In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, both America's paper of record (The New York Times) and its network of record (CNN) have declined to show Charlie Hebdo's cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on the grounds that they might offend Muslims. The decision to forgo publication of these highly relevant news images has sparked a robust debate about free speech, religion and media ethics. One question that seems to have been glossed over is whether or not the media have any obligations to the preferences of a religious group, or any group of people, in the first place.In other words, Piss Christ is OK, but Muhammad is not. Denigrating a person who many people believe is the prophet of God is a no-no, but denigrating a person many believe is the Son of God is hunky-dory. Oooooooohhhhhhhhh-kaaaaaaaaayyyy ...
As previously noted, the Times has a history of publishing artwork and cartoons that have offended both Jews and Christians. See its coverage of "Piss Christ" in 1999, which very much offended the Catholic League; an Iranian exhibition of "anti-Jewish art" in 2006; and an Iranian cartoonist's "anti-Jewish caricatures" in 2010. So, at least up until Dean Baquet's tenure as executive editor, which began last year, the Times' policy against "gratuitous insult" did not preclude offensive religious images.
The image of the prophet Muhammad, however, seems to occupy its own category, with its own rules. Last week, Baquet told me via email that as editor of the Times he had to consider "the Muslim family in Brooklyn who read us and is offended by any depiction of what he sees as his prophet." [sic] When I replied, "I just wonder about the Jewish family in Brooklyn," Baquet responded as follows:
I would really do some reporting --- I did -- to make sure these parallels are similar for the two religions. You may find they are not. In fact they really are not.Baquet's argument, if I'm reading him correctly, is that a cartoonish depiction of Muhammad is more offensive, categorically, than a cartoon that depicts, say, anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews trying to fabricate a Holocaust that, per the cartoonist, never took place.
And it's hard to miss just how much arrogance is dripping from Baquet's attitude. As if he has a right to determine what is offensive and the Jewish family in Brooklyn does not.
Allahpundit nails it:
The double standard laid bare. If you’re a devout believer of whichever faith and eager to see less blasphemy in the media, as many Americans are, there’s no other conclusion to draw here than, “I need to be much, much angrier.”