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Boston Herald, Artist Apologize For Obama 'Watermelon Toothpaste' Cartoon

BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Herald and cartoonist Jerry Holbert are apologizing for a political cartoon that mocked President Obama and the Secret Service security failures.

The cartoon shows the president brushing his teeth in a White House bathroom with a surprised look on his face as a white man sits in the bathtub behind him, asking Mr. Obama, "Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?"

Boston Herald Cartoon Full
This cartoon appeared in the Boston Herald, Oct. 1, 2014. (Image courtesy: Boston Herald)

The caption reads, "White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought"

"As Jerry Holbert discussed on Boston Herald Radio this morning, his cartoon satirizing the U.S. Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize," a statement from the newspaper read. "His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful."

"We stand by Jerry, who is a veteran cartoonist with the utmost integrity."

On NightSide with Dan Rea on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Wednesday night, Holbert apologized, but says he is not racist. "I'm apologizing for my actions," Holbert said. "I'm apologizing for the fact that I didn't think this all the way through. I am not going to apologize for actually creating a racist cartoon, because that is not the way I felt, I did not think that."

Holbert went on to say that sometimes humor offends people and he "really did it wrong" with this cartoon. "I would be happy to apologize to the president, I apologize to the readers," he said.

Speaking with Boston Herald Radio on Wednesday morning, Holbert said, "I thought this was a very lighthearted cartoon, just suggesting that the guy got as far as the bathtub and he's recommending a different toothpaste for the president."

Holbert said he was contacted by the syndicator of the cartoon Tuesday night, asking if he could change the flavor from watermelon to raspberry.

GoComics Cartoon
Go Comics showed this different version of the cartoon, Oct. 1, 2014. (Image courtesy: GoComics)

"They said there's a racial element to it, and I disagreed to be honest with you, but I did it anyway because that's what they were asking for," Holbert said, adding that he regretted not calling The Herald to let them know about the syndicate's objection.

"I didn't think people would think that way," he said. "Obviously that was very naive on my part, that was stupid on my part."

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was among those who were offended by the cartoon. "It was stupid," Governor Patrick said. "I want to believe that the cartoonist's explanation was as innocent and that the apology from the editor was genuine."

"That's kind of code language that really becomes offensive," said Darnell Williams, President and CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts.

"It is really almost impossible for me to believe that anyone in this day and time doesn't understand the connotation of watermelon," a woman at South Station said.

As for why he chose watermelon in the first place, Holbert said it was a flavor he found in a kids' toothpaste tube in his home.

"I myself love watermelon and I thought that would be a great one," he said. "I was completely naive or innocent toward any racial suggestion, I wasn't even thinking along those lines at all."

Sue Roush, the managing editor of, told WBZ-TV, the Holbert cartoon "was reviewed by an editor here, as all our content is, before being sent to syndication clients and posted on our GoComics website."

"The editor suggested to Jerry that the use of watermelon as a toothpaste flavor could inject a racial subtext that would distract from the point of the cartoon. Jerry agreed and happily replaced it with raspberry."

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Laurie Kirby reports


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