Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dishonesty and Dishonor from the U.S. Media

I find the stated reasons by US mainstream media not to show the cartoons extremely disingenuous. It is understandably if they did not show the cartoons a month ago, when the issue had not surface. But the cartoons themselves are now a central part of the story. How can they report about the story without showing the cartoons that began it all? The reason that the cartoons should be reprinted is not to offend Muslim, or to express any opinion about the cartoons themselves, but to put the story in context.

These are the very same organization that had no second thought about showing the pictures of Abu Ghraib or other equally offensive images. The reason is no other than fear. They are afraid that Muslim extremists would bomb their building or harm their staffs. It is an understanding fear and they should say so. I would still respect the media if they came out and said that the reason they did not reprint the cartoons because they fear for their lives. At least they can score points for honesty. We expect the media to tell the truth, but we certainly do not expect them to risk their lives. We do not expect the media to be fearless, but we expect them to be honest.

Let me suggest a respectable press release for media organization who will not reprint or show the cartoons.
“We apologize to our readers/viewers that we cannot show the controversial cartoons. We wish we could show it to you so that you can completely comprehend the cause for the controversy. We wish we could show the cartoons to you so that you can decide for yourself if they are offensive or not. We do not show the cartoons because of the risks they pose to us as an organization and to our staffs as individuals. Our job is to report to you the story in it entirely, as honestly as we possibly can, but without jeopardizing our lives. In this case, our lives can be in serious danger. It is therefore with regret that we cannot show you the cartoons. We hope that you will understand our position.”
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff of the German newsweekly (which reprinted the cartoons) had this to say in a Washington Post editorial title: “Tolerance Toward Intolerance”

When the cartoons were first published in Denmark in September, nobody in Germany took notice. Had our publication been offered the drawings at that point, in all likelihood we would have declined to print them. At least one of them seems to equate Islam with radical Islamism. That is exactly the direction nobody wants the debate about fundamentalism to take -- even though the very nature of a political cartoon is overstatement. We would not have printed the caricature out of a sense of moderation and respect for the Muslim minority in our country. News people make judgments about taste all the time. We do not show sexually explicit pictures or body parts after a terrorist attack. We try to keep racism and anti-Semitism out of the paper. Freedom of the press comes with a responsibility.

But the criteria change when material that is seen as offensive becomes newsworthy. That's why we saw bodies falling out of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. That's why we saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib. On such issues we print what we usually wouldn't. The very nature of the discourse is to find parameters of what is culturally acceptable. How many times have we seen Janet Jackson's breast in the course of a discussion of the limits of family entertainment? How many times have we printed material that Jews might consider offensive in an attempt to define the extent of anti-Semitism? It seems odd that most U.S. papers patronize their readers by withholding cartoons that the whole world talks about. To publish does not mean to endorse. Context matters.

He also has this to say about President Clinton and our government.

The former president has turned the argument upside down. In this jihad over humor, tolerance is disdained by people who demand it of others. The authoritarian governments that claim to speak on behalf of Europe's supposedly oppressed Muslim minorities practice systematic repression against their own religious minorities. They have radicalized what was at first a difficult question. Now they are asking not for respect but for submission. They want non-Muslims in Europe to live by Muslim rules. Does Bill Clinton want to counsel tolerance toward intolerance?

On Friday the State Department found it appropriate to intervene. It blasted the publication of the cartoons as unacceptable incitement to religious hatred. It is a peculiar moment when the government of the United States, which likes to see itself as the home of free speech, suggests to European journalists what not to print.

It is an excellent op-ed. Please read the whole thing.

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