The University of Texas’ student newspaper, The Daily Texan, appears to be in the middle of an editorial meltdown.
Wednesday night the paper’s editorial board fired cartoonist Stephanie Eisner and issued a self-flagellating apology.
The cartoonist, Stephanie Eisner, no longer works for The Daily Texan.
However, the decision to run the cartoon showed a failure in judgment on the part of the editorial board. We have engaged in meaningful dialogue with many people who shared their concerns and outrage with us.
The paper’s problems surfaced Tuesday after it published Eisner’s controversial editorial cartoon about the Trayvon Martin killing. The cartoon depicted a woman, who represents the news media, reading to a young child.
“And then the big bad white man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent colored boy!!” the cartoon says.
The cartoon touched off a powder keg of anger from students, readers and the national news media, many of whom reflexively branded Eisner as a racist.
“That particular cartoon would not have passed muster if I were editor. It is important that you bring in diverging viewpoints from the editorial board through Op-Ed pieces and cartoons, but you don’t throw your standards out the window to do so,” said University of Texas journalism professor Robert Quigley.
Eisner created the editorial cartoon to point out how the news media is creating racial tension to exploit the Trayvon Martin case for their own benefit. Her cartoon called it “yellow journalism”. Race activists, news anchors, celebrities and athletes have all moved in and injected themselves into what has become a real life made for TV drama. It’s reminiscent of Duke lacrosse case.
It’s a worthy topic for any editorialist, but it was Eisner’s use of the phrase “colored boy” that made some people very angry. Eisner’s criticism of the news media’s use of racist stereotypes backfired. Now, she is the one accused of using racist stereotypes.
The paper’s editors and its advisers were completely caught off guard by the firestorm of criticism and Eisner proved to be an easy scapegoat. No one from The Daily Texan’s editorial staff would respond to our requests to comment on the matter.
When the criticism began to mount on Tuesday, the editors stood their ground and supported Eisner.
The views expressed in the cartoon are not those of the editorial board. They are those of the artist. It is the policy of the editorial board to publish the views of our columnists and cartoonists, even if we disagree with them.
But by Wednesday, the editors completely collapsed and caved into public pressure. A small number of minority protesters confronted Managing Editor Audrey White on campus. According to The Daily Texan, White told the protesters, including members of the Black Student Alliance:
We have not done enough to try and explore how racism affects this campus. You deserve a paper that reflects the interests of everyone at UT.
“I think the editors wanted this controversy to die down. The paper has done all these things to mollify the angry minority,” said former Daily Texan Op-Ed writer Samian Quazi.
Quazi says the protesters who claimed that the paper is racist have actually been published by the paper several times in the past. Quazi says one protester, Michelle Uche, a student who held up a sign saying “Daily Texan: Racist Since 1900″, had a guest column published back in February.
Quazi also pointed out that protester Lucian Villasenor, another student who insinuated that black students’ editorials were not welcome, has been quoted or pictured in Daily Texan news stories as many as five times.
“If these individuals had convinced themselves long ago that the paper was institutionally racist, why would they choose to be featured in this said paper many times over? It’s hypocrisy,” said Quazi.
The editorial board went into a closed door meeting after the protest. When they emerged, they issued an apology for the cartoon and then vaguely confessed to what amounts to institutional racism at the paper.
We made a mistake, and we understand that the outcome of our action extends beyond Tuesday’s cartoon and prompts us to reflect on a larger problem that persists at The Daily Texan and on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, something we should have done before Tuesday’s paper ran.
If racism has persisted at The Daily Texan, how come no one else at the paper was fired? How come no one else is being held responsible for these perceived racial transgressions?
“I am not calling on anyone at the (Daily) Texan to resign,” said Quigley. “Who should face any reprimands or terminations is up to the (Daily) Texan itself. I personally would have resigned if I were an editor who let that cartoon run, but that’s just me.”
“Calling someone a ‘racist’ is often a convenient bludgeon for tarring dissenting views as extreme. There’s much to apologize for, but none of it should be coming from the cartoonist,” said Quazi.
Stephanie Eisner refused to comment on her firing.
Quazi has started an online petition to try and force The Daily Texan to reinstate Esiner.