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To Publish Or Not To Publish? Media Wrestles With Charlie Hebdo Covers

Twelve people were murdered in Paris on Wednesday at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, apparently over offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

In the days since, media outlets around the country and the world have struggled with whether or not to display the publication’s cartoons in their own pages, websites and television broadcasts.

Several major media outlets, including The New York Times and the Associated Press, decided not to publish the most controversial covers. A spokesperson for the AP newswire says that the organization has a policy to “refrain from moving deliberately provocative images.” But others, including the Daily Beast, Slate and BuzzFeed, have published extensive online galleries.

Here & Now’s Robin Young talks to Washington Post media columnist Erik Wemple about the issues news organizations are grappling with, as they decide what to publish — or not — and why. While his outlet was split — the Washington Post editorial page published the cartoons, while the news division chose not to, for similar reasons to the AP — Wemple’s opinion is clear: he disagrees.

“Good cartoonists are able to put something in the four corners of a very small space and make it really stand out and make people think,” Wemple explains. “The AP [and] the New York Times have all said that we can describe this just as well [in words]. That’s just not true.”

Interview Highlights

On why he thinks news organizations should publish the offending cartoons

“This is a case where we are news organizations and we need to bring the news to people and sometimes that entails trafficking in things that you might not like or that you might find offensive, but in order to explain the story, you have to know what you’re talking about. If everybody made the same decision that the New York Times and the Washington Post news division made, why then we wouldn’t even know what we’re talking about here! Right? It’s important to know what’s going on here.”

On publishing vs. endorsing and #JeNeSuisPasCharlie (“I am not Charlie”)

“When news organizations put something on their paper or on the screen, it doesn’t mean that they endorse that; it just means that that’s a part of the story. You can actually condemn and point to something at the same time. It just so happens that this is such a critical and central part of the conversation now. I don’t have any problem with the #JeNeSuisPasCharlie. That seems fairly reasonable. A lot of the stuff that they did, I suppose the argument could be made that it is deliberately offensive and you know, just awful. But what we’re talking about here is a tax on free speech. My point is that when you have free speech under attack, when it’s under siege, the content is almost secondary or tertiary or quaternary. It just doesn’t matter. You have to stick up for whatever it is that those people were producing from a perspective of free speech.”


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