NYTimes: Our Readers’ Feelings Are More Important Than the News

This is an open letter to Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, and every other editor who refused to publish Charlie Hebdo cartoons. 

Dear Dean Baquet (et al),

As a fellow journalist, I am doubly outraged by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo: first by the assault on freedom of speech, and second by The New York Times’ horribly misguided and ethically remiss decision to not publish the very cartoons that precipitated the massacre.

These cartoons give invaluable context to this atrocious news event. They are not just part of the story; they are the story. But rather than prioritize your responsibility to inform your readers, you are more concerned with the risk of offending them.

In explanation of your decision to not publish the cartoons, you said you had “to consider foremost the sensibilities of Times readers, especially its Muslim readers.”

Do you realize the irony of that statement?

You are considering your readers’—specifically your Muslim readers’—feelings over their power of reason; over their intellect; over their ability to objectively process the events that led to the gruesome murder of 12 people.

By considering “foremost the sensibilities” of Muslim readers, you assume that they would sooner be horrified by the cartoons than by the extremists who acted violently and falsely in the name of Islam in response to them. Moreover, you assume that they are unable to produce a cerebral response to something that offends Islam. Your patronizing assumption, Mr. Baquet, is what offends your Muslims readers.

In addition to belittling Muslims, you also belittle the intentions of the slain cartoonists. You write, “we [New York Times] don’t run things that are designed to gratuitously offend. That’s what the French cartoons were actually designed to do. That was their purpose…”

This is insulting on two levels. For starters, you unilaterally declare that the Hebdo cartoons had no greater purpose than to offend. Meanwhile, the slain Hebdo journalists argued that their cartoons were meant to provoke dialogue and raise difficult questions relevant to various religious and societal institutions, not just Islam.

Secondly, while you deem the cartoons too “gratuitously” offensive to publish, you find no offense in publishing the horrifically violent video of police officer Ahmed Merabet, a French Muslim, in his last moments before the terrorists shot him at point-blank range in the head.

Thus, cartoons that mock Islam are too offensive to run, but a chilling video of an innocent man being murdered is not. You reconcile publishing the video by warning viewers of its graphic content. Would you ever consider running a similar warning ahead of the cartoons?

Amongst all your misguided logic, the following is most offensive:

Your decision to protect your Muslim readers’ sensibilities is a disgrace to the memory of Ahmed Merabet, the French Muslim police officer who died defending a magazine’s right to exercise free speech, even at the expense of his own religion. Certainly, Merabet proved that Muslims are capable of prioritizing freedom of speech over the sanctity of Islam.

Take note, Mr. Baquet: Ahmed Merabet didn’t die for your newspaper’s right to protect his fellow Muslims’ “sensibilities.” He died protecting everyone’s right to free speech—a sacrifice you grossly fail to appreciate.

[These are the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that incited the terrorists to kill. Thank you, Huffington Post, for demonstrating your moral courage and commitment to free speech by publishing them.]

About the Author
Rachel Solomon is a Tel Aviv-based freelance journalist and marketing writer with previous experience at Dow Jones, Thomson Reuters, the Jewish Federation, and Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch.
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