USA Today editor apologizes for publishing blackface photo in college

The top editor at USA Today issued an apology Wednesday after an investigation revealed that she had a role in the publication of a racist photo in her college yearbook.

“The news is full of blackface pictures. There can be no debate about whether or not such images are racist and hurtful. They are,” wrote editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll in a statement published on the paper’s website. “It was recently brought to my attention that I was involved in publishing such a photo when I was in college. I am sorry for the hurt I caused back then and the hurt it will cause today.”

The image in question was unearthed by the Arizona Republic as part of a nationwide review of yearbooks by Gannett-run papers — a project that was prompted by the recently discovered blackface photo from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook. (The Republic, like USA Today, is owned by Gannett.)

Originally published in the 1989 Arizona State University annual, the photo showed two people at a Halloween party depicting Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, each individual in blackface.

The Arizona Republic said it is “not publishing the photos” and that “The identities of the people in them were not clear and there was no way to reach them for comment.” Carroll did not appear in the photo.

Carroll, a former editor at the Arizona Republic, was the “editor-in-chief of the yearbook, and the person credited with page layout for the photo spread,” according to the Republic.

The Republic said it also found two other blackface photos from yearbooks at the University of Arizona.

A spokesperson for Arizona State University told CNN Business that the photo is a “sad reminder that this kind of insensitivity was all too common in past decades.”

“Things are changing for the better, for which we at ASU are grateful, but that doesn’t take away the possibility that the picture caused or will cause pain. For that we are sorry,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

In her statement, Carroll said she was “shocked” by the discovery and that she “had no memory of that photo.”

“Today’s 51-year-old me of course understands and is crushed by this mistake,” she said. “I want to apologize publicly. As journalists, we must hold ourselves accountable as we do others, and it is important to call myself out for this poor judgment.”

Northam’s scandal provided a grim reminder of the country’s centuries-long history with blackface, which uses and perpetuates racist stereotypes. It also underscored how widely, and for how long, the tradition was tolerated.

Papers in the Gannett-owned USA Today Network went through 900 publications at 120 schools across America; USA Today reporter Brett Murphy said the investigation revealed that “a stunning number of colleges and university yearbooks published images of blatant racism on campus” in the 1970s and 1980s.

The recent events have also inspired some schools to look inward. Emory University announced Wednesday that it will create a commission to review racist photos published in its own yearbooks.