The Albuquerque Journal is facing a backlash after publishing a racist editorial cartoon on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
The cartoon shows a couple being held up by members of a gang and a terrorist. The man tells the woman he thinks their assailants prefer to be called Dreamers. That’s how many young people who were brought to the U.S. as children describe themselves – as Dreamers.
New Mexico’s senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and a host of other local politicians blasted the paper for running the cartoon. The local chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists published a letter condemning the paper’s decision to run the cartoon. May Ortega is their chapter president and a public health reporter at KUNM. She spoke with KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel.
KUNM: There’s been a big public outcry about this cartoon, especially on social media. What are you hearing from your journalist colleagues?
Ortega: I’m hearing a lot of the words ‘racist,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘ignorant.’ And it’s not just here. NAHJ New Mexico has been tagged on Twitter and Facebook from congress people and politicians from across the country who are just disappointed. A lot of people have called this ‘garbage’ also. The reaction hasn’t been positive.
KUNM: The Albuquerque Journal went on to publish a news article about the backlash and the editor in chief, Karen Moses, issued two statements saying the cartoon was intended to spark debate and that they were sorry it inflamed emotions instead. Is that enough?
Ortega: No. And I get where she’s coming from. She wanted to inspire debate but not for these reasons, right? This isn’t even a debate. I feel like it’s just a lot of anger. She apologized, I get that. But there’s still a long way to go when it comes to righting this wrong. If this happens again, we’ll have to hope that they learn from this instance, address the situation properly and apologize and actually say, ‘sorry we ran this kind of content.’ Honestly, I just hope it never happens again.
KUNM: You reached out to the paper demanding that apology and also a retraction. What’s the status of that?
Ortega: No retraction. Ms. Moses replied to me and basically copy/pasted what she had said in a statement already. She really stressed not to connect this to their journalists, their reporters.
KUNM: This is that idea that the editorial department at a daily paper is separate from the newsroom. So this was an editorial cartoon.
Ortega: It’s obviously racist. The people in the image, the so-called ‘Dreamers’ are Hispanic thugs, for lack of a better way to say it. The editorial department does represent the paper to a certain degree, to a large degree is what we’ve learned lately. Part of the paper’s responsibility is to report the facts and be fair and be accurate. That is the most important part of being in news, so the depictions in this image are just wrong. They’re false.
KUNM: What would be the way forward for the Albuquerque Journal? What should they do to prevent something like this from happening again?
Ortega: There should be a whole new system, because the way that this seems, and the way it works at a lot of newspapers, not just the Journal, is that editorial board picks an image. Moses said there are three people on their editorial board, [they] look at it, they say ‘this is good, let’s do it.’ Maybe another set of eyes or two gets a look at it and then it runs.
Off the bat, having people of color would have just nipped this in the bud. Someone would have been like, ‘this is racist!’ Or even working together between departments, going to someone, anybody else outside that three-person team and asking them, ‘is this cool?’ would have helped. We really really need diversity in our newsrooms and a better process for these things.