The decline and fall of the free press

It has been said that Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent tactics could probably not have succeeded against a power with lesser discipline and lacking the grandiose sense of fair play of the British. Certainly the Russians would have had him shot early on. India would be quite a different place today.

There is a connection here to the reverence with which the press in this country regards itself. For one example, the Russians would have dragged reporter Helen Thomas out and had her shot too, whether she was conciliatory after a press conference or not.

Thomas is famous for making rambling criticisms instead of asking coherent questions. What passes for the practiced exercise of speaking freely to power in the dotty doyen is unfortunately all too commonly regarded by our press in general as the level of journalistic courage to which they should aspire.

Not that some members of our press corps have no courage. ABC newsmen Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt were courageous because they exposed themselves to combat in Iraq. But not because they were seriously injured by an IED. Courage comes first.

They did have the advantage of being more protected by their government than they will be ever again in their lives, and they volunteered to be in a war zone. Journalists in the United States haven’t volunteered and should not need to worry about IEDs. Still, they seem to be worried about something.

In the United States only three major newspapers have published any of the Danish cartoons being used to incite riots in Muslim populations worldwide: The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Sun and Riverside Press-Enterprise.

I have my doubts, but perhaps not publishing was a prudent approach at the beginning of the cartoon controversy, even though the cartoons were not published to insult a religion; they were solicited in order to examine the extent of the intimidation that had already grown in concert with a blind assumption of universal moral equivalence. Is it trivial to publish relatively innocuous cartoons about Islam?

We have been informed, in no uncertain terms, that this question is not trivial. The US newspapers still treating it with kid gloves appear to be more intimidated than they are committed to the excuse of amoral sensitivity. Neither position brings them much credit.

The Boston Phoenix has had the honesty to admit it. They give three reasons why they have not and will not publish any of the cartoons, even though they’d like to. Two of those reasons are standard relativist tropes: non-judgmental respect and uncritical hope for civil dialog – but the primary reason is fear:

Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we 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.

Indeed. For anyone arguing that in their treatment of this cartoon jihad affront to reason Western institutions have not reached a nadir last seen prior to the enlightenment, it would be well to keep that statement firmly in mind. To facilitate retention, we will take an immediate slight diversion before returning to the Islamofascist intimidation machine.

On the free speech question, I’ve recently criticized Google for hypocrisy because they have modified their service to communist China to make that totalitarian regime’s job of censoring the Internet easier. A competitor of Google’s, Yahoo!, has done them one better. Based on information Yahoo! released to the thugs in Beijing, people are going to jail for a decade.

A simile can be tortured out of this. Yahoo! is to the US media as China is to Islamofascism. A point worth some consideration, but for the central reason for our diversion I draw your attention to The Epoch Times, whose American employees actually are being beaten.

It is worthwhile noting that this report is in a newspaper clearly involved in a political struggle, and there is yet no independent verification regarding the nature of the criminals. However, for obvious reasons, this publication has endured a long history of threats and violence from the communist Chinese. For evaluating journalistic courage, verification of this specific story isn’t required: Epoch Times has many good reasons to be afraid. If you haven’t already checked out the Nine Commentaries, do so. It provides significant context.

As much as The Epoch Times stands in contrast to US newspapers, there are yet Middle-Eastern newspapers, where the Islamofascist intimidation factor is higher by an order of magnitude, that have published the Danish cartoons. We can learn a couple of things from those examples.

As documented here most of the Danish cartoons were published in Egypt in 2005 without the slightest controversy. This isn’t a question of Muslim sensitivities, then. US newspapers can stop worrying about that.

The cartoons were also published in Jordan, after the controversy began, and the editors have been arrested for it.

The danger of arrest does not exist in the US and the Muslim “sensitivity factor” is surely higher in Jordan, but as we have seen – in the United States only three major newspapers have published any of the cartoons. Even this has not been without consequence.

Philadelphia Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett, publisher Joe Natoli, and deputy managing editor Carl Lavin circulated among protestors gathered outside their offices as a result of the Inquirer‘s publication of one cartoon.

Where is similar courage from the rest of America’s newspapers? Why is a major element of this major story gone missing?

By now it is obvious that the content of the cartoons is important to understanding how very far apart are the philosophies of Islamofascism and the average American. That is one reason why it is important to publish the cartoons.

Another reason is that the West should be showing solidarity with our Danish allies who are fighting alongside us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Reason magazine also makes the point:

Free expression advocates have made an effort to frame the Jyllands-Posten cartoons as a responsible attempt to broaden the conversation on religious freedom, when in fact (as several of the cartoonists themselves acknowledged) the stunt is unambiguously provocative, juvenile, offensive, and irresponsible. That’s why it needs to be defended.

The cartoon jihad is phony, yet it is having success in shutting down the same newspapers that brought us pictures of American contractors’ burned bodies hanging from a Fallujah bridge.

Freedom of the press obviously includes the freedom not to publish, but since the intimidation plot being conducted by The Muslim Brotherhood has become obvious the stakes have changed, and the press in the United States needs to step up to the challenge.

In closing I suggest checking out the “The Hall of Capitulation”:
By Michelle Malkin

Update, 5:50PM 13-Feb: the word “unprovoked”, the result of an incompletely re-edited sentence, was deleted from the 16th paragraph.