February 5th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

More Cowardice than Courage

I'm not letting go of this Jutlands Post cartoon controversy, any more than the violent mobs who burned down a good chunk of the Danish embassy in Syria are. This is a subject that's been gnawing on my nerves ever since one of my favorite cartoonists (and popular historians), Larry Gonick, chickened out the same way American newspapers are chickening out in his The Cartoon History of the Universe, volume 3. Having by that point lampooned every major historical figure he could shoe-horn in, including Abraham, it is at the beginning of volume 3 that Gonick got to the time of the life of Mohammed and the rise of political Islam. And at the very beginning of it, in narratorial voice, he admits that he doesn't have the guts to go against the prohibition against creating pictures of Mohammed, and from then on every scene that Mohammed would logically be in is framed "off center" or in some other way to render Islam's prophet as off-screen or concealed from view. I thought it was disgusting, hypocritical cowardice, and I still do. However, at the time I thought it was a relatively isolated incident, and, well, I guess it isn't.

Cities are on the march, countries are threatening each other with war, and (even more to the point, frankly) several journalists and artists now have multi-thousand dollar bounties put on their heads for a series of editorial cartoons that were created to illustrate a news story about how hard one writer of historical picture books found it to find an artist willing to respectfully illustrate his new book on the life of Mohammed. No matter what their other strengths or weaknesses, it used to be as reliable as the sunrise that journalists would stand up for each other in censorship cases. So when I wrote my letter to the editor at my local paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I assumed that my letter, or others like it, would run on the editorial page the same day that the Post's editorial board took their own stance on the issue. I waited for it. And waited. And I'm still waiting.

I thought they might be saving it for the more widely read Sunday edition. So now that it's into Sunday morning, I did a scan of the Post-Dispatch's editorial page online. Nothing. Not even in the letters column. Not only are they too cowardly to take a stand, any stand on this, they're too cowardly to let us, the readers take a stand on it. How disgusting is that? So I hit the other major national and regional newspapers to see if any other newspapers in America have even half the guts that newspapers everywhere in Europe and the south Pacific have had, if they took a stand either way, starting with the 5 "national" newspapers and then working my way through the big-city regional newspapers.
  • New York Times: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Wall Street Journal: Published some kind of editorial on Friday (I haven't seen it yet). From the headline, it seems to have more to do with whether or not the Koran actually prohibits such images than anything about freedom of the press.
  • USA Today: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Washington Post: Gets partial credit for actually taking a stand, but it's a cowardly stand: they claim that both the journalists and the rioters are equally at fault. See "Clash Over Cartoons is a Caricature of Civilization," February 4th.
  • Christian Science Monitor: No editorial or letters yet.

  • Atlanta Journal-Constitution: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Boston Globe: Took a stand, all right. In favor of giving in to Muslim intimidation. See "Forms of intolerance," February 4th. Disgusting. It's also, as The Volokh Conspiracy documented, the exact opposite of the stance they took when Christians were offended by art they didn't like. I guess that they, for one, welcome our new Islamist overlords.
  • Boston Herald: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Chicago Tribune: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Dallas Morning News: No editorials or letters yet. Editorial board member Rod Dreher admitted to Michelle Malkin that it's out of fear.
  • Denver Post: No editorials or letters yet.
  • Los Angeles Times: See below.
  • Miami Herald: No editorials or letters yet.
  • New York Sun: No editorials, and I can't see their letter column, but see update, below.
  • Orlando Sentinel: See third update, below.
  • Philadelphia Inquirer: See second update, below.
  • San Francisco Chronicle: No editorials that I can find, but six letters so far, all more or less on the side of the free press.
  • San Jose Mercury-News: No editorials or letters yet, but gets a little bit of credit for the fact that they set up an online forum to debate the subject and for the fact that the online versions of their news articles include a link to an off-site archive of the cartoons.
  • Seattle Post-Intelligencer: No editorials or letters yet.
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch: No editorials yet; one brief letter from a reader printed on the 8th.
Feel free to add any corrections, or additional data points, in the comments.

The one courageous exception I could find, the only US big-name newspaper to give the story the attention it deserves and to unambiguously take the pro-free-press side of the debate, is the Los Angeles Times, (registration required) which gives us two doozies in two days: "The freedom to blaspheme" from the editorial board on the 3rd, and "Drawn into a religious conflict" from their media analysis reporter Tim Rutten on the 4th. They didn't have the real guts it would have taken to have published the images themselves and let the readers decide for themselves whether to take offense or not, nor did they even give people the URL to look them up at for themselves. Nonetheless, as sad as it is to say, this is probably the closest thing to true courageous defense of journalistic freedom that we're going to find in a major corporate-owned newspaper in America. I could weep for my country. Joseph Pulitzer must be spinning in his grave.

Update: New York Sun. As reported by Michelle Malkin in her blog, the New York Sun at least had the guts to print two of the cartoons in the print edition of the newspaper with their news story on the controversy, on the 2nd. Good for them.

Second Update: Philadelphia Inquirer. A link that I hadn't noticed in the Wikipedia article points out that on the 4th, the Philly Inquirer published both a pro-free-press editorial which basically takes the "cover the controversy" angle, "A media dilemma: the rest of the story," and one of the cartoons. If you're from Philly, be proud of your paper.

Third Update: Orlando Sentinel. One of my readers let me know that his hometown paper has printed an editorial on the pro-free-press side of the debate, "First they came for the funny ones," at the very beginning of the controversy on February 1st. Thanks, Orlando Sentinel, for taking a stand before any of your national or bigger-city colleagues had the guts to do so!