A mainstream media columnist notices media cowardice in the face of violent intimidation from Islamic supremacists. More on this story. “On the Media: Where’s Muhammad? Not on many comics pages,” by James Rainey in the Los Angeles Times, October 13:
[…] Cartoonist Wiley Miller gets credit for offering a more precise and reasoned rejoinder with his “Non Sequitur” offering of Oct. 3. The only hitch: the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and many other papers pulled the cartoon that had been drawn to highlight the madness of the extremists and the hypersensitivity of the media.
By killing the panel the newspapers fell into the very kind of timidity or conflict aversion that the cartoon had intended to expose. A mildly provocative image that would have slipped quickly into obscurity instead has won a second life, more powerful and ironic by its initial absence. […]
These insane calls to violence have gone on for too long. And the insistence on a zone of safety and security for free speech must remain sacrosanct. Who wants to live in a world where benign protests like Norris’ (who has moved and changed her identity) can lead to a death sentence?
But that’s not the lone standard for newspaper editors, who want to inform without needlessly offending. Inflammatory pictures and stories get spiked on occasion to preserve a civil sounding board.
It’s hard to believe that Miller’s sunny “Non Sequitur” fit in this category. In the park scene, a dog walks his master, a giraffe licks an ice cream cone and a hippo suns himself. The prophet is present only in his absence.
Somehow Washington Post Style editor Ned Martel viewed the same image as “a deliberate provocation without a clear message.” He also told his paper’s ombudsman that it might not be immediately clear to readers that Muhammad did not appear in the drawing.
The Boston Globe had a similar complaint. Deputy managing editor Christine Chinlund said via e-mail: “When a cartoon takes on a sensitive subject, especially religion, it has an obligation to be clear. The ‘Where’s Muhammad’ cartoon did not meet that test. It leaves the reader searching for clues, staring at a busy drawing, trying to discern a likeness, wondering if the outhouse at the top of the drawing is significant — in other words, perplexed.”
Said Alice Short, an L.A. Times assistant managing editor: “If they had produced a ‘Non Sequitur’ cartoon that said ‘Where’s Jesus?’ I probably wouldn’t have wanted to run that either.”…
I couldn’t reach editors at the San Francisco Chronicle and Dallas Morning News. Those papers also killed the cartoon, as did an untold number of others. Universal and Miller said they had no way of keeping count. At the Austin ( Texas) American-Statesman a senior editor named Drew Marcks told me when I asked about the cartoon, “I’d rather not talk about it.”
I pressed. He hung up.
Of course. What can a coward say about his cowardice?