Stephanie Eisner—a cartoonist at The Daily Texan fired because of an incendiary cartoon she drew last week depicting the killing of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin—has found some support in the form of a petition being circulated online on her behalf. The petition, spearheaded by University of Texas graduate student and former Daily Texan Columnist Samian Quazi, calls for the paper to reinstate Ms. Eisner as cartoonist, but at the time of this writing it had garnered only 181 out of the targeted 5000 signatures.
Personally, I never thought the editorial board would fire Eisner, and I don’t believe it was the correct course of action. Like one commenter on the Burnt Orange Report said in response to an opinion piece by Quazi about why Eisner should be reinstated:
In general [Eisner] was attacking the media portrayal of the incident. An exaggerated portrayal to be certain, to the point of it being a straw man. She's attacking the media for making it so racially charged, not attempting to bring race into it herself. Just because she's discounting the potential influence of race in this case doesn't make her racist. It just makes her naive.
I also didn’t think journalist Juan Williams should have been fired from NPR in 2010 after he said on The O’Reilly Factor that Muslims at the airport make him nervous. Why? Because people need a chance to redeem themselves after learning from their mistakes. At this point, the public scorn is punishment enough. Let’s give them a chance to show they can take feedback and turn it around if they so choose.
What happens instead is that people like Williams and Eisner have the opportunity to go away feeling like they are the victims instead of the people they have ignorantly stereotyped. They get to say “those self-righteous liberals find fault with everyone, therefore their complaints against me can’t be legitimate.”
I think the correct course of action was for the editors at The Daily Texan to apologize for allowing a piece like that to be published in their paper. A course they did take after first stating that it was their policy to allow their contributors to publish their opinions.
The mistakes in the cartoon alone, (misspelling Martin’s name, unclear labeling, calling Martin a “colored boy” when no major media outlet has), should have sent it back for revision. If Eisner’s intent was to make liberals think about their prejudices, she failed in her communication and the majority of people could see that (hence the paltry 181 signatures in her defense). Why couldn’t The Daily Texan editorial board?
“[Daily Texan Managing Editor Audrey White] and I have discussed ways to address this problem that is inherent to The Texan where we’re not engaging with diverse communities,” Vivian Aldous, Daily Texan Editor-in-Chief told a crowd of more than 50 people gathered on the University’s Communication Plaza last week to discuss the effects of the cartoon and how to move forward. “I’ve worked at the Texan for four years. That’s a problem we’ve have always had and that’s something we want to address because it is our problem. And it’s not that people haven’t been coming to us, it’s that we haven’t been going out and reaching out to other people.”
White did reach out to me and other journalists this week with an invitation to visit the University on Friday to share with The Daily Texan staff our experiences covering topics related to race, racism and diversity.
“If you’re a journalist, that’s part of your job… to understand what the different sensitivities and perceptions are,” Donna de Cesare, Associate Professor at the UT School of Journalism said at the same meet-up last week. “There’s a history at The Daily Texan. This is not the first time that racist cartoons have appeared in the Texan and that the coverage has not been reflective of this campus as a whole. I feel that this is something that the editorial board should have paid attention to. It should not have happened. What I’m hearing today are positive steps, but they really have to own the mistake that they made.”