NEW YORK (CNN) -- A day after publishing a cartoon that drew fire from critics who said it evoked historically racist images, the New York Post apologized in a statement on its Web site -- even as it defended its action and blasted some detractors.
A New York Post cartoon has sparked a debate over race and cartooning this week.
Many of those critical of the cartoon said it appeared to compare President Obama to a chimpanzee in a commentary on his recently approved economic stimulus package.
"Wednesday's Page Six cartoon -- caricaturing Monday's police shooting of a chimpanzee in Connecticut -- has created considerable controversy," the paper said about the drawing, which shows two police officers standing over the body of a chimpanzee they just shot.
The drawing is a reference to the mauling of a woman by a pet chimpanzee, which was then killed by police. In the cartoon, one of the officers tells the other, "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."
The Post said the cartoon was meant to mock what it called an "ineptly written" stimulus bill.
"But it has been taken as something else -- as a depiction of President Obama, as a thinly veiled expression of racism," reads the statement. "This most certainly was not its intent; to those who were offended by the image, we apologize." Watch reaction to Post's apology »
But the statement immediately swerves to fire back at some of the image's critics.
"However, there are some in the media and in public life who have had differences with The Post in the past -- and they see the incident as an opportunity for payback," the statement says. "To them, no apology is due. Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon -- even as the opportunists seek to make it something else."
Several African-American leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, attacked the image, which was drawn by artist Sean Delonas.
Sharpton said Thursday he and the leaders of "various groups" would respond at 5 p.m. Friday outside The Post's offices in midtown Manhattan.
"Though we think it is the right thing for them to apologize to those they offended," the statement appeared to blame those who raised the issue "rather than take responsibility for what they did," Sharpton said.
He accused the newspaper of having "belatedly come with a conditional statement after people began mobilizing and preparing to challenge the waiver of News Corp in the city where they own several television stations and newspapers."
Delonas has made Sharpton the butt of previous cartoons in The Post.
In a brief phone interview with CNN, Delonas called the controversy "absolutely friggin' ridiculous."
"Do you really think I'm saying Obama should be shot? I didn't see that in the cartoon," Delonas told CNN.
"It's about the economic stimulus bill," he added.
Col Allan, the Post's editor-in-chief, said Wednesday that the cartoon "is a clear parody of a current news event."
"It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist," Allan said in a written statement.
But Sharpton was not alone in his criticism. Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said The Post showed a "serious lapse in judgment" by running the cartoon.
"To think that the cartoonist and the responsible editors at the paper did not see the racist overtones of the finished product should insult their intelligence," Ciara said in a written statement. "Instead, they celebrate their own lack of perspective and criticize those who call it what it is: tone deaf at best, overtly racist at worst." iReport.com: Share your reaction to the N.Y. Post cartoon
"Comparing President Obama and his effort to revive the economy in a manner that depicts violence and racist inferences is unacceptable," said National Urban League President Marc Morial in a statement issued Wednesday.
In an open letter to The Post, musician John Legend criticized the newspaper and called on New Yorkers not to buy it, or talk to its reporters or buy its advertising space.
Addressing the newspaper's editors, Legend wrote, "Did it occur to you that our president has been receiving death threats since early in his candidacy? Did it occur to you that blacks have historically been compared to various apes as a way of racist insult and mockery? Did you intend to invoke these painful themes when you printed the cartoon?
"If that's not what you intended, then it was stupid and willfully ignorant of you not to connect these easily connectable dots. If it is what you intended, then you obviously wanted to be grossly provocative, racist and offensive."
Either way, Legend said, the fact that the cartoon was printed "is truly reprehensible."