11. February 2006 · Comments Off on Memo: Free Press · Categories: European Disunion, General, GWOT, Media Matters Not, Pajama Game

To: Major Newspapers, Broadcast TV News Channels, NPR and especially (but not limited to) the ever lugubrious Daniel Schoor (What? He is still a practicing journalist? Who’d have thought it?)
Re: “Free Press” & The Affair of the Danish Cartoons

1. As far as American newsprint and broadcast television is concerned, the phrase “freedom of the press” is from this day now enshrined in my favorite set of viciously skeptical quote-marks. The affair of the Danish Cartoons, and their non-appearance in all but a handful of newspapers has put the lie to every bit of lip-service ever paid to the notion that the American people had a right to know… had an absolute right, enshrined in the foundations of our very Republic to know… well, whatever it was that would goose the ratings, or boost circulation this week… A right that every journalist would fearlessly defend, with every fiber of his principled, journalistic being. Oops, there seems to be a little contradiction there. Principled… journalist… now there is a concept worn to tatters by this little international imbroglio, especially after Eason-gate, Rather-Gate and all the other tedious-gates. It’s pretty obvious that in this case, especially, mainstream media couldn’t defend the concept of a free press against a troop of marauding Brownie Girl Scouts, not when the threat is something a little more substantial than a couple of rabid letters to the editor and maybe a dozen or two cancelled subscriptions, some yanked adverts and maybe… in the case of a really egregious offense… a consumer boycott.

2. Thanks for all the ringing endorsements of principle, though — they made inspiring reads when a journo went to jail to protect a source, or a loud-mouthed bully of a politician ran off at the mouth. And to be fair there were just enough brave, and risk taking journalists who lived up to it, and sometimes died for it. It does look like they were the exception; most of the journalistic crowd seems only able to cope with jail food for a couple of days, and go on the Today Show to bask in the warm glow of peer approval for weeks afterwards.

3. My own hometown newspaper has a rather schizo take on it all: the two local cartoonists are riled and indignant, and very much in favor of publishing the original twelve Danish cartoons, but the paper has also rolled out two members of the local Muslim community to lecture us all about sensitivity and insult to Islam and otherwise wrap us in the inoffensive warm swaddling quilt of the whole multi-cultural experience. Dear no, the great unwashed general public must never be offended or upset, never given a chance to look at the facts and make up their own mind, and the ever-seething Muslim Street must never be given an excuse to torch another street full of cars, or a handy embassy. Not even if enough people without internet access are now curious about what in heck the fuss is all about. No, no, no; the cartoons are too vile, to insulting. Mustn’t be seen, musn’t have the delicate sensibilities be offended… just take our word that the 12 cartoons are that horrible!

4. 4. Funny, that: the tender sensibilities of Muslims taking offense at something or other, twice a day and three times on Fridays over matters that run the gamut from the real, through the exaggerated and terminating in the completely imaginary. However, this well known and often demonstrated propensity for over-the-top outrage didn’t stop any Western newspaper from publishing the Abu Graib pictures, or the bogus Koran-flushing story. All that sent the Muslim Street onto high seeth mode for simply months, without shaking a particle of our mainstream media’s devotion towards the general public’s right to know. Repercussions from this adherence to principle landed on everyone else but the gentlemen of the press. One might be forgiven at this point for suspecting that press deference to Muslim sensibilities in this case is directly proportional to a well-established tendency for the offended to directly underline their unhappiness with sharp knives, exploding garments, creative arson, and fatwas, along with the more customary threats of lawsuits and consumer boycotts. It all depends, as my mother used to say, upon whose ox has been gored, and on this occasion, the major media’s ox has been well and truly gored.

5. Myself, I have begun to wonder if major media’s almost hysterical insistence on the original 12 Danish Cartoons being so vile, so insulting and hurtful as to be unworthy of print space or airtime isn’t a trifle self-serving. I have seen them, (and linked to them and put up one on this website) as has practically anyone who has internet access, a bit of curiosity and the ability to do a simple search. It’ll be very hard for an old-line news organization who has stuck to the party line about the offensive nature of them to actually put them out there, in print or on the air, and have all those people who still take them seriously realize in actuality, they are pretty mild… about one half step more cutting than “Family Circle” or “Dagwood & Blondie”. There would be a great many people reading the morning paper, or watching prime time news in that case, scratching their heads and thinking “That is what they got so upset about?” A dozen bland little sketches, only two of which had any satiric bite at all— all the fuss was about that? Oh, no best keep the cover locked into place… after all, the public doesn’t have to know everything. Best let them go on believing that main line media does really believe in freedom of the press.

6. Unless believing in it really means a bit of real danger and risk. Myself, the next time I hear someone pontificating away on the awesome responsibilities involved in upholding the “freedom of the press”… and they are from a newspaper which refused to run the Danish Cartoons, or a television station which refused to air them, citing “community sensitivities” or “deference to religious feelings” or whatever the sad excuse du jour is…. I shall laugh and laugh and laugh.

Sgt. Mom

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