DENVER – Leaders of Colorado’s Asian community have demanded an apology and are planning a boycott against The Villager newspaper in Greenwood Village for publishing a story on April Fools’ Day that used extensive Asian stereotypes.
The article, headlined “America’s Largest Amusement Park Heads to Greenwood Village,” jokes about an influx of Chinese students in the school district and includes a paragraph about stocking hotels with extra rice, vegetables and chopsticks for the hundreds of Chinese workers being brought in to build the fictitious park.
It also mocks the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first identified, and uses fake quotes from local public officials, although with altered name spellings.
“We are demanding an apology to the Asian community,” Fran Campbell, president and chief executive officer of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, told The Denver Post. “We strongly suggest diversity training and hiring.”
The newspaper has posted a note on its website saying, “Our April Fool’s spoof article contained words and content that were poorly chosen and we are sorry for that.”
The note also said the paper has reached out to the Asian Chamber of Commerce, the city of Greenwood Village and the Cherry Creek School District “to embrace, listen and learn.” Its Thursday edition included a spread highlighting examples of the publication’s “positive, culturally inclusive coverage.”
Chris Smith, the incoming Cherry Creek Schools superintendent who was quoted in the article, sent a letter to district families criticizing the newspaper, the Post reported.
“The racist and xenophobic language used in this article is harmful to the Asian American community and it is offensive to all of us,” he wrote.
Posting April Fools’ Day stories in newspapers and on news websites is not supported by journalism ethics experts, including the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Not only does this article provide completely fabricated information that could easily be confused as truth, it contains racist stereotypes about a population that has been subject to a wave of hate crimes over the past year,” said Danielle McLean, chairwoman of SPJ’s ethics committee.
A column published by the University of Colorado Boulder’s student newspaper in 2008 used similar racist stereotypes involving Asians, leading to protests and ultimately to the university separating itself from the publication, which became known as the CU Independent.
That column, and the story published in The Villager, are examples of poor judgment and racist sentiments in the name of journalism, said Gil Asakawa, a journalist and former CU Independent adviser.
“Asians by and large have been invisible in mainstream media unless something happens,” Asakawa said. “The fact this kind of thing can happen tells me there’s still a lot work to do.”
The Villager article was published 16 days after shootings outside Atlanta-area spas, where six of the eight people killed were Asian. People of Asian descent who live in the United States have reported increased attacks amid the pandemic and blame the rise on former President Donald Trump, who referred to it as the “Chinese virus.”