Rioters do not make good editors

1097517737460887800 jpg 200 1I know that the following op-ed piece isn’t hard news, but it is opinion about the shaping of the news. And I do think that some very interesting people are getting upset about the same things.

Be honest. Didn’t you do a bit of a double take when you saw a piece in the Washington Post with the headline “A Failure of the Press” and, lo and behold, it was topped with the byline “William J. Bennett and Alan M. Dershowitz”? Now that is a flash of diversity.

Sure enough, these two men do not agree on each and every issue when it comes to MSM coverage of the “war on terror.” Still, when it comes to the cartoon crisis, they do agree on some things — especially that, when it comes to the new press rules on not offending religious believers, some believers are more equal than others.

The Boston Globe, speaking for many other outlets, editorialized: “[N]ewspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.”

But as for caricatures depicting Jews in the most medievally horrific stereotypes, or Christians as fanatics on any given issue, the mainstream press seems to hold no such value. And in the matter of disclosing classified information in wartime, the press competes for the scoop when it believes the public interest warrants it.

What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus.

This is familiar territory these days, but it is interesting to see a leader on the left stating this, as well as an angry alpha male on the right.

dersSo what, for the team of Bennett and Dershowitz, is the bottom line?

So far as we can tell, a new, twin policy from the mainstream media has been promulgated: (a) If a group is strong enough in its reaction to a story or caricature, the press will refrain from printing that story or caricature, and (b) if the group is pandered to by the mainstream media, the media then will go through elaborate contortions and defenses to justify its abdication of duty. At bottom, this is an unacceptable form of not-so-benign bigotry, representing a higher expectation from Christians and Jews than from Muslims.

… There should be no group or mob veto of a story that is in the public interest.

Now, if you want to see this thesis expressed in a more cynical, post-news, Comedy Central is our North Star kind of editorial feature, check out this essay by Bruce Feirstein at the New York Observer (which is not published by anyone on the cultural right, last time I checked). It seems that the new, improved and more faith-sensitive New York Times has a new “public editor,” and here is the top of his first column:

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Ali bin-Zabar, the new public editor of The New York Times. Reporting to no one but the Prophet himself, my goal here is not to defend “All the News That Fits,” but to make sure The Times publishes only “All the News That’s Halal.”

I think you get the idea.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Glenn Greenwald has an outstanding blog post on the hypocrisy of Bennett and other Bush supporters in their newfound love of freedom. He raises serious concerns about the integrity of intellectuals such as Bennett who attack the press for not offending Muslims but who want to censor the press for publishing stories that are critical of the Administration (NSA, Abu Grahib photos, etc.) What he said.

  • Daniel

    The presence of blowhards like Bennett and Dershowitz into this controversy is much like Bill O’Reilly’s presence in the great Christmas controversy: the silly time had begun and all serious conversation is over.

  • Scott Allen

    Thanks TMATT, right on target. The difference that seems to confuse other readers is that the press is very happy to promulgate material that may cause violence against others. The MSM seems to only be “sensitive” or “discrete” when communication may provoke violence against itself.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    At bottom, this is an unacceptable form of not-so-benign bigotry, representing a higher expectation from Christians and Jews than from Muslims.

    It wasn’t all that long ago I was seeing Christians complain about allegedly anti-Christian art and media, and that Jews were a group that museums and Hollywood would bend over backwards to avoid offending.

    Now it’s supposed Jews and Christians both offendable, and Muslims the supposedly pandered-to group. This must be one of those me and my brother against my cousin moments. Unless it’s we have always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Scott Allen

    Avram, christians haven’t changed their position. Hollywood, academia and the MSM have considered us to be “fair game” for ridicule for decades. In the 1990s they added Israel to this category. Muslims remain “protected” from any criticism of their religion. The only proviso is that certain nations (but not the religion) such as Saudi Arabia may be criticized. To repeat my point, it is Hollywood, academia and the MSM that have changed their viewpoint. Don’t try to twist this into some sort of inconsistency or revisionism on the part of christians.
    As I noted in my earlier comment, Hollywood and the MSM don’t mind stirring up controversy as long as they aren’t endangering themselves. So TMATT’s observation is accurate: there is a “not-so-benign bigotry” that holds christians and jews to a higher standard than muslims.

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