The AP’s excuse for not distributing the Muslim cartoons keeps rolling around in my head. As quoted in Howie Kurtz’ columnn today:
Speaking by phone, AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll told The Chronicle, ‘The cartoons didn’t meet our long-held standards for not moving offensive content. The AP is not just an indiscriminate warehouse for information. We put a lot of care into what we put on the wire.’
I understand what she is trying to say. But that is an absurd standard they will live to regret. The news is often offensive. Murder is offensive. War is offensive. There are no end of images, in photos and words, that offend in the news — and often that is why they are news. If the news becomes only that which is offensive to no one, we end up with what some people have long wanted: Just good news. But that is not our job. Neither is it an editor’s job to protect me from what may be offensive but what I do, in fact, want to know. The public should be able to judge on their own whether these cartoons are, indeed, offensive and worth rioting and killing over (a rhetorical question). I don’t need an editor to make that judgment for me, thank you.
: A comment asks whether it would be different if an editor said he or she were not running the images out of fear for staff and family. Yes. That would, at least, be honest. It would be another horrible precedent — namely, that you can intimidate us.
: Kurtz also quotes Andrew Sullivan’s cogent analysis of offense for Time:
Muslim leaders say the cartoons are not just offensive. They’re blasphemy — the mother of all offenses. That’s because Islam forbids any visual depiction of the Prophet, even benign ones. Should non-Muslims respect this taboo? I see no reason why. You can respect a religion without honoring its taboos. I eat pork, and I’m not an anti-Semite. As a Catholic, I don’t expect atheists to genuflect before an altar. If violating a taboo is necessary to illustrate a political point, then the call is an easy one. Freedom means learning to deal with being offended.
Blasphemy, after all, is commonplace in the West. In America, Christians have become accustomed to artists’ offending their religious symbols. They can protest, and cut off public funding — but the right of the individual to say or depict offensive messages or symbols is not really in dispute. Blasphemy, moreover, is common in the Muslim world, and sanctioned by Arab governments. The Arab media run cartoons depicting Jews and the symbols of the Jewish faith with imagery indistinguishable from that used in the Third Reich. But I have yet to see Jews or Israelis threaten the lives of Muslims because of it.