How the watermelon cartoon appeared

Remember the mini-controversy over the watermelon toothpaste editorial page cartoon that appeared in the Boston Herald? Observers, including me, wondered how no one along the editorial chain flagged the problem before the paper went to print. The paper’s editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen explains how the editorial oversight process works and why it failed in this case.

Back then [cartoonist Holbert] would walk into my office with a handful of sketches. Today technology means that a rough drawing comes into my email inbox.

But it’s my job as an editor to see around corners, to look at all the possible meanings and nuances of words and of images. It’s my job and two weeks ago I failed at it miserably. And that’s all on me and this is why.

When I have foreign visitors come by — other journalists or public officials — I like to start with a tour of our Seaport offices. We start in the 6th floor newsroom and then come down to my office on the 5th floor. It begins a conversation about the traditional American structure of a newspaper — that separation of news and opinion. The fact that the folks in the newsroom are not responsible for what happens on the editorial pages any more than I am responsible for what happens on Page One.

Yes, a final page proof does go up to the 6th floor where a desk editor will read the editorials, make sure we haven’t made some obvious error of fact and in the event a topic has been overtaken by breaking news events will pick up the phone and advise me that we need an update.

On the night in question — the night the cartoon appeared on a page proof, the proof was not left in the proper bin. No senior news editor ever saw it.

And every evening the publisher gets a copy of the editorials sent to his email — not the images — only the words.

So there you have it. The remarkably simple way in which bad stuff can happen.

These things can happen which is why I tend to be cautious about judging people and making serious charges against them unless they have a history of such behavior, which does not seem to be the case here.


  1. says

    ” unless they have a history of such behavior”

    Well, the fact that it was The Herald — which tends to be more aligned with FOX news — definitely helped the impression that it wasn’t 100% innocent.

  2. moarscienceplz says

    Is it just me, or is anyone else reminded of how Rose Mary Woods explained the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tape?

  3. Matt G says

    When Obama was first elected, some right wing group printed “currency” with Obama’s portrait amid a patch of watermelon. There is too much plausible deniability in this story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *