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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Black and White and Yellow All Over 


American media’s response to how to cover the Danish cartoon furor has been eye opening. Aside from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the only major newspaper to run one of the images to date, (and a few smaller publications in California and Wyoming), most newspapers have chosen to tell the story without using the images.

The executive editor of the Washington Post Leonard Downie Jnr. said the cartoons "wouldn't meet our standards for what we publish in the paper … We have standards about language, religious sensitivity, racial sensitivity and general good taste."

No one can deny that the issue is complex, and that careful consideration of the cultural and religious ramifications is warranted.

And whether a publication decides to publish or not to publish is the prerogative of the powers that be at any such publication.

In an update by Joe Strupp in Editor & Publisher, Anne Gordon, Philadelphia Inquirer managing editor, chided the Associated Press for independently withholding the cartoons claiming it was not AP’s decision to make on behalf of all newspapers.

Kathleen Carroll, executive editor at The Associated Press, asserted that any publication of the cartoons does not add to the news coverage of the issue. She added: "If people want to find them, they are easily found."

Doug Clifton, editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, told Editor & Publisher that he did not “see a need to insert ourselves in that fight." But Clifton said his paper will likely place a link to the images from another site when it runs an editorial on the issue over the weekend. "They will have the option to see it if they choose," he told Editor & Publisher.

That is unquestionably the most cowardly and pathetic response I have seen to date. It’s one thing to state, albeit disingenuously, that publication of the images is not germane to the telling of the story, but its quite another to claim that as an excuse to mask a fear of reprisals or to capitulate to pressure.

Since Clifton believes that the story doesn’t warrant running the images, is unwilling to take a stand, and genuinely believes the story doesn’t warrant it, how about demonstrating how good he is at articulating the story without them? The “choice” he’s offering is not in his editorial control.

What Doug Clifton is doing is riding on the backs of others who are taking significant risks in standing up for their principles and having the courage of their convictions.

Clifton’s yellow approach is the moral journalistic equivalent of jacking off during a gang rape.


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