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Trayvon Martin case: Texas student's cartoon causes controversy

March 29, 2012|Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Student cartoonist Stephanie Eisner left the student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin this week after her cartoon about the Trayvon Martin case provoked criticism and a campus protest.
Student cartoonist Stephanie Eisner left the student newspaper at the… (The Daily Texan )

Houston —

The controversial cartoon that appeared this week in the University of Texas at Austin's Daily Texan showed a mother sitting in a chair labeled "the media" reading to a child from a book titled, "Treyvon [sic] Martin and the case of yellow journalism.”

The mother says: “And then the big bad ‘white’ man killed the handsome, sweet, innocent ‘colored’ boy.”

The cartoon appeared in the paper Tuesday, just as students and residents held a rally in downtown Austin for Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old youth shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.

An online backlash ensued, and the Daily Texan's editorial board initially responded by adding a disclaimer to the cartoon. 

"The Daily Texan Editorial Board recognizes the sensitive nature of the cartoon’s subject matter," they said. "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."

As readers flocked to the student newspaper's website to view the cartoon, it had to be temporarily pulled to keep the site from crashing, according to an editor's note. It was later re-posted, but appeared to have been removed again Thursday.

On Wednesday, as students gathered to protest the cartoon with handmade signs saying, "Daily Texan Racist," the newspaper's editorial board published an apology editorial, saying that the cartoonist responsible, Stephanie Eisner, had left the paper.

"The decision to run the cartoon showed a failure in judgment on the part of the editorial board," the board wrote. "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."

They promised to hold a campus forum on race and diversity in coming weeks, and to require newspaper employees to participate in a seminar each semester about the relationship between race and the media.
 
"We sincerely apologize for publishing the offensive cartoon and for the harm that decision caused," they wrote.

Jasmine Kyles, a journalism major, said the cartoon could still hurt the university's reputation.

“A lot of people don’t realize how insensitive this comic is, and this affects the recruitment of African American students to the university by making the campus look bad,” Kyles told the Daily Texan. “When they see things like this, they think the university is racist even though that hasn’t been everyone’s experience here.”

Eisner, who is from the Woodlands community north of Houston, told The Daily Texan that she created the cartoon to criticize the media’s attempt to simplify and sensationalize news stories.

“I feel the news should be unbiased. And in the retelling of this particular event, I felt that that was not the case,” Eisner said. “My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions.”

In a statement quoted in the Austin American-Statesman, Eisner apologized for what she said was "in hindsight an ambiguous cartoon."

"I intended to contribute thoughtful commentary on the media coverage of the incident, however this goal fell flat," she said in the statement. "I would like to make it explicitly clear that I am not a racist and that I am personally appalled by the killing of Trayvon Martin."

Daily Texan Managing Editor Audrey White told the Houston Chronicle that she hopes "to reach out to the university community for input on how the Daily Texan covers race and racism."

"I also want the Texan to be more active in recruiting staff members with diverse backgrounds and points of view," White said in an email to the Chronicle.

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