Home > Civil liberties > Failure of the press?

Failure of the press?

February 23, 2006 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have mixed feelings about this column. For the record, I like Dershowitz. I assume you can imagine my feelings about Bennett.

This part is good:

We two come from different political and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities. To our knowledge, only three print newspapers have followed their true calling: the Austin American-Statesman, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Sun. What have they done? They simply printed cartoons that were at the center of widespread turmoil among Muslims over depictions of the prophet Muhammad. These papers did their duty.

I read somewhere that newspapers aren’t publishing David Irving’s comments when reporting about that story, and no one is calling for them to, which is something of a double standard regarding the cartoons. That doesn’t fly, though, seeing as articles have described his writings and quoted previous comments of his. That’s enough for us to understand the story. Cartoons are slightly different. You just don’t get an adequate understanding of a cartoon from someone describing it.

These parts are less than stellar:

The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: “[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.”

But as for caricatures depicting Jews in the most medievally horrific stereotypes, or Christians as fanatics on any given issue, the mainstream press seems to hold no such value. And in the matter of disclosing classified information in wartime, the press competes for the scoop when it believes the public interest warrants it.

What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus.

I don’t recall the mainstream press publishing anti-semitic cartoons. Even if they have, we should remember that it’s apparently a tenet of the Islamic faith that Mohammad is not to be depicted graphically. There is no similar prohibition regarding any figure in Christianity or Judaism that I’m aware of. It may be ridiculous to believe that tenet should apply to everyone, Muslim or not, but it seems obvious that it’s a different level of offensiveness than depicting Christians as terrorists. The comparison to depicting Ariel Sharon as Hitler isn’t valid. In my mind, more apt comparisons would be homosexuality or abortion (that one might be iffy, I guess) and Christianity. We’ve seen very ugly rhetoric and violence from Christians on those issues, though not on the scale we’ve seen from the cartoon riots. I can’t think of anything regarding Jews, though. So, while Christians have certainly acted better on the whole, using them as a comparison isn’t all that informative.

When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press — an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms — would be among the first to surrender.

I expect that kind of nonsense out of Bennett, not Dershowitz. Eventually, we’re going to start taking suicide terrorism seriously and discard that ridiculous rhetoric about them attacking us because we’re free.

Categories: Civil liberties
  1. February 24, 2006 at 5:11 am

    Oh, I most certainly expect this kind of nonsense out of Dershowitz, whom I must confess I’ve never liked. He reminds me of Nat Hentoff, a First Amendment “absolutist” who prizes the concept of “free speech” over the reality of responsible speech every time, and wants to have the luxury of saying whatever he wants consequence-free. To many absolutists, provocative speech isn’t just a right, it’s something they feel they need to goad people into – and that doesn’t sound very “free” to me.

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