The Washington Post’s media reporter Howard Kurtz, usually one of my Monday favorites, is today’s cartoon cop out. In a column critical of those who attempt to control the news, Kurtz says that cartoonists like Post cartoonist Tom Toles, whose quadruple amputee column drew a letter from the Joint Chiefs, have become “whipping boys,” adding:
“But the riots that greeted the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad — first by a Danish newspaper, then in solidarity by numerous European ones — have prompted some soul-searching. Since the whole thing was devised as a free-speech exercise, the question is whether it was worth it to gratuitously offend followers of one religion. The fact that you can publish something doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a wise idea. At the same time, the violent protesters — who attacked the embassies of governments that have no control over newspapers — don’t have the slightest interest in freedom of speech.”
At least, Howie does admit that rioting and killing is a somewhat more severe form of news control than a letter from the Joint Chiefs. But he fails to admit that the Post is censoring the cartoons out of fear, not news judgment, which would mandate printing the world’s most famous cartoons.