Saturday, January 17, 2015

Je Suis Pussies

Charlie Hebdo Cover

Over seven million copies of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are now being printed and still only a trickle are making it out of Paris.  Sooner or later they'll get across the pond in sufficient quantity that I too can buy a copy.  As I wait for my opportunity to show this small gesture of support, it's interesting to note many news organizations chose not to print or broadcast the cover including NBC, NPR, and the New York Times.

The two primary rationales for major media outlets to not publish or display the unquestionably newsworthy cartoon cover of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue are 1) fear of violence for their employees or 2) protecting the feelings of readers/viewers from being offended by a presumptively blasphemous cartoon.

A corporate decision to abrogate journalistic integrity out of fear of violent reprisal can be criticized, but it is at least an honest rationale. As for the latter...

Ross Douthat's NYT column in the immediate wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and his somewhat more nuanced follow-up deconstruct the rationalization and makes a very important point:
"Must all deliberate offense-giving, in any context, be celebrated, honored, praised? I think not. But in the presence of the gun ... both liberalism and liberty require that it be welcomed and defended." 
"...the kind of offense-giving that’s often most worth defending or even embracing is the kind that’s made in the face of, or in response to, lethal violence."
I'll offer less nuanced phrasing - If the "we won't print the Charlie Hebdo cover because it might  offend" rationale is not completely hypocritical, it is intellectually dishonest. In the case of Douthat's employer at the New York Times - it is both.

Matt Welch of Reason dismantles the New York Times editor Dean Baquet's rationalization  as Welch accurately puts it, "Baquet beclowns himself" and the paper he leads:
"So it's not that Charlie Hebdo went over the line of decency, it's that The New York Times under Dean Baquet's editorship has elevated a doctrinally questionable and physically non-existent taboo into a red line for the rest of his readers. Scientologists, grab your bricks. Seventh Day Adventists, take note. You, too, can make the historically existing figures who founded your churches into people who can never be depicted in the Paper of Record, even as a picture of long-forgotten, never-controversial statue. You just need to complain with enough force."
NBC also chose to not display the "offending" image. This lead to an interesting segment on the Rachel Maddow show, where she explains she cannot show the cover because of the NBC corporate policy. She is clearly not happy with the decision, but is on on her best professional behavior:

What got to me in this piece was the interview with Caroline Fourest, longtime contributor to Charlie Hebdo, who was actively working to get the survivor issue published. When asked for her reaction to the fact that many American news outlets were blurring the cover for the issue (around 3:40 mark) she said: "I think it is crazy... I think it is the saddest news I've heard in all of the incredibly moving mobilisation around Charlie Hebdo."

In the face of the kind of courage and commitment to the principle of free expression exhibited by Fourest and the other Charlie Hebdo survivors, I am embarrassed by major news American news organizations that cannot even bring themselves to permit a reporter to hold up a copy and show it on their network. It's just pathetic.

What can I do but write a blog post and put the cover image in the post? I have no illusions about the impact and reach of a minor blog with limited readership like this. But it's something. The people of Paris are linking up for hours to show their support and purchase a copy of the Charlie Hebdo survivor issue. I can and will buy a copy when it make it across the pond.  So I can buy a copy, post the image and point out, like many others, the shameful hypocrisy and cowardice of the New York Times and other media services in our country.  That's about it. And I can hope that in the future we can find journalists and executives in America with the courage of a Caroline Fourest.

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