jerry Holbert, and a poorly-received apology from the Herald.

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