UPDATE: Asbury Park Press fires reporter over offensive caption


The Asbury Park Press has issued an apology for an offensive caption that appeared in a gallery of photos of COVID-19 vaccinations being administered in Lakewood.

But not everybody is ready to move on.

Michael Inzelbuch, the attorney and spokesman for the Lakewood school district, which serves a community that is predominantly minority and Jewish, called Executive Editor Paul D'Ambrosio's apology "bogus" and "too little too late."

And a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy said the newspaper's reaction fell short, calling for "answers about how and why this happened, and why such crude, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic language was published."

Murphy later was asked directly about the caption, which he said was "offensive on many levels."

"I frankly didn't believe it, I then read it with my own eyes, and it's unfathomable that someone could have written that, even privately never mind that it was published," the governor said during the state briefing on pandemic response on Monday afternoon.

"I think with all due respect, someone has to pay a price for that," he continued, "Even the apology missed the point, as I understood the apology."

The caption appeared with a photo taken of a woman nurse preparing a vaccine at the CHEMED clinic. The photo was posted on Saturday. The photos and story were by multimedia reporter Gustavo Martinez Contreras, who made headlines last year after police arrested him while covering a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The caption read: "A f**king hot nurse, a total JAP, loads a syringe with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during in the Center for Health Education, Medicine and Dentistry vaccination tent in Lakewood, New Jersey, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021," according to a screenshot posted by the New Jersey Globe.

After the Globe's report Sunday night, the caption was edited to remove the offensive words before the photo was completely removed. The newspaper did not acknowledge the change until late Monday morning when D'Ambrosio posted an apology saying that photo was taken down as soon as the editorial staff became aware of it.

"I apologize deeply to women, the Lakewood Jewish community, the Asian American community and all our readers," D'Ambrosio's statement says.

The term JAP can be a derogatory term referring to a Japanese person but in the context of the photo and story, it appears to have been an acronym for "Jewish American Princess," which is considered offensive because it plays on Jewish stereotypes.

"The words in the caption were totally unacceptable and in no way reflect the principles and practices of the staff of the Press and Gannett. The Press and Gannett have a long history of fighting for inclusiveness, diversity and women’s rights. We took immediate and significant action once we became aware of the issue, and we changed our online procedures to ensure such an event never happens again," D’Ambrosio' statement says.

The apology did not explain how and why the caption appeared online or whether any employees were reprimanded.

State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, took note of the photo on his Twitter account and doesn’t feel the newspaper’s apology goes far enough and called it “unacceptable.”

“If this happened to someone’s legislative office or non-profit office they would demand answers. They would ask for accountability. I think its fair to ask the same of them. While I appreciate the apology why did this happen? How did this happen? How can we be assured this doesn’t happen again," Gopal told New Jersey 101.5. "We’ve seen the Asbury Park Press and other members of the media put repeated editorials on the higher moral ground on a variety of issues so I think they should be held to that same high standard.”

Gopal had more questions about the apology itself.

“Why are they apologizing to Asian-Americans; I’m an Asian-American. Why does it say the Lakewood Jewish community not the Jewish community as a whole? There’s a lot of questions here. You could have had kids reading that. It’s so wrong, so offensive in so many different directions and they’re a member of the media. I think the explanation they gave is unacceptable," Gopal said.

State Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, who represents Lakewood, was glad to see an apology but wants a better explanation.

"The @AsburyParkPress photo caption shared by @TheNJGlobe was horrific. It denigrates a nurse working on the front lines based on her religion and gender. While I'm glad to see the APP's apology, how did this happen and how will you stop it in the future," Singer said.

In an open letter to D'Ambrosio, Inzelbuch said that "this is not the first occasion wherein the APP has demonstrated a lack of respect for the Lakewood community," particularly the Orthodox Jewish community.

"Why would it take more than 24 hours to offer an apology, and, only after I wrote you the email below?" Inzelbuch said. "You allege to have taken 'immediate and significant action.'  What exactly did you do 'immediately?' What 'significant action'“ did you take? "

Martínez Contreras filed a lawsuit against the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office after his arrest at a Black Lives Matter protest in Asbury Park in June.

The charges were dismissed the next day by Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni but Martínez Contreras believes he was targeted because he was covering an event about violence by police against civilians.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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