The New York Times made an awkward attempt this afternoon to examine the presumably anxious debate in the American news media over whether or not to reproduce the new Charlie Hebdo cover with its image of Muhammad.
The trouble is, there isn’t much of a debate. The Times is one of just a handful of major American outlets that’s still unwilling to reprint the Muhammad image. Others practicing the self-censorship include the Associated Press, CNN, NBC News, ABC News and PBS.
Outlets that made the opposite decision and went ahead to show the image today included, in addition to our own Jewish Daily Forward, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Newsweek, the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, Houston Chronicle, New York Daily News, New York Post and even the U.S. government-owned Voice of America. And that’s obviously a partial list.
The New York Times explained its decision not to publish the image as “an editorial judgment.” The AP said its decision was “based on its policy to avoid images designed to provoke on the basis of religion.”
CNN’s explanation was more refreshingly blunt. A statement by network president Jeff Zucker, read on air by anchor Erin Burnett, said CNN gave priority to “our obligation to protect our journalists around the world.”
Nobody seems to have been quite as crass as the book publisher HarperCollins, which recently practiced a similar sort of self-censorship in deference to Muslim and Arab sensibiliities when it decided for purely commercial reasons to expunge Israel from a Middle East atlas that it sold for use in schools in the Gulf emirates.
The Daily Telegraph of London, which reported on the atlas December 31, explained:
Collins Bartholomew, the subsidiary of HarperCollins that specialises in maps, said that including Israel would have been “unacceptable” to their customers in the Gulf and the amendment incorporated “local preferences”.
The Telegraph went on to note:
A HarperCollins spokesperson said: “HarperCollins regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas. This product has now been removed from sale in all territories and all remaining stock will be pulped. HarperCollins sincerely apologises for this omission and for any offence caused.”
Nobody seems to have pulped the news reports that described the HarperCollins publishing coup at length but omitted the telling fact that HarperCollins is a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., owner of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and a perennial favorite of the pro-Israel right.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).