HomeCartoon JournalistsEducationAtlas University
No items found.
Cartoon Journalists

Cartoon Journalists

7 Mins
December 1, 2005

Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed. We do so not to gratuitously offend Muslims; we do so because a vital principle is at stake—a principle that easily trumps any considerations of ill manners or hurt feelings.

It is the founding principle of America: individual rights. For us, it is the pre-eminent concern for any publication or journalist: the right to speak and express oneself freely.  

The editors of this magazine are Objectivists. As advocates of reason, we reject religion and the supernatural. Still, we do not believe that the proper way to challenge people’s religious beliefs is to mock and insult their revered symbols, practices, ceremonies, and icons. Mockery directed against mere images and symbols does not constitute rational, persuasive argument. Rather, it is concrete-bound and juvenile, and has only one intention: to give offense and arouse anger among those who hold such symbols dear.

But—and let me be clear about this—that is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is the Islamist jihad against freedom of speech.

The motive of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in initially publishing the cartoons was not to offend. It was simply to warn that Western writers and journalists are succumbing to threats, intimidation, even violence at the hands of militant Muslims. The organized campaign of intimidation by Islamists is intended do what they cannot do by military might: to impose, by force, the strict Islamic behavioral code on nonbelievers in the West.

This is a pivotal moment in the West.

Ironically, the violent and deadly response of radical Muslims worldwide to the appearance of these cartoons only confirms the validity of the newspaper’s point. By their bloody reaction, Islamic fundamentalists reveal that they have taken pages from the playbooks of Nazi and communist thugs, and thus have richly earned their new label: “Islamofascists.” Observe that while they deny everyone else the freedom to express any opinion contrary to Islam, these brutes simultaneously claim for themselves complete freedom of expression with regard to their adversaries—including threatening with death those who disagree. Observe, too, that in many Muslim nations, the media publish and broadcast the most insulting language and demeaning images directed against the symbols, beliefs, and practices of Jews, Christians, and other “infidels.” Could the hypocrisy be more transparent?

Offhand, I can think of no other major religion whose followers habitually try to silence their opponents with censorship, death threats, or death itself. Even among today’s religious, radical Muslims stand virtually alone in their unrepentant advocacy of totalitarianism.

To allow foreign fanatics to dictate the boundaries of political and philosophical discussion and expression here, in the West, should be inconceivable to any civilized person. Yet, as this sorry episode demonstrates, Western politicians, diplomats, cultural figures, and—most shockingly—journalists, have been only too eager to cave in to the barbarians.

To my knowledge, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Sun, and the Rocky Mountain News are the only significant U.S. papers that dared to publish the cartoons depicting He Who Must Not Be Shown. A few conservative publications—Human Events, The American Spectator—also did so, as did Fox News, and quite a few independent online bloggers.

But the conduct of the rest of the mainstream media has been cowardly and disgraceful.

The New York Times, America’s self-declared “newspaper of record,” editorialized against those papers which ran the cartoons, congratulating itself for its “sensitivity.” CNN, “the most trusted name in news,” similarly declared, “CNN is not showing the negative caricatures of the likeness of the Prophet Mohammed because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself.” At the end of stories about the cartoons, the network repeated as a mantra: “CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam.”

CNN’s proclaimed “respect” for religion apparently does not extend to Christianity: a March 27, 2000 story posted on its Web site displays a controversial depiction of the Virgin Mary by British “artist” Chris Ofili, which uses elephant dung and images of female genitalia.

Invertebrates at the E.U. have been contemplating a “media code of conduct."

Nor did the principle of “sensitivity,” and fear of inflaming Muslim passions, stop the Times, CNN, or any other major media outlet from displaying those inflammatory photos from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal—globally, for weeks, and 24/7. Ah, but you see, that case was different. Then the media were inflaming Muslims by trashing and insulting the American military. But in this case, they would be inflaming Muslims by trashing and insulting anti-American terrorists. After all, the media have standards.

Of course, there’s one other difference, too: the media know that they can trash American soldiers without running the risk that their heads will be cut off.

Islamists intend to impose the strict Islamic behavioral code, by force, on Westerners.

That, in fact, is really what is going on: journalists are scared. That’s right—those brave champions of First Amendment absolutism, so eager to Defend To The Death their sacred right to show U.S. soldiers abusing Muslim prisoners and Christian icons covered in excrement, are desperately trying to hide their abject cowardice behind the billowing skirts of multiculturalist sensitivity. Few among them are willing to acknowledge so shameful a motive. Among those who did were the editors of the Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly, who gave this as their reason for not publishing the cartoons:

    Our primary reason is fear of retaliation from...bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do...Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and...could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year-publishing history.

Dark indeed. Consider that these words were published in Boston—“America’s Athens,” the “cradle of Liberty”—the city where, 230 years ago, citizen patriots stood up against the overwhelming force of an occupying army, then the world’s most formidable. Yet today, even a rag that has for decades postured as courageously “radical” has surrendered its editorial freedom in the face of the hypothetical threat of a mere handful of local religious nutcases.

How different at the offices of another “alternative weekly,” the New York Press, where the editorial staff resigned en masse when ordered by the publisher not to reprint the Danish cartoons. Then-editor-in-chief Harry Siegel sent out this explanatory email:

The New York Press, like so many other publications, has suborned its own professed principles. For all the talk of freedom of speech, only the New York Sun locally and two other papers nationally have mustered the minimal courage needed to print simple and not especially offensive editorial cartoons that have been used as a pretext for great and greatly menacing violence directed against journalists, cartoonists, humanitarian aid workers, diplomats and others who represent the basic values and obligations of Western civilization. Having been ordered at the 11th hour to pull the now-infamous Danish cartoons from an issue dedicated to them, the editorial group—consisting of myself, managing editor Tim Marchman, arts editor Jonathan Leaf and one-man city hall bureau Azi Paybarah, chose instead to resign our positions.

While cheering these men of principle, consider this ugly fact. Not five years since 9/11, in the once-grand city where unspeakable vermin drove planes into its two tallest towers, the geldings who own major media outlets are now handing these same vermin the keys to their newsrooms.

And so it is, too, on America’s campuses—those hallowed bastions of “academic freedom.” Not far from the morally vacated offices of the Boston Phoenix, a conservative student newspaper, the Harvard Salient, published the Danish cartoons—and on the same page, two anti-Semitic cartoons that had run in newspapers in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It was not to give offense, but as a matter of principle, an accompanying editorial made clear. “Publishing materials that criticize the ways [that] Islam has been usurped worldwide for purposes of violence and oppression is a risky, but honest and necessary, business.” This caused an uproar, naturally, including calls for editor Travis Kavulla to resign, and prompted the Harvard College Interfaith Council to host a forum. Dean of the College Judith Kidd wrote Kavulla warning of potential threats in response to the publication of the cartoons.

But the editors of the Daily Illini at the University of Illinois didn’t get off so easy. The publisher suspended editors Acton Gorton and Chuck Prochaska for failing to consult other staff members before publishing the cartoons. Worse: the suspensions were enacted at the request of the newsroom staff. No doubt these Sensitive staffers have bright futures at CNN and the New York Times.

But for advanced lessons in this craven policy, which I hereby dub “anticipatory capitulation,” I direct American “journalists” to study their colleagues across the Pond.

Invertebrates at the European Union have been contemplating a supposedly voluntary “media code of conduct”—a charter for the media to impose self-censorship. According to a Reuters story dated February 9, “EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said the charter would encourage the media to show ‘prudence’ when covering religion. ‘The press will give the Muslim world the message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression,’ he told the newspaper. ‘We can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.’…The code would be drawn up by the European Commission, the EU executive body, and European media outlets, he said. It would not have legal status.”

Now, when all European media bosses stampede to sign on to this “voluntary” PC code, what do you suppose will be the professional fate of any maverick reporter or editor who chooses to criticize the Islamists?

Quaking in the presence of Islamist wolves, the Western media have responded in a way that reminds me of the movie title, “The Silence of the Lambs.” But is anyone really surprised? It’s been easy for journalists to relentlessly and oh-so-bravely attack those serving on the front lines against the jihadists. But the moment they discover that they have to put their own pencil necks on the line to defend liberty, they become mute lap dogs for foreign thugs and wannabe caliphs.

Theirs is a betrayal both professional and philosophical. To appease a ruthless enemy, they are willing to stifle the truth, and surrender their bedrock principle: freedom of the press.

But their surrender is only a harbinger for a broader one that affects us all.

This is a pivotal moment in the West. When reporters, editors, and media owners “voluntarily” give up their First Amendment rights, they make it far more difficult for any of us to exercise our own. For who could speak out against the new barbarians if media outlets close their doors to radical Islam’s most forceful opponents? If that day ever comes, it will mark the final surrender of our entire way of life to a backward, barbaric, and brutal cult.

And so we reprint the offending cartoons—not as an insult to Muslims, but as a direct reproach to the Cartoon Journalists.

Robert James Bidinotto
About the author:
Robert James Bidinotto
Journalism and Media