Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Me and Don Wycliff
Don Wycliff is the public editor of the Chicago Tribune, he writes a column every Thursday that appears on the op-ed page. Last week he wrote this column explaining why the Trib decided to not run the Danish cartoons. It prompted this email from me:
I have been a lifelong reader and subscriber to the Chicago Tribune, but I confess, I hardly read it anymore. Given that, why do I still pay for home delivery every single day? The best answer I can come up with is 20+ year habits are hard to break, that's not particularly flattering to your publication. Online news and blogs from all sides of the political spectrum, simply offer me a more balanced and accurate picture than your paper, most importantly they make their biases known up front, which I appreciate more than anything. So perhaps you can tell me, regarding the decision to not publish the Danish cartoons, you wrote:
"They based their decision on the judgment that the newspaper could tell the story of the cartoon conflict without printing the images and giving gratuitous insult to a significant segment of its audience. "We can communicate to our readers what this is about without running it," Managing Editor James O'Shea was quoted as saying in Saturday's New York Times."
Why did similar reasoning not apply to the photos from Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses? What are the objective differences? Did you somehow come to the conclusion that drawings would be more offensive, or more imflammatory, than pictures of actual abuse? Please explain.
Mr. Wycliff replied:
Thanks for writing. Why did similar reasoning not apply to the photos from Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses? Two reasons come to mind right away:
1. The photos from Abu Ghraib were not matters of religion.
2. The photos from Abu Ghraib were documentary evidence of actions undertaken by U.S. government employees in the name of the people of the United States--actions the American people needed to be aware of to make decisions about the appropriate governance of their nation.
There no doubt are others, but I'm out of time now.
To which I replied:
Thanks for your reply, though I am awfully undewhelmed by your paper's reasoning. I'm certainly NOT making the argument that the Abu Ghraib pictures should not have run, but I think your supposition that the Muslim world would not view those pictures in a religious context is suspect at best. Did you really think that the Middle Eastern citizens would not view those images as actions perpetrated against *Muslims* (rather than against terrorists or prisoners)?
Additionally, and correct me if I am wrong, but didn't the Chicago Tribune run an image of Serrano's 'Piss Christ' years ago? Was that not a matter of religion?
Is there a minimum amount of membership to a religion before the Chicago Tribune figures it should censor what I get to read in it? For example, surely there has been some Tribune cartoons and articles over the last few years that have offended Matthew Hale's hateful Creativity Movement religion, why were those not censored? Any article or op-ed supporting gay marriage would offend some Christians, why not censor those?
One of the reasons given for not running the cartoons was "that the newspaper could tell the story of the cartoon conflict without printing the images" I fail to see how the same concept could not have applied to the Abu Ghraib photos.
Your second reason:
"The photos from Abu Ghraib were documentary evidence of actions undertaken by U.S. government employees in the name of the people of the United States--actions the American people needed to be aware of to make decisions about the appropriate governance of their nation."
Couched in this explanation is the implication that it was actually government policy to commit such abuse, when in actuality we know that it was the act of criminals who were already under investigation and on their way to being punished by the US military. If the point was really about evaluation of governance, then it would have been more appropriate to emphasize the institutional response to such criminal acts coming to light, rather than a stream of images showing said criminal act.
So far no response from Don Wycliff on my latest, and I guess I don't really expect one at this point. As he acknowledged, he barely had time to reply to my first email, he's a busy man no doubt.
I also can't help wondering if one of the differences influencing the decision to run the Abu Ghraib pictures and not the Danish cartoons had to do with the fact that there was no real danger of the US military firebombing the headquarters of the paper over Abu Ghraib.
Free expression! (unless we are intimidated)