False Solidarity: Major News Outlets Refuse to Publish Charlie Hebdo Cartoon

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a new Mohammed cartoon, a week after two gunmen slaughtered twelve people in cold blood at their headquarters in Paris, France. The image depicts a crying Mohammed holding a sign that says “Je Suis Charlie.” While arguably not being nearly as provocative as previous covers, a number of American outlets refused to publish the cartoon.

National Public Radio (NPR) was among them. “News organizations and people around the world obviously believe the opposite — that no one deserves to die just because he’s rude, crude or otherwise obnoxious,” stated Mark Memmott, NPR’s standards and practices editor. “Free speech includes the right to be offensive.”

Memmott said the 2011 attacks on the Charlie Hebdo building forces NPR to do what they can to protect their journalists.

“At this time, NPR is not posting images of Charlie Hebdo’s most controversial cartoons — just as it did not post such images during earlier controversies involving the magazine and a Danish cartoonist’s caricatures of the prophet,” he said.

The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet decided against publishing any of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. He did not cite the safety of his employees in making that choice, however. Instead, he claimed “he had to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers.”

“We have a standard that is long held and that serves us well: that there is a line between gratuitous insult and satire,” he said. “Most of these are gratuitous insult. At what point does news value override our standards? You would have to show the most incendiary images.”

FOX News, CNN, and MSNBC never displayed the cartoon on air. FOX showed the cartoons once, but told The Washington Post the network “has ‘no plans’ to show further examples.” CNN “cropped out” any image of the cartoons. NBC told Buzzfeed the “NBC News Group Standards team has sent guidance to NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC not to show headlines or cartoons that could be viewed as insensitive or offensive.”

Rosie Gray at BuzzFeed reported that Al Jazeera bosses told their journalists “it is ‘absolutely out of bounds’ to publish images” of the newest Charlie Hebdo issue. The Associated Press claimed the publication “has a long-standing policy of refraining from using provocative images.”

The Washington Post, however, did publish the new Charlie Hebdo cartoon– the first depiction of Mohammed to appear in the newspaper. From The Washington Post:

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron approved publication of the image on The Post’s blog and in the newspaper. It is apparently the first time a Muhammad depiction has appeared in The Post’s news columns. Baron said last week that the paper’s policy was to avoid publication of material that is “deliberately” offensive to religious groups but said Monday that the new Charlie Hebdo cartoon did not meet that criterion.

“We’ve never maintained that simply publishing an image of Muhammad itself was offensive,” Baron stated. “Our policy has been to avoid publication of material that is pointedly, deliberately or needlessly offensive to members of religious groups. That remains our policy, but this doesn’t fall into that category.”


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