Sunday, February 12, 2006

Why Not Publish These Cartoons?

Deborah Howell wrote in WaPo Hundreds of readers have asked why The Post hasn't reprinted the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that inflamed Muslims around the world, leading to deadly protests and the burning of embassies.
Because they are frightened.
Some readers questioned the Post's journalistic courage. Martin Lawton of Arlington wrote: "Certainly, given the uproar, it seems incumbent to publish them now so readers can take a look for themselves and make their own decisions. The cartoons have become The Story. How can The Post not show these images and keep a straight face?" Executive Editor Len Downie made the decision, consulting with other top editors. The issue, he said, is one of journalistic judgment, not courage.
The cartoons do not disparage the Bush administration, and that is WaPo's primary purpose. As a secondary reason, they don't want their presses firebombed.
Downie said, "This newspaper vigorously exercises its freedom of expression every day. In doing so, we have standards for accuracy, fairness and taste that our readers have come to expect from The Post. We decided that publishing these cartoons would violate our standards. This has not prevented us from reporting about them and the controversy in great detail in many stories over several days."
But we don't think those stories will cause the Muslims to attack us.
Most good newspapers don't set out to offend readers. But newspapers shouldn't avoid controversy, and if they don't occasionally offend readers, they're probably not doing their job. The Post is edited for accuracy, clarity, fairness and taste. That involves hundreds of decisions a day about which stories, pictures and drawings get into the paper and which don't. The Post's news standards include a prohibition on gratuitous nudity, obscenity and violence. "Defamatory or prejudicial words and phrases that perpetuate racial, religious or ethnic stereotypes are impermissible,"
Unless they are directed at Republicans or Christians.
the paper's stylebook says. This also applies to photos and drawings.

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