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.
.@ferguskelly Any nation that fears speech is not a free nation.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) January 7, 2015
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.