CNN memo to staff: We are not at this time showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons of "the Prophet"

Like I said: Terrorism works. The future will not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

In fact, in the future, maybe our media will refer to him as “the Prophet” without further description. If you’re going to live by one Muslim standard, you might as well live by all of them.

[Senior CNN editorial director Richard] Griffiths’ email:

Although we are not at this time showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet considered offensive by many Muslims, platforms are encouraged to verbally describe the cartoons in detail. This is key to understanding the nature of the attack on the magazine and the tension between free expression and respect for religion.

Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are also OK. Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.

It’s also OK to show most of the protest cartoons making the rounds online, though care should be taken to avoid examples that include within them detailed depictions of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons.

This isn’t the first time American news networks have refused to show images of Mohammed, as the boss emeritus points out, but that tremulous “if shot wide” in the excerpt above is a perfectly absurd little coup de grace. I saw someone tweet earlier this afternoon that they’d rather see news outlets avoid this story entirely than betray the martyred Hebdo staff by refusing to transmit the images they died defending. I agree. There’s a shred of honesty in a total blackout, an acknowledgement that if a journalist can’t cover a story without restrictions he shouldn’t cover it at all. To repeat the point I made in the post about Obama’s 2012 speech, I can tolerate caving to jihadi sensibilities so long as there’s some shame involved. Blacking out the story entirely would signal shame. Refusing to do close-ups of a crowd of people mourning satirists murdered in the name of censorship because you fear you might pick up one or two of the offending drawings doesn’t.

Oh, incidentally, NBC and its affiliates won’t be showing the cartoons either:

Fox News aired showed one this morning but has “no plans” to show them again as I’m writing this. All of this was predictable. This, unfortunately, was predictable too:

The Associated Press has removed an image of Andres Serrano’s 1987 photograph “Piss Christ” from its image library following Wednesday’s attack against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“It’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images. It is fair to say we have revised and reviewed our policies since 1989,” AP spokesperson Erin Madigan told POLITICO, referring to the year the AP first posted the photograph…

Both the cropping of the Hebdo cartoons and the decision to remove Serrano’s photo have been interpreted by many as a capitulation to the attackers’ efforts to limit the freedom of expression.

“Piss Christ” was for sale on the AP’s website earlier this afternoon when they declared the Charlie Hebdo cartoons verboten for their wire services. Social media noticed, then poof — the image was gone. You’re going to see more of that in years to come. It’s shameful to censor yourself out of fear but it’s less shameful, some would even say honorable, to do it out of “sensitivity.” To maintain that charade, though, you need to be evenhanded: There’s no reason apart from comparative risks of violence why a news bureau should treat Muslim beliefs as more “sensitive” than Christian ones. What’ll happen as time goes on is that the creeping anti-blasphemy ethic in western media driven by fear of Muslim rage will be applied to other religions too, starting with Christianity, simply so that news agencies can maintain the fig leaf that they’re acting out of some sort of “tolerance” principle rather than fear. That’s why I wish they’d bring “Piss Christ” back — not only would it keep blasphemy safe for all religions except one but keeping it out there is actually a testament to the commitment western Christians have to free speech even when they’re offended. (Well, most western Christians, anyway.) And it would be a bracing reminder that there are in fact two standards for two faiths and that that standard is derived purely from their members’ respective willingness to register their dissent by picking up AK-47s. Don’t let the media have its fig leaf.

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