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Herald cartoonist apologizes for ‘naive’ Obama watermelon reference

Boston Herald cartoonist Jerry Holbert apologized Wednesday morning for what he described as a “naive” reference that many took as a racist jab at President Obama.

The cartoon, which ran in Wednesday’s papers, was a take on the recent revelations that an intruder got farther into the White House than originally thought.

It shows Obama, surprised, brushing his teeth as a strange man sits in the bathtub behind him and asks whether the president has “tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste.”

Many on the Web saw the watermelon reference as racist in regard to an African-American president, and Wednesday morning a contrite Holbert took to Boston Herald Radio to explain himself.

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“I had no intention at all of offending anybody. I thought this was a very lighthearted cartoon,” Holbert said, describing how he selected the flavor because he likes watermelon-flavored things, including candy. “Naive, stupid, those kinds of things I understand. But racist I’m definitely not.”

Holbert also addressed the fact that a syndicate had asked him to change the flavor to raspberry (he agreed to do it), citing a racial concern.

He said he disagreed with that assessment, but should have called into the Herald to change the cartoon there as well.

“It was stupid on my part, but, you know, racism is sort of innately stupid, and I will not participate in that,” he said.

The Herald also issued a statement expressing its regret but standing behind Holbert as a cartoonist of “utmost integrity.”

“His cartoon satirizing the US Secret Service breach at the White House has offended some people and to them we apologize,” the statement said. “His choice of imagery was absolutely not meant to be hurtful.”

Listen to Holbert’s appearance below:


Trisha Thadani contributed to this report. Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andyrosen.

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