Erik Wemple on the media, the Charlie Hebdo covers, and on the Texas Muhammad cartoons

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Erik Wemple of The Washington Post has an interesting item about the reaction to the Texas Muhammad cartoons. Here's an excerpt (but you should read the whole thing):

Cable news personalities are hired to ask tough questions, and so these folks were doing their jobs in pressing Geller. Yet the unspoken message they send with this line of inquiry is one of suppression—that what Geller and her invitees were doing was wrong, provocative, naughty, stupid and downright unnecessary. … This strain of thought speaks to the power of precedent.

In January, terrorists carried out a massacre of the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine, a publication that had compiled a record of depicting Muhammad in satirical ways. The attack … elevated the newsworthiness of those cartoons: There was no way to fully understand the alleged motivations of the attackers without sampling the drawings that had placed a target on the magazine.

Yet the American media folded into a crouch of cowardice and rationalization. The Associated Press's statement said it would "refrain from moving deliberately provocative images." The major networks stayed away from the pictures, and the cable networks followed suit, for the most part, with Fox News showing glimpses here and there. CNN said it was withholding the images as a measure to protect its personnel in overseas hotspots. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, The Washington Post's news side didn't traffic in the images, though the editorial side published one on its op-ed page.)

At the time, those decisions appeared isolated to the news event at hand. They now loom as something far more significant. A judgment has emerged that preaches compliance with the notion that this particular form of expression means you're asking for it. That viewpoint has trickled down from the bosses of these news organizations into the coverage, as Geller has discovered. Once the media draws a line, it's tough to undraw.

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