The above ran in Thursday's Star-Telegram. courtesy @meritlaw

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Star-Telegram Apologizes For Bad Cartoon Amid Pressure From Alumni

More than 50 former staffers signed an open letter expressing their displeasure.

On Thursday, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a cartoon that is racist and transphobic. Dallas lawyer Lee Merritt called it out on Twitter, and then we posted here. Things took off, and the lack of editorial judgment touched a nerve among the newspaper’s alumni. A group of 54 former employees signed an open letter to the newly installed editor of the paper. That editor, Steve Coffman, has since written a short apology, which was posted online Monday evening and ran in print this morning. Here it is:

The editorial cartoon we ran on Oct. 18 has attracted a lot of criticism.

While we want the Star-Telegram’s editorial page to showcase opinions from divergent points of view, we also strive to maintain a high level of respect and quality of thought.

The cartoon we published on Oct. 18 did not fulfill that aspiration. I take full responsibility and apologize for the decision to publish it.

Moving forward, we will work harder to maintain the highest standards of sensitivity and fairness on our pages that the readers of the Star-Telegram expect.

The open letter was penned by historian and author Michael Phillips, a reporter in Fort Worth in the late 80s. Phillips says a reduced version of it will run in the Star-Telegram on Wednesday. The alumni call out the depiction of the trans woman in the cartoon as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who was drawn wearing a headdress), saying the former “reduced the entire community to a punchline” while the latter “is nothing more than redface minstrelsy.”

Here is the letter in full:

In a shocking display of bigotry, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a transphobic, racist cartoon in its print edition on Thursday, October 18.

Headlined “A Field Guide to Liberals: Helping You Identify How They Identify,” the cartoon included a series of sketches demeaning a trans woman and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was drawn wearing a stereotypical Native American feathered headdress.

Presumably, the cartoon was meant to satirize identity politics and the recent controversy over Sen. Warren’s ancestry, but it fails on all counts.

The caricature of a trans woman reduced that entire community to a punchline.Inviting readers to laugh at trans men and women is ill-timed and cruel.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, assailants murdered at least 29 transgender people in the United States in 2017 and at least 22 have already been shot, stabbed, or slain by some other means this year.The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that these numbers badly underestimate the real total because law enforcement agencies and family members are often reluctant to identify the victims as transgender.

The cartoonist, Rick McKee of the Augusta, Ga. Chronicle, seems to find the idea of transgender identity inauthentic and laughable.Unfortunately, there is a long and ugly history of the mainstream press mocking and deriding the experiences of the disenfranchised and marginalized.

During the Civil Rights era, editorialists for southern newspapers scoffed at the famous doll experiment conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark that demonstrated the psychological damage inflicted on black children by segregation.Southern journalists throughout the civil rights era dismissed black protests against segregation, poll taxes, literacy tests, and lynching as communist propaganda.

The White House press corps and Reagan administration press secretary Larry Speakes erupted in laughter when the latter announced that there were more than 600 cases of AIDS in the United States in October 1982, the first time the disease was ever mentioned in a presidential press briefing.

McKee’s cartoon follows in this bullying, cowardly tradition.Including an unflattering image of a trans woman was gratuitous since gender identity was not remotely germane to the controversies surrounding Ms. Warren.The ¬Star-Telegram decided to provide McKee’s transphobia a large audience although the cartoon was not remotely funny, nuanced, or more intellectually probative than hate speech graffiti.

McKee’s drawing of Warren is nothing more than redface minstrelsy, a clumsy attempt to ridicule the senator’s family background by demeaning all indigenous people.The feathered headdress motif has always been a patronizing cliché, an attempt to reduce hundreds of First American cultures to a crude, simplistic, and white supremacist shorthand.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram will argue that in publishing this cartoon, they are somehow performing a public service, providing a space for all viewpoints.This is both dishonest and morally bankrupt.

The Star-Telegram does not, in fact, give a megaphone to all voices, or at least we hope not.Readers should expect newspaper editors to exercise adult discretion as to what they print.Presumably, the Star-Telegram would not give editorial page space to the musings of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke or alt-right leader Richard Spencer. McKee’s cartoon can claim no moral superiority to the ugly ravings of those intolerant thugs.

We worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and were proud of our service there.Now we are ashamed of a newspaper we once called home.

Whether or not those editors who decided to publish this ugly cartoon are bigots themselves or only recklessly disseminated McKee’s juvenile intolerance, the publication of this cartoon represents a shameful chapter in the history of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.Those who remain among its dwindling readership deserve better.

Sincerely,

Dr. Michael Phillips
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1988-1990

Marsha Zapp Ammons
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1978-2016

Janie Asher
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1984-2004

Bonnie Bradshaw
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1996-2001

Jim Brady
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1988-1994

Liberty Campbell
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1998-2009

Angela Chism
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1984-2018

Carla Crow
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1977-2017

Amy Culbertson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
2003-2009

Joe Cutbirth
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1989-1994

Jimmie D. Davis
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1992-2005

Michael Dougherty
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1996-2001

Dr. David Ferman
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1989-2007

Betsy Friauf
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1980-2007

Cathy Frisinger
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1992-2006

Christy Goelz
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
2001-2010

Gary Hardee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1991-2008

Jennifer Harrison
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1993-2018

Mike Hinshaw
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1960s-2009

Lou Hudson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1968-2003

Steve Jacob
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1997-2010

Paul Knudsen
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1991-1994

Jane Lane
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1986-2011

Jim Lehr
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1992-2008

Betsy Lewis
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1985-1998

David Lindsey
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1978-1980

Mark Lowry
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1998-2008

Dan Malone
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1981-1985

Donna Hancock McFarland
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
2001-2011

Kathi Clough Miller
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1966-1977

Craig Neddle
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1987-1994

Greg Pederson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1999-2008

Mike Perry
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1978-1994

Michael Price
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1980-1998

Daniel Puckett
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1987-1991

Jim Reeves
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1969-2009

Anita Robeson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1984-1986, 1996-2006

Sallie (Mitchell) Rody
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1999-2012

Kara Rogge
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1972-2008

Katie Sherrod
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1969-1991

Sue Stevens
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1983-84, 1987-89, 1992-1996

George Studdard
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1947-1993

Roger Summers
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1960-2001

Dr. Michael S. Sweeney
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1981-1993

Heather Svokos
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
2004-2015

Herman Torres
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1984-1987

Suzie Torres
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1984-1997

Frank Trejo
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1979-1985

James Walker
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1978-1991

Jon Weist
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1987-1990

Lee Williams
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1996-2018

Brian Wilson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1987-1997

Worth Wren, Jr.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1977-2000

Gerald Zenick
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
1969-2009

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