Friday, February 10, 2006

Editorial Discretion

The blue sky and sunshine made for a nice walk this morning. Puppers picked up on an old and bad habit of leash grabbing tug of war. He pretty much had his way while I pondered all the rich material in the morning papers trying to narrow down one subject with which to end the week.

I kept coming back to Steve Smith's editorial in the Spokesman Review on why the SR won't print the Danish cartoons, nor I assume point out which were actually the Danish cartoons versus those planted by the radical Mullahs. I disagree with him on many points. The main one being, "One does not need to see the cartoons to know what they depict. And one does not need to see the cartoons to understand how some Muslims might be offended." Note he says SOME Muslims MIGHT be offended. The point, however, is we don't need to see them to understand how others might be offended by them. Excuse me. That's like saying I didn't have to read the editorial to know what was in it.

Curious as to why the Philadelphia Inquirer chose to print an example of the cartoons I found this explanation on

"Posted on Mon, Feb. 06, 2006
Inquirer editors explain why they published Danish cartoon
Here are comments from Amanda Bennett, editor of The Inquirer, and Anne Gordon, managing editor:

On Saturday, February 4, The Inquirer published one of the cartoons originally commissioned for a Danish newspaper. These cartoons have become the subject of international protests, debates and, in some cases, violence.

At the heart of this debate are our journalistic values, and how we practice them day to day. To us, this was a moment for newspaper journalists to do what they are uniquely qualified to do in this country - to lay out all sides of the issue for a well-informed public to debate and discuss. The Inquirer published the image to inform our readers, not to inflame them. Before we published it, we interviewed a wide range of people, from Muslim theologians to experts in journalistic ethics. We considered the publication of the image in the same way we have previously considered publishing difficult or troubling images. Other such examples include the burned bodies of contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, and artistic works that included disturbing Christian imagery.

We published the Danish cartoon as part of a rich offering of coverage on the whole issue. We not only covered the protests, we also examined the issues behind the protests. We have run stories on why Muslims might find the images offensive and on why the American media found this such a difficult choice. We plan further coverage on a variety of topics, including satire in the Middle East. We also have invited members of our local Muslim community to contribute pieces for our op-ed page.

This is what newspapers are in the business to do. We educate people, we inform them, we spark discussion. It is not only our profession, it is our obligation."

The last sentence is of great importance. The debate over the cartoons is couched in religious fervor at the moment. It is a convenient caveat to avoid a difficult situation. It isn't about whether or not I agree with the Spokesman or the Inquirer, but what is the responsibility of the newspaper to the public. The Spokesman was fervent about its right to dismantle Jim West because the public had a right to know. The Spokesman hides Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore in the classifieds and refuses to print a strip or series of them because they contain innuendo. Is this not an abrogation of their duty?

As readers we should have the right to be informed of the substance behind the news. How are we to make intelligent decisions about anything without information being available to us? If I want the local gossip and pro Hagadone news I read the Press. I have always expected more from the Spokesman.

To paraphrase a quote from Abraham Lincoln - you can offend (fool) all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot offend (fool) all the people all the time. Editors should take comfort in such a thought because if it truly is your profession and obligation to educate, inform and spark discussion you are always going to be offending somebody. Should one religion hold sway over another or over our public figures who receive brutal treatment from editorial cartoonists on a regular basis? Is there a one of you out there of Polish ancestry that hasn't laughed at a Polish joke even as you wince because it hits so close to home?

Put all sides of the news out there and let the people decide. A newspaper should not be the arbiter of what we should or should not know. Don't fall into the very trap you fear the most for yourself - imposed censorship.

1 comment:

Milt said...

I hate to say, I think the media is well on it's way down that slippery slope, and gaining speed.