Chicago Sun-Times apologizes for pairing US-related COVID article with photo of masked Tokyo residents

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Chicago Sun-Times. Image: Ildar Sagdejev/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • The Chicago Sun-Times’ use of an image of Tokyo residents for a U.S. news story related to COVID-19 stirred online outrage.
  • Journalist Amy S. Choi shared a screenshot of Sun-Time’s Twitter post with the original photo to her Twitter. Choi and many others who replied to her thread criticized the use of the image as careless and offensive, saying the publication was adding to the persistent racism and hate crimes experienced by many Asian Americans throughout the pandemic.
  • In response to the backlash, the publication changed the image and released a public apology to their Twitter account on Monday; however, the apology did not satisfy some users who further questioned the publication’s actions.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ use of an image of Tokyo residents for a U.S. news story related to COVID-19 stirred online outrage.

The Sun-Times paired their article “A new COVID variant is spreading across the US. Here’s what you need to know about BA.2” with a featured image of a Japanese crowd in Tokyo wearing face masks. 

While the image has now been changed to a sign encouraging the use of face masks in Chicago, journalist Amy S. Choi had shared a screenshot of the Sun-Time’s Twitter post with the original photo to her Twitter on Sunday. She captioned her tweet, “Are you kidding me with this photo. Are you f*cking KIDDING me? We’re still doing this?”

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Choi and many others who replied to her thread criticized the choice of the image as careless and offensive, saying the publication was adding to the persistent racism and hate crimes experienced by many Asian Americans throughout the pandemic. 

“[The] article is mostly about rising cases in Europe and the US… yet still they chose this photo,” a Twitter user replied, along with a screenshot of the article itself.

“Is that really even a photo of the US? I mean, it’d be bad enough if it was a photo of the US focused on Asians, but those clothing and mask colors scream ‘Tokyo’ to me…in which case it’s doubly ‘why?!?’” another user wrote

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One user tagged Sun-Times and said, “just wanted to say thanks for directly contributing to someone’s grandmother being murdered.”

“@Suntimes what’s up with the racism. Do better,” another user tweeted

In response to the backlash, the publication released a public apology to their Twitter account on Monday. 

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“Over the weekend, the Sun-Times posted a wire story about COVID-19 in the U.S. and inadvertently paired it with a photo of masked Tokyo residents. We know this error has understandably offended readers and have removed the photo and related social media post,” the Sun-Times tweeted. “Such images can add to the worsening xenophobia and racism that Asian Americans have faced since COVID began. We apologize and vow to do better.”

The apology did not satisfy some users who further questioned the publication’s actions.

“Yes, do better! It’s 2022, there should be no excuse to be using an image like that continue to damage the Asian community! There should be outrage and lawsuits against any and all institutions that do that,” one user replied.

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“This incident highlights a far deeper issue —the lack of diversity on your staff and the weak processes which allow such egregious and harmful errors to occur,” another user said. “Substantive action beyond an apology is needed—what is your organization doing to ensure this never happens again?”

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