On Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a column about HUD Secretary Julian Castro that had the sub-headline “we’ll need more fajitas.”
This was clearly and unquestionably offensive. It’s astounding that anyone at the Post let this see the light of day, but it was published both in print and online.
Shortly after the story hit the web, the Post changed the story’s headline online but ran no statement of correction or clarification with the column about what was changed or why. However, Post readers left notes in the online comments reflecting just how hurtful and dumb of a headline it was. “What’s next, Post writers joking about egg rolls for prominent Asians or, heaven forbid, watermelon and fried chicken for the Attorney General?,” wrote one reader.
The column, which was written by the Post’s Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz, was about how Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, has met with former Secretary of State HIllary Clinton and former President BIll Clinton in Washington D.C. since being appointed HUD Secretary. As the San Antonio Express News pointed out in a Wednesday news story on the Post’s “fajita” headline, the offending Post column doesn’t remotely pertain to food whatsoever.
On Wednesday, Kamen and Itkowitz issued a short apology for the offensive subhead at the end of a column that was a round up of commentary on various D.C. happenings. In the apology, Kamen and Itkowitz explain that a “brilliant and supremely reliable colleague who had a bad day” wrote the “we’ll need more fajitas” line and has since apologized. The column doesn’t name the copy editor, and it’s unclear just who the copy editor apologized to, but Kamen and Itkowitz said in the piece that “we are duly mortified, chagrined and abashed and apologize to our readers.”
“This is clearly a case that unfortunately depicts why media companies like the Washington Post need more Latinos on staff. It doesn’t take a Latino copy editor or columnist to know that subhed was offensive, but if the newsroom were more diverse and more Latinos had an active voice WaPo wouldn’t be in the position of apologizing,” said Mekahlo Medina, NAHJ President. “We believe the Post shouldn’t have waited a day to apologize. It should have run a note on the original column about what it did wrong. When the apology did show up today, it deserved more than a footnote at the bottom of a round-up column.”
[Update: The post updated the story and placed an apology at the top of the story]
NAHJ will be reaching out to the Washington Post and inviting them to participate in our “Leadership Council,” which works on connecting Latino journalists and industry leaders to develop future management candidates. We will also offer to provide training on reporting on Latino issues and the community to the Washington Post newsroom.