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San Diego Union-Tribune's Steve Breen apologizes for Jussie Smollett cartoon

San Diego civil rights activists on Monday called for change after a controversial cartoon by Steve Breen was published last Friday in the San Diego Union-Tribune depicting Jussie Smollett

SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - San Diego civil rights activists on Monday called for change after a controversial cartoon by Steve Breen was published last Friday in the San Diego Union-Tribune depicting Jussie Smollett, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison as “Famous African American Storytellers.”

The controversial cartoon shows actor Jussie Smollet, who was accused of orchestrating a hate crime against himself, with writers Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. The title of the cartoon was ‘Famous African-American Storytellers.’ 

Steve Breen told News 8 criticism came swiftly after his cartoon was published.

“I just want to say that I am sorry for this cartoon. I should have reconstructed the cartoon differently. It read like I was putting them on the same plane - like I was denigrating these two great figures when that was not my intent,” said Breen. 

On Monday, Breen met with several leaders in the African-American community. He apologized for the cartoon. Breen said he is also working to reach out to more people of color when he may have a blind spot on an issue. 

“Going forward what we are going to do is we are going to show the cartoons to more people. The cartoons specifically on race so that we can get other perspectives,” said Breen. 

Rev. Shane Harris was also among the group that discussed the cartoon with Breen and his editors. 

“This is not a joke. This is not a way to make jokes about our community,” he said. 

Harris said it was insulting to see Smollett next to two African-American writers that are considered heroes and idols. Further, Harris said he hopes Breen is serious about making changes. 

“He knows he messed up here, but the question is what outcomes will come out of him doing this?” 

After criticism the San Diego Union-Tribune removed the cartoon. The publisher on Friday also issued an apology. 

In its explanation, the paper said in part:

Steve Breen’s editorial cartoon from Friday’s newspaper should not have been published and we have removed it from our website. At The San Diego Union-Tribune, we take matters of race and social justice seriously, which means handling these topics with care. That did not happen in this case.

Breen admitted he did not show the cartoon to a black colleague before it was published. According to Breen, had he, there is a good chance it would not have been published. 

“My regret was that could not go back to Thursday and tweak the cartoon so that it was not hurtful or offensive to anybody,” said Breen. 

Read the full explanation here, on the San Diego Union-Tribune's website. 

Breen’s cartoon was originally published Friday February 22, 2019, by the San Diego Union-Tribune online and in its paper.