As predicted in this space, The New York Times did not include in its "All the News That's Fit to Print" yesterday any reproduction, print or online, of the most newsworthy cartoon of the year, Charlie Hebdo's latest cover. As further foreshadowed, the paper did manage to noisily wring its hands over its self-made controversy, by publishing two pieces questioning the decision.
The first is titled "New Charlie Hebdo Cover Creates New Questions for U.S. News Media," and carries the distinct whiff of newsroom dissatisfaction with management:
Some American newspapers, including The New York Times, did not [reprint any allegedly offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons just after the attack], calling the decision an editorial judgment. They drew criticism from some freespeech advocates who called the decision cowardly in the face of a terrorist attack. […]
The choice to republish the [new cover] image (The Times, again, is not) goes to the heart of the debate about what constitutes free expression versus gratuitous images that at least some viewers find offensive, newspaper executives and other journalists said. […]
"Actually we have republished some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons including a caricature of the head of ISIS as well as some political cartoons," Dean Baquet, executive editor of The Times, said in a statement. "We do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. Many Muslims consider publishing images of their prophet innately offensive and we have refrained from doing so."
As I pointed out in my blog post, and as numerous commentators have demonstrated online, Baquet is just lying about not publishing images deliberately intended to offend. In addition, with its decision last week to not include a file photograph with an article on a long-removed statue of Mohammed that sat atop a Manhattan courthouse for a half-century without incident, the Paper of Record is establishing the alarming standard that any representation of this historically existing figure is now off-limits.
Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, who last week let Baquet play Hamlet in her column about the decision (even though the man has had nine years to come up with a better rationale), today disagreed with him in a piece sensibly titled "With New Charlie Hebdo Cover, News Value Should Have Prevailed."
Reporting the encouraging news that she's never had a bigger response to a column, and that a "vast majority of readers were critical of The Times's decision," Sullivan concluded that "The cartoon itself, while it may disturb the sensibilities of a small percentage of Times readers, is neither shocking nor gratuitously offensive. And it has, undoubtedly, significant news value."
The good news, for those of us who appreciate good news judgment and the diffusion of perceived blasphemous risk, most large American newspapers, and at least some large broadcast companies, in addition to a whole host of online news sites and opinion magazines, reprinted the image without making a fuss about it. As for my fellow connoiseurs of Dean Baquet's haughty sense of his own journalism seriousness, his quotes and paraphrases in Sullivan's piece do not disappoint:
Mr. Baquet told me repeatedly in recent days that he was paying attention to reader comments on last week's blog post, and that he found them thoughtful and, in many cases, eloquent. He also passed along to me examples of correspondence from readers who thanked him for The Times's restraint and sensitivity last week.
The little people: wrong, and insufficiently sensitive to the offense of Muslims, but at least well-spoken!