by Frank Eltman
Associated Press Writer
GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (AP)—A weekly newspaper photo depicting President Barack Obama and his wife as characters from the TV sitcom “Sanford and Son” was intended as political satire and not a racist commentary, the publisher said May 5.
Phillip Sciarello, publisher and part owner of the Smithtown Messenger on New York’s Long Island, defended the decision to publish the photo, but added the newspaper would run a retraction in its next edition for anyone who might have been offended.
|CONTROVERSIAL PHOTO—In this page copied from the Smithtown Messenger weekly newspaper May 5, a group of photos showing recent presidents with their wives in a “before and after” sequence is shown.
The photo spread features “before and after” shots of the last six presidents and their wives, starting with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and ending with the Obamas. The “after” photo of the Obamas is a shot from the 1970s show, with Redd Foxx as Fred Sanford and LaWanda Page as Sanford’s sister-in-law, Aunt Esther. She is seen standing ready to box Sanford; the characters often verbally jousted as part of the show’s story line.
The “after” photos of the other presidents feature their images as slightly older than when they took office.
The controversy prompted the Brookhaven town board to remove one of the Messenger’s sister publications, the Brookhaven Review, as an official newspaper, meaning it will no longer publish town government legal notices.
“The reference to racial stereotypes is where the line was crossed,” Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko told Newsday in last Wednesday’s editions. Lesko, a Democrat, did not immediately return a call for comment.
A Suffolk County legislator, DuWayne Gregory of Amityville, said he will propose a resolution to drop the Messenger as an official county paper at next week’s meeting of the legislature.
Hazel N. Dukes, president of the state NAACP conference, said in a statement that the county should immediately pull advertising from any publication that ran the photo.
“It is simply shocking and outrageous that such a blatantly racist ad would run in any paper, much less an official paper of Suffolk County,” Dukes said. “New Yorkers of all races and ethnicity are disgusted by it and reject it.”
Sciarello said in an editorial May 6 that it was not the Long Island paper’s intent to offend anyone. He again maintained that the photo was meant as political satire. But he said the paper was “mindful that the satire seemed to some in poor taste.”
Tracey Edwards, the NAACP’s Long Island regional director, described the portrayal of the Obamas as “despicable and disrespectful. If this was intended as satire, it misses the mark.”