Newsweek’s racist and misinformed Ebola cover story, say some

People voiced strong disagreement with using a monkey for a cover story about Africa, saying it evoked racist connotations.

This week, a drawn chimp features as the sole image on the cover of Newsweek. The article and cover image now face two serious charges from academics, activists and diplomats. They say that the image of a monkey is racist and the article is factually incorrect. The depiction of Africans as ape-like and sub-human dates back centuries to colonialism. A racist justification for treating Africans as inferior, the image is one that rots in the dustbin of history. At least that was the thought until Newsweek’s cover.

The release of the image at the end of last week was met with an immediate backlash. Newsweek’s Editor in Chief Jim Impoco engaged with his critics to the extent that he dismissed their concerns.

He flippantly dismissed the concerns of the cover, made by academics and African experts. The feature article warns that bushmeat smuggled into the US from West Africa could export the outbreak to American shores. The illegal delicacy makes its way into the US and could be a vessel for deadly diseases “such as Monkeybox, Ebola Virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other communicable diseases,” according to a 2007 customs memo obtained by Newsweek.

The cover, coupled with a misinformed article, is extremely damaging, argue researchers Laura Seay and Kim Yi Dionne in the Washington Post, today. The two carefully looked through the information about the spread of disease through bushmeat, finding that it would be nearly impossible for Ebola to make it to the US through the illicit trade.  The consequences for the way that people view Africa, and especially African migrants living in the US, can be devastating.

“Newsweek’s use of a chimpanzee to represent a scientifically invalid story about an African disease is a classic case of othering. It suggests that African immigrants are to be feared, and that apes — and African immigrants who eat them — could bring a deadly disease to the pristine shores of the United States of America,” write Seay and Dionne.

Polls show that 40% of Americans (a Fox News poll cites 60%) believe an Ebola outbreak is likely in a US city. Since Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, the odds of an outbreak in the US is extremely unlikely. That fact does not allay concerns for roughly two out of every five Americans.

Those fearful of Ebola coming to the US will have their fears reinforced by the Newsweek. They might come to believe that foreigners are making them less safe by eating bushmeat. The evidence just doesn’t hold up. The article admits, at the end, that the larger issue is with the trade in Africa itself, not importing bushmeat the the US.

In the Bronx and other parts of the city with large enclaves of West African immigrants, Newsweek could not find bushmeat for sale. Targeting small merchants, however, will not stem the illegal bushmeat trade or the potential spread of diseases like Ebola. Instead, the commercial trade in Africa must be curbed, which will require greater action and cooperation from African governments and increased international efforts—a daunting task, considering how popular bushmeat is on the continent.

The virus can be transmitted to humans through slaughtered animals, but the most likely culprit is the fruit bat, not a chimp. Even that happening is extremely rare. Then add the fact that fruit bats are rarely a part of the international trade. All of which means that there is little reason to be fearful of Ebola coming to the US through wild game caught in West Africa.

Also, Newsweek could have easily considered a cover image that looked something like this:

Fruit Bat (Marc/Flickr)

Fruit Bat (Marc/Flickr)

For a more comprehensive look into the problems with the Newsweek cover story and image, read Seay and Dionne’s piece here.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]

  • Ink Wells Rock

    What a dumb (set) of fiction. Africa was the setting for Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn “African Queen,” and Eva Gardner “King Solomon’s Mines” .. nobody was viewing Africa as dirty or backward or racially (so that is an invention by . New England liberals). And for their information “meat” is not manufactured in a factory and does not naturally come in tidy little sanitized packages. Humans of all continents have been hunting and fishing for millions of years. Hunters are depicted in constellations. ONLY in the last 30 years have the privileged affluent been able to view their food as coming from a microwave. So the professors of the Northeast are teaching the “Imaginary World They Created” as their “Veritas” or “Lux et Veritas.” It is not Africa that is viewed as tainted is the warped Ivy League.

    • john

      I agree with mr. nkoyo; to suggest that a chimp on the cover is racist and is representative of Africans is ridiculous and racist. Haven’t we gotten over that phase in our history. When I see a chimp I see a chimp, period. When I see an African man I see a man, period. When the ultra liberal academics try to act sensitive they really are trying to act superior and are demeaning to the rest of us; they really are contributing to racism by continually injecting it into normal human endeavors. Instead of continually bringing it up, they should try to see things as they are instead projecting their subliminal thoughts onto the subject in an effort to appear superior to the rest of us.

  • Kungfoochimp

    You can put your pants back on now Tom Murphy.

  • nkoyo

    I’M African and I see nothing that resembles me on that cover. Also in my side of Africa eating bat meat is unheard of. Monkeys, antelope and larger rodents like grass cutters definitely. I think this uproar is unnecessary, keep focus on the topic – Ebola.

    • Otto

      I am from South Africa where racism is rampant. I agree nkyo. The cover has a clear statement of backdoor to Ebola based on bush meat. No reference is made to people. The people however who are making the topic as racist are in fact the ones drawing conclusion between man and ape. This is strange as it is the people drawing the conclusion which are then infact being racist but yet blaming a Artical of bush meat. I lived in West Africa and traveled, Central, East and West. Fact is Central and West Africans do eat apes and monkeys. IN Ghana dogs and cats are eaten. I however was always told bats are not eaten. Bush meat is eaten the world over. Chimpanzees are eaten this is a known fact. I find it crazy that it is eaten but it is a fact. Monky hands are sold in markets. Come to South Africa. You will see what racism is. This is not racist

      • cdo12

        Agreed, folks. The front door for ebola in this country is an infected person on an airplane. The back door is infected bushmeat in luggage. The point was to check luggage a bit more carefully.

      • Mr Goodnight

        Well i lived on the U.S. all my life. And this is the first time i’ve seen the pic. Wut your up against is a group of people calling you a monkey as you read this. CNN Cartoon Network Fox Time. There owners are pushing a New World Order Agenda. Investigate for the sake of infomation. America is not safe. And quit spreading the toxic idea that they in some small way give a damn about me or your ghost. Look up Bill Gates and his vaccine (agenda)… the law now supports alowing them to datain you and use you as a lab rat. His words were “population stabilization”.. please research.

        • Mr Goodnight

          A scientist named plakk or something close to this name in pronounciation infected himself accidently. He was cured. 1979. So whats the big race about if he was cured already way before this so called epidemic. Wake up

          • Mr Goodnight

            Monkey meat..smdh

  • Bon Bon

    Racist black need to keep it up until the international community completely gives up and surrenders to the allmighty blackness that exists in Africa. Then, whites will leave them alone and let them suffer in the cesspool of political corruption and religious genocide. And OH, the medical care that helps them survive malaria, ebola, lassa and much more. Pride is already their downfall. And we “white folks” are sick to death of hearing about how special and wonderful black people are and how they cannot conceive of any type of evil. Then let them fight their own damned battles. I’m done.

    • Mr Goodnight

      Point proven. The revolution is at your door step Bon Bon. I take my pride in knowing people like you will suffer the judgement declared on you. Someone will experience a little heaven on earth wasting this clown. I love decent people of all nationalities but this kind here is the reason aliens don’t speak to us.

      • Bon Bon

        You emotional vindication might be valid if it were based upon reality. But like many other cultures, the hatred is inbred from the time of birth because everyone should pay for the behavior of someone they probably don’t even know. You’re saying I should pay because someone else is racists. It is fortunate that distorted and misguided grudges rarely culminate in anything worth noting historically. Muslims will be beheading you for skin color long before you think you’ll receive compensation for historical dealings against blacks.

        Because it’s Islam you really need to worry about. Their prophet wasn’t too fond of blacks. And according to him and Arabs, blacks rank worse than the general populous of infidels.

        • Mr Goodnight

          Islam is not my problem. Our Universal GOD, not the church god, has it all(period)(.) In respects, you have your story to tell also. Up to the present moment you’re planning for your future. My opinion doesn’t manufacture your idea nor will it i.fluence to change your mind. In all your research investigate the negative results in the promises the people with your attitude (renigged) on even though I give my life. I thought you loved me but instead you cut my and my wifes throat as we slept, even though we gave you a place to live. We seen the signs but chose not to use common sense GOD gave us, and not evict you. So now my son has went to hell and my daughter is dying. You were never caught that night. At the end of each day we have to be who we are. So continue in search of what you consider riches… (He) said HE will create an army out of the people who do not know MY NAME…. The bow is streched.

          • Bon Bon

            Black Hebrew racists, I see. You are way off the bat (and your medications). My elohim, of whom I know His personal and proper name which He spoke to Moses for “all time” doesn’t give a ratz ass about skin color. Nor does he gives a ratz ass about your petty grievances.

            I hate it when people think YHWH is a tool for fools. You’re not the only people in the world who have suffered injustice, ya self-centered and self-serving hypocrite.

          • Mr Goodnight

            Only concurs with the response. Do you not seek after righteousness? Do you love the world. You have hateful words. Racial slurs. Wut comes out of your mouth comes from your heart. You can not serve GOD and mammon. A bad tree can not produce good fruit. Though you know His name you refuse to turn away from your wicked ways. Your prayers will fall on Deaf ears and He has turned His eyes away from your unrighteous deeds. Repent and turn away fro your tresspasses. All is vein if you have no love. You are very educated but love is necessary to do the WILL of the Father. Please go to the true Sheppard’s voice. He said follow Me. No excuses. Christ cursed the fig tree and said no one will eat from you again. Book of revelation says He will be given a new name and no one will know it. why. Submit yourself…The fear of GOD is the beginning of knowledge.

          • Bon Bon

            YHWH hates. He loathes. He especially loathes those who use his Word and His agenda for their own gain. You are not YHWH. You are asking me to be politically correct which is of this world.

            And it’s not “The fear of god..” It is “The reverence of YHWH…”

            If you’re going to be “righteous” at least don’t be so lazy to use incorrect texts.

  • monstermoviefan

    PC crowd justifying their jobs I guess. What do they do for a living anyway?

  • Maj Variola

    The west will start bombing airports and mining harbors. Snipers sans frontieres. quarantine with extreme prejudice. Actually, africans are doing this already.

    9 billions with western food? Fail. Famine, plague, war, or birth control. I guess you chose —Malthus.

    Nuclear carpet bombing. Don’t bother looking up or listening, you won’t see it.

    Strong juju magic cleans up african parasites.

  • cdo12

    Jeez, I read that article and it’s not talking anything about racism. One of the reservoirs of ebola is chimpanzees, considered a delicacy in areas that favor bushmeat consumption. There is an ebola outbreak. It’s believed it’s transmitted from it’s host to people through butchering just such bushmeat. And ebola laden monkeys would be far easier to catch, as the virus makes them inactive. I don’t think we read the same story.

  • Humancondition

    Much ado about nothing. This is just people letting emotions get in the way of logic and history. Apes make up a small percentage of bush meat that is consumed but the fact is that they ARE still killed and eaten and are a prime candidate for zoonosis. Many experts believe that HIV was passed to humans via eating chimps and passing a simian immunodeficiency virus. Yet somehow when you try to possibly link eating a chimp to another disease, now it’s racist. The cover has nothing to do with racism or what some people believe other people look like. It has to do with the fact that chimps have been a vessel in the past. Get off the PC high horse.

    • Jane Smith

      Saying AIDS came from eating apes was racist nonsense too.

  • Jennifer Ambrose

    Even regardless of the implications of the cover photo and story, this behavior from the Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek is shocking. I can’t get over that he, in a public forum no less, called Kim Yi Donne, the Africa Is a Country team, and others “trolls” and said their concern was “sad” and “ridiculous.” I’m appalled.

  • rw

    There are so many different animals Newsweek could have put up for the cover. Regrettably, they decided to use the chimpanzee. North Americans will immediately see the connection between blacks and monkeys. Fortunately, the article itself will help explain most of that away. Bare in mind, racism is a terrible mess in N. America, and to believe otherwise is a testament to one’s naivety. As a matter of fact, it appears racism is on a bit of a comeback lately. There is a risk for the virus to make its way to N. America visa-vi African immigrants still wanting to consume traditional
    foods. Either the tainted meet infects someone on route, or it infects an immigrant upon consumption. The virus has time and the law of probability on its side. North American’s have the hope science will find a vaccine in time to repel this African ambassador of the Dark Continent.

    • ef

      This is extremely derogatory. I would never expected some one as ignorant as you to have class anyway. Learn some sense.

  • Andrea

    Please check your facts – chimps and monkey are not the same! You can’t use the two terms interchangeably as you have done in this article.

  • tangumonkem

    Bush meat is eaten all over the world. The present out break of the Ebola virus has been linked to bats. Why did news week refused to use the picture of a bat? Africans are not sub human no are they close relatives of chimpanzees. If you still think that your race is superior to others, it is time to wake up!

  • L.L

    I recently stumbled into this article (25 August 2014) on racist connotations
    that the cover of Newsweek features. The title of the article strongly
    attracted me to read with a great interest.

    Why? I have studied abroad in the Philippines which is composed of people of various
    races. Hence, racism is an important issue in the Philippines. According to “The
    Journal of The Polynesian Society”, the races of the Philippines have ever been
    closely connected with the history of the native race from the time of the Spanish
    conquest. Moreover, since there are lots of marketing opportunities in English
    speaking countries, more and more people from outside of the Philippines
    are heading for this nation. That’s why I read Tom Murphy’s article with a
    great interest.

    Frankly, reading the article (25 August 2014), I was impressed by how you handled the
    current controversial issue “Racism” with great care. The article plainly
    showed how Jim Impoco, Chief of Newsweek’s Editor, protested that he did not
    mean to be a racist, saying, “ridiculous and you all are turning this into a
    racist issue, Sad” in his Twitter. Moreover, the article also suggested what a
    cover page should look like (I personally agreed with your suggestion 100
    percent!). I agree that the cover page of Newsweek contains racist connotations
    since a monkey suggests to depict Africans as uncivilized and animal like.

    However, if we are really concerned about each person’s right and individual
    perspective, could other takes on the cover be put in? Of course,
    most people looking at the cover page of Newsweek will say that it is racist of
    Africans. Whereas, there is no specific or underlying evidence that Jim Impoco calculatedly
    discriminated against Africans based on race. This article begs
    the question what Jim Impoco did mean when he approved to put a monkey in the cover. For
    example, one user nicknamed “nkoyo” commented on the article that he could not
    see anything that resembles him that on the cover even if he is an African. From
    where I stand, the article tries to interpret everything related to racism with
    only a cover page. I know an article is just an article. Reporters can write
    whatever they want. But, those articles can surely change viewers’ conventional
    wisdoms which are mostly misguided.

    There really isn’t any conclusion we can draw from looking at a single individual’s
    hand. we believe those articles concerning others’ perspective will ultimately change the world through the force of our ideas.

    Thank you