Free speech is not a privilege. It is a journalistic responsibility.

Screenshot 2015-01-07 at 8.44.57 PM

All across Europe yesterday, newspapers stood in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons that supposedly motivated the murder its staff. They informed the public. Not in America, not in the land of free speech.

Apart from the Jewish Chronicle, whose rationale for not running the cartoons is obvious, I find the excuses and the behavior of others to be cowardly and illogical. The New York Times told BuzzFeed — BuzzFeed — that it does “not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. After careful consideration, Times editors decided that describing the cartoons in question would give readers sufficient information to understand today’s story.”

I call bullshit. The images of terrorists shooting innocent policemen are offensive in the extreme but The Times chose to run them. Why? To inform. That is our journalistic mission. So how is it not in the journalistic mission of The Times to run the cartoons? I don’t buy that journalism should not offend. I don’t buy that describing them is sufficient. Even though I worship at the obelisk of the link, I also don’t buy the rationale that readers can find the cartoons elsewhere (hell, most everyone I know tweeted them yesterday). No, if you’re the paper of record, if you’re the highest exemplar of American journalism, if you expect others to stand by your journalists when they are threatened, if you respect your audience to make up its own mind, then damnit stand by Charlie Hebdo and inform your public. Run the cartoons.

I’d say this is a case for Margaret Sullivan.

The same goes for you, CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, the Telegraph, the pixelating New York Daily News … and the theater chains that would not show The Interview.

First, they came for the satirists. Then they came for the journalists. Who will be left to speak for you?

– – – –

Yesterday, I posted this piece on Medium under the headline, “Freedom of Speech is a Human Right, not an American Privilege.” Here it is:

After the Charlie Hebdo murders, I tweeted about the attack on free speech that had just been perpetrated, about my hope that news editors and producers would show the courage to share with their readers the cartoons that led to the deaths of these brave and honest journalists, and about my disgust with some news organizations that pixelated or refused to run the images for their audiences.

Predictably and unfortunately, I received responses arguing that this devotion to free speech was peculiarly American and that I should take account of the offense that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons would cause for some readers and viewers.

This discussion reminded me of a journalists’ conference I attended at the BBC a few years ago at which some participants argued that people in China did not want free speech. I’ve also heard people say that people from Arab nations are not ready for free speech.


I choose that word carefully. As an American, I am privileged to be able to use a word that some call offensive and even profane, for “bullshit” is political speech.

Standing for free speech is not American. It is logical. If one allows a government to control—to censor—offensive speech, then no speech will be allowed, except that which government approves, for any speech can offend anyone and then all speech is controlled.

The idea that speech should be controlled to limit offense is itself offensive to the principles of a free, open, and modern society. That is what the Charlie Hebdo murders teach us.

  • My own take on this Jeff – – and please, we in the UK aren’t normally keen on Yanks coming over, telling us what to do, but in this case the cowardly British media urgently need your boot up their backside.

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  • Preston Pesek

    Whenever they start complaining about the music, that’s the cue to PLAY IT LOUDER!!! I’ve never been so disappointed in the NY Times. Hope you’re well Jeff. Keep it up. – Preston

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  • Mikey

    Agree — freedom of speech should not be legislated against, controlled or limited.

    Nor should it be mandatory. One is free not to speak or publish.

    Those that chose not to publish the cartoons can therefore be judged by their actions (or, in this case, inaction).

    And we as readers can then decide whether to purchase, read or respect them.

    • Julie Hall

      I agree it would be truly liberating for many Germans to be able to speak freely about what they believe really happened prior to WWII.

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  • Julie Hall

    Does this apply to anti-semitic cartoons? Can Muslim cartoonists have equal time and not expect retribution? And where are the cartoons about Randy Andy and Jeffrey Weffry with their kiddy porn obsessions at tax payers expense? Oh and throw in a few – correction – MANY pedo Catholic priests.. that is where the discrimination lies.. it is always the Prophet Is there a pogrom against Muslims? probably not cause they deliberately offended North Korea now.. it was a bad movie anyway no wonder they needed to drum up publicity.

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  • In the U.S. free speech is a constitutional right. Some want to weaken it, others want to strengthen it. Same ol’ same ol’.

  • Brian Parker

    Fierce, honest and decent words. I don’t always agree with Jeff but he’s bang on here.

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  • I disagree with the decisions not to reprint the cartoons, but do we have to support the right of the news organizations not to? Right or wrong, it is their decision, no?

  • The Prophet

    I’m sure the 2nd rate citizens will understand the need for double standards

  • MarciaX

    I just read NY Times public editor Margaret Sullivan’s comment and I agree with her on this one – the Times was correct to thoughtfully and carefully balance the public interest in seeing these images with a prudent concern for the safety of their staff members and the sensibilities of their Muslim (and Christian, and Jewish) readers. To my mind the fact that these images are widely available online *does* help tip the balance against any particular news outlet’s duty to publish them (if it were 1985 rather than 2015, I might indeed feel differently). On a tangential note, the photo you cite of the policeman being shot does not raise the same inherent safety concerns and is therefore a false comparison.

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  • brad currah

    Dell Sucks. Inspiron sucks. Specifically, the Inspiron 3737 sucks. In January of 2013, my brother and mother went in to buy me a new laptop. Someone had broken into our house and stolen our previous 2 laptops, and our flat-screen TV. So, for Christmas, they bought this new laptop for me… although I didn’t receive it until late January, as it was in the mail. The laptop was up and running quickly, and we all loved it. Nice wide keyboard, big screen, fast. Loved it. During the summer of 2013, the laptop started acting a bit funny. At first we didn’t know what it was. The cursor was hi-lighting things, and not allowing the clicker to work properly. This happened occasionally – once or twice per day for a couple of months. It began getting worse. By late October, we figured the problem out. It was the left “mouse” or clicker button below the touch-pad, which was sometimes sticking. Somehow my son figured it out, as he’s fairly savvy with computers. So, I called my brother first, and told him of the problem. Right away, (in early November) he contacted Dell, and told them of the problem. Whomever he spoke to at Dell (which may have been the “wrong department”), they told him that he would need a purchase order number, since he had bought the Inspiron 3737 online. It took him several weeks to find the number, but found it eventually. As we continued to wait for the “purchase order number” from my brother, it became eventually obvious that the button had completely failed. I received the purchase order number from him during Christmas break, since that is when I was in contact with my brother. I called Dell to follow up, and was passed around, and the call was disconnected. Very frustrating. Dell Sucks. No matter, this was an ongoing issue, so I wasn’t worried. Then, I called back after New Years on the 10th (so I was told by Dell Support). They told me that first they needed a number on the bottom of the laptop. I was out of the house, but I had brought the laptop with me for the phone call. (I was on the phone for a long time, and had to go to a doctor’s appointment). Dell Sucks! They told me that my warranty was one week expired. I told them the story, and let them know that this was our 3rd time calling, and second time getting through. So they put me on hold. Dell is so bad. I was on hold for just under an hour and twenty minutes! When I finally reached a person, they apologized and told me that there system was down, and it would be a couple of hours before their system would be up again. He said I’d need to call back some other day. Nice guy, but it really sucked Dell. I wasn’t worried though, since we’d started this process in early November. So, I called a 4th time, which was today – Jan 15, 2015, before noon. They asked for the same code on the bottom of the computer, and I told them the whole story. They said they would forward me to a different person, and escalate my issue. Instead, my call was routed right back to the same department! So, I re-told my story, and they again requested the number on the bottom of the computer. They told me that they would escalate the problem again. Dell Sucks, because it happened AGAIN! I was re-routed to the same department AGAIN! Do not buy Dell if you’re interested in getting any help with a faulty computer! I told my story for the 3rd time. This time with the number on the bottom of the computer all ready to go, as well as the purchase order number which we were told to find. This guy was probably from India or Pakistan, due to his obvious accent. I had a really hard time understanding him. His demeanor was actually great though. Nice guy. But, he seemed to totally ignore my entire story and told me that I would be charged money since my warranty had just expired!!! I explained to him that it expired AFTER we first began calling them and explaining to them that the laptop was totally lame, and not working properly. Dell’s computer is faulty. He just repeated himself, and mentioned that there was no record of my brother calling him, that my brother failed to give them all of the information regarding the laptop. I asked him if there were departments that might not know about the special number on the bottom of the laptop (like me…we didn’t know.) He said yes, but it was my brother’s responsibility to give Dell this specific number. Ridiculous! Dell did not request that number when he called. My brother was given wrong information BY DELL about what number he will need in order for the laptop to be fixed. Then, I’m told by this (relatively nice) guy that we don’t need that number at all! Then Dell blames us for the misinformation that came from them! So, after going back and forth with the guy, and telling him that I do not want to go back and forth, but to have Dell’s mistake fixed, I asked him if we could please escalate this problem, since he COULD NOT HELP ME. Dell sucks so much. Dell’s customer service is terrible. The guy wasn’t terrible, but if that is the way that they work… to GIVE MISINFORMATION UNTIL THE WARRANTY EXPIRES, SO THEY DON’T HAVE TO FIX ANYTHING? Inspiron’s customer service design is definitely lame. The guy agreed to escalate the issue, put me on hold for about a half hour, then he or the system hung up on me. Ridiculous, so far my brother has had one “successful” phone call which was completed even though THEY TOTALLY MISINFORMED HIM. Then, I’ve had 3 incomplete calls, and I’ve been blamed for DELL’S MISINFORMATION to boot!!! Come on! What does it take to get Dell to fix their manufacturing mistake, to honor their warranty, and to give me one customer service experience where I am not cut off in some way? Dell, why? Is this how you sell computers? Stonewall the customer until the warranty “expires”? Somebody, help, since it’s clear that DELL CANNOT HELP ME!!

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