Philadelphia newspaper apologizes for publishing anti-Asian caption “error”

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The Philadelphia Public Record — a local paper that caters mostly to a readership of elected officials and labour unions — issued a weak sauce apology after publishing the above photo in its newspaper late last week. The photo of city councilman Mark Squilla attending a fundraiser was captioned in the August 21st issue of the paper with the names of several Asian American attendees, including several clearly fake pidgin names such as “Hao Hello”, “Me Too”, “Chinky Winky” and “Dinky Doo”.

All of the names are clearly offensive; the name “Chinky Winky” also invokes a common anti-Chinese slur.

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The names, which are reminiscent of the nonsensical pilot names reported by local news station KTVU during the Asiana flight disaster (see above), may seem like a harmless prank. However, the root of this brand of bigotry lies within the assertion that Asians are both too foreign and too unimportant to deserve the respect of self-determination. So, instead, we are cast with humbling, racialized, infantalized and caricatured names that rejects our humanity and our individuality. We lose the respect of being recognized by our own names.

In the case of the Public Record, the racist captioning arrives in a generally unprofessional and non-journalistic package: the caption contains at least two typographical errors unrelated to the nonsensical names, Squilla is named twice (and clearly out of order), and there are more names than there are people in the picture.

Jimmy Tayoun, Sr., editor of the Philadelphia Public Record.
Jimmy Tayoun, Sr., editor of the Philadelphia Public Record. (Photo credit: Philadelphia Magazine)

Public Record editor Jimmy Tayoun initially doubled down on the caption, saying that the captioner was “a Britisher” (whatever that is) who “didn’t mean anything by it”. He further characterized the caption as the product of a “proofreading error” that was allegedly missed after a freelance photographer included three “nicknames” for the people in the photo. Tayoun concluded his bizarre statement with the declaration that the Public Record is “the most inclusive paper in Philadelphia”. This non-apology is as offensive as it is patently unacceptable.

Tayoun further asserted that “no one is offended” and that anyone raising the issue was just trying to cause trouble. Well, I — for one — am offended.

More recently, the paper published a formal apology after Tayoun retracted his earlier bone-headed comments.

In our Aug. 21, 2014 issue an offensive slur was accidentally published in the Philadelphia Public Record. This shocking lapse of professional conduct occurred contrary to our editorial directives and in no way reflects the views of our staff or our organization.

An internal investigation is underway to uncover the source of this intolerable abuse and to prevent it from ever happening again. We apologize whole-heartedly to the Asian American community and to all Philadelphians of this vibrant, diverse city who work together to make it the best place in America to live and to grow.

The staffer responsible for the caption was also reportedly fired.

Now, how about we get to the point where these kinds of racist “errors” — and the weak sauce non-apologies that inevitably follow — don’t have to happen in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) weighed in with this statement:

We at the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) are disappointed that editors at the Philadelphia Public Record would stoop to using ethnic slurs and tired caricatures of Asian-sounding names in a photo caption published Aug. 21.

The caption in the Public Record adds to the long history of Asian Americans being subjected to slurs for their language and appearance.

We accept the apology from Public Record Publisher Jimmy Tayoun Sr., and we applaud him for issuing a correction online and pledging to publish one in print.

We’re also heartened by his taking personal responsibility: “In the end, I’m responsible because I didn’t read the cutlines like I should have,” he told AAJA.

While we at MediaWatch did not ask for disciplinary action, we acknowledge Tayoun’s extraordinary step in firing the person involved in the incident.

We invite the Public Record to reach out to AAJA’s Philadelphia Chapter for further guidance.

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