SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (WPIX)—Photos of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle that surfaced in a Republican newspaper last week have caused a flurry of controversy on Long Island.
The pictures featured in the weekly Smithtown Messenger, created by Phillip Sciarello, features "before and after" photos of six presidents and their wives, starting with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and continuing on to the Obamas.
One picture of President Obama and his wife Michelle show the couple hugging, while the second depicted the 1970's show "Sanford and Son" where Sanford's sister-in-law Aunt Esther, played by LaWanda Page, had her fists up facing comedian Redd Foxx.
Many critics have dubbed the illustration "racist" and "despicable," which has prompted many Democrats to call for the Smithtown Messenger to be stripped of county legal ads.
NAACP Regional president Tracy Edwards comment on photo spread, telling PIX 11 News, "It's despicable. It's disrespectful. If is was meant as satire, it clearly missed the mark."
However, Sciarello called the criticism "completely wrong" and said they were meant as "political sattire."
The publication issued a statement to PIX 11 News that will also appear as a retraction slated to appear in Thursday's publication.
"The publisher of the Smithtown Messenger regret any offense taken by our readers at the photographic political satire depicting the current and past presidents on the editorial page in the April 29th, 2010 issue. While we have grave disagreement with the policies of the current Administration, we hold the office of President of the United States in great respect."
"We also hold dear the principles of freedom and tolerance upon which our great Nation was founded. We are mindful that the satire seemed to some in poor taste. At the same time, we reject the notions that elected officials, at any level of government, or any race, creed, or color, can hold themselves above the law or immune from satire. This week the President himself caused some controversy by joking about sending deadly "predator drones" against the Jonas Brothers. We are confident he was not serious, as we are that our satiric content meant no disrespect. We Thank you for your continued readership, and as always, invite your comment or constructive criticism. Our apologies to all concerned."
In addition, the questionable photos appeared in sister papers, including the Brookhaven and Ronkonkoma Review, which is sent to about 30,000 homes on Long Island.
It wasn't immediately clear if the White House was aware of the published photographs Wednesday.