Media hypocrisy: they can’t bear to show Muhammad mocked, but mocking God is fine

When the Charlie Hebdo massacre took place a year ago yesterday, it was of course widely reported. But one bit of reportorial information was missing: the cartoons that brought on that attack. It was hard to find images of any earlier cartoons of Muhammad or even of the touching first cover that appeared after the slaughter—this one:


Of course they had an excuse: “we didn’t want to offend people”, but the real reason was cowardice. The magazines didn’t want the worry of attacks by Muslim terrorists. But those covers were news, so how could you report on the murders without showing what incited them? That reminds me of the reprehensible publication of an entire book by Yale University Press on the Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons without showing a single one of them. 

The Daily Caller gives a list (with evidence) of cowardly venues that refused, and still refuse, to publish any Charlie Hebdo cartoons that show Muhammad. They include (and note that I’ve checked only a few for myself):

The Associated Press (AP)
The New York Daily News (shameful image below):

The Jewish Chronicle
The New York Times
The Telegraph (shameful image below):

ABC News (US)
CBS News (they do seem to have published the cover at the top)

Okay, so those outlets continue to censor or not publish Muhammad cartoons. If their reason—fear of offending the faithful—was genuine, we now have a control. How did these venues do with the new Charlie Hebdo cartoon, the first-anniversary issue that shows not God’s Islamic prophet, but a generic god himself? Whaddya think? If they’re acting out of respect for Muslims by not showing a caricatured Muhammad, surely they’ll act out of respect for all theists by not showing a caricatured God—right?

Don’t bet on it.  Here’s the new cartoon:


And here, from MediaIte, are the venues that won’t show Muhammad but will show an assassin God. (The ones with links are those I found myself.) They are not only cowardly but hypocritical.

The Associated Press
The Telegraph
ABC News (US)

I’m not sure which is worse: refusing to show the Muhammad cartoons, which capitulates to fear of Muslim wrath and abjures good reporting, or refusing to show the Muhammad cartoons and showing the God cartoons, which proves that the excuse of not giving offense was a lie. (Remember, the Vatican saw the anniversary cover as “blasphemy.”) In both cases the terrorists have won, but in the second the hypocrisy is deafening.

MSNBC, supposedly a liberal venue, may be the worst. According to The Washington Post (which has shown both Muhammad and God cartoons), MSNBC wouldn’t show Muhammad cover, but published the God cover, and then canceled it when their double standard was pointed out:

As a member of the NBC News family, MSNBC last year elected not to show its viewers the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that circulated in the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo — even after those cartoons became newsworthy for motivating a murderous terrorist attack on the magazine’s offices. “Our NBC News Group Standards team has sent guidance to NBC News, MSNBC, and CNBC not to show headlines or cartoons that could be viewed as insensitive or offensive,” an NBC News spokesperson said.

So how to handle the edition commemorating the anniversary of that attack? This one carries a depiction of God-as-terrorist, complete with a rifle strapped to his back and a line that reads, “One year on: the killer is still at large.”

An MSNBC rep told the Erik Wemple Blog today that the network, consistent with last year’s approach, isn’t showing images of the cover. Then we pointed out that Mediaite’s Alex Griswold had snared a screengrab of MSNBC indeed showing the cover.

In a reply that merits no further commentary from this blog, the MSNBC rep says that the network showed the current Charlie Hebdo cover up until it confirmed that the image was of God. “Once we found that out, we stopped showing it,” notes the rep.

I would love to hear what Rachel Maddow has to say about this. I don’t watch her regularly, but I do admire her frankness and wonder if she’s ever addressed her own network’s craven behavior.



  1. John
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The battle of our time…

  2. Jeff Ryan
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Did the Daily Caller itself publish the cartoons?

    • Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Yes they did. The latest post there shows a particularly provocative one with the notation:

      (NOTE: For the record, The Daily Caller has decided to publish the photos when necessary — partly as a stand for free speech, but mostly out of a complete disregard for staff safety. Look, here’s one now!)

  3. Randy Schenck
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    It should not be surprising to find cowards and hypocrites in the same bag. MSNBC is living up to it’s own low standards…when you are no longer credible enough to appear on NBC you can still go over to MSNBC. Just ask Brian Williams.

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell are palatable to me. But as Jerry pointed out, it would be nice to hear them speak out about the majority of MSNBC’s bs.

  4. rudolphpaul
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    In 2003 MSNBC lost all credibility when they fired Phil Donahue and replaced him with the odious Michael Savage. MSNBC is neither Right nor Left but Corporate.

  5. Dermot C
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    As Hitchens pointed out on CNN and as Caroline Fourest pointed out with Stephen Knight the other day, the reason for the media self-censorship on the cartoons is fear: it would merely be honest and, in a way, understandable if they just said so.

    It’s one of the toxins injected into the debate by Islam: we all know of the bad faith in people making excuses for their lack of solidarity. And it leads to ever more byzantine reasoning until step-by-step Islam becomes exculpated and the cartoonists blamed.

    Charlie Hebdo speakers are effectively discriminated against when they are invited to speak live: the conference organizers have their insurance costs prohibitively bumped up. So that invitees are disinvited: it’s happened to Caroline Fourest and no doubt to others. CF is one of the few CH staff who can speak English, so it becomes more difficult for CH to raise solidarity from the Anglophone world.

    Remember, her new book ‘In Praise of Blasphemy’ is available on i-tunes and Amazon and Charb’s ‘Open Letter’ is coming out now.

    The whole affair is shameful: thanks, Jerry, for this post.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      I know it is a morbid twist of publicity, but is it not the case that if a news agency did actually publish an image 1) they would get noticed (i.e., hits in today’s economy), and, worst case, 2) they would get attacked, but even more noticed.

      • Dermot C
        Posted January 8, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Possibly, but I don’t think you need ascribe such cynical motives to serious journalists. If you look at ‘Charlie 712′, the documentary on CH’s discussions about how to react to the Danish cartoon affair from 2006, and even if you don’t understand French, you can tell what the management, cartoonists and journalists were interested in.

        It was the principle of free speech and whose law you should work under – the secular law vs. sharia. And secondly, they agreed the solidarity of sharing the Danish cartoonists’ caricatures, thereby spreading the risk. And they even could quote Sarkozy who was pretty good on privileging blasphemy over theocracy (and in going after Tariq Ramadan).

        There was a brief flurry of sharing the risk after 7th January last year, but that has quickly dissipated. Now everyone so fears Islam and the anticipated shame of being called ‘racist’ that the Mayor of Philadelphia turns out to be an Islamic scholar: he knows that Edward Archer misunderstands Islam. From Philadelphia to Cologne, the mayors are terrified of mentioning the ‘I’ word.

  6. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    When this sort of thing happens, the terrorists have won.

    With every other type of possible offence, they just provide a warning at the beginning of the story, or give a rating for TV shows, movies etc. I watch shows presenting facts about Biblical times on the History channel that gives warnings about offence, presumably for Biblical literalists.

    When I wrote about the Charlie Hebdo massacre on my own site, I just wrote at the top of the post that there were images of Muhammad, and not to read on if you found that offensive. I translated part of an interview with the new editor of Charlie Hebdo, and I think it would have been an insult to him and those who died not to include the images that led to the murders.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Good for you, Heather. x

  7. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Does that mean Mohammed has a higher status than God? Surely that’s blasphemous!

    • Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      I’m offended!

    • rickflick
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      As long as you don’t use the “A” word, you’re safe. After all, “God” could be Yahweh, Zeus, or the Spaghetti Monster (well, no, not the Spaghetti Monster). A little ambiguity goes a long way in these things.

      • EvolvedDutchie
        Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        I think it clears things up. 😛 Muslims like to use the word Allah instead of God. Allah is ofcourse just Arabic for God, so it’s a distinction without a difference. I try to remind people of this fact by using the word God for both the christian and islamic Gods. Which is the same God anyway, according to islamic theology.

        And I’ve also noticed among some non-believers that the word ‘God’ is a stronger reminder of the reasons why they don’t believe than the word Allah. I guess that’s only because Allah is a fairly exotic word.

  8. Posted January 8, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Proof, if it was ever needed that the reaction to the cartoons of Mohammed was ‘idolatrous’. A severe sin in Islam.

  9. Mark R.
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The pen is still mightier than the sword…or Kalashnikov.

  10. Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    If they’re acting out of respect for Muslims by not showing a caricatured Muhammad, surely they’ll act out of respect for all theists by not showing a caricatured God—right

    I don’t know about you, but as a Pastafarian I find the constant representations of the Lord Our Pasta (Saucéd be Her Name) in the FOOD pages of the press to be deeply repellent.
    Every day – day in, day out – there they are putting pallid, watered down representations of the Holy One all over their pages. Sometimes they don’t even show Her balls, leading to the common uncertainty about His Gender.
    It’s disgusting. Oh, dinner!

  12. nightglare
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I don’t blame editors for refusing to publish the cartoons, which are readily available on the internet for anyone who wants to see them.

    The staff at Charlie Hebdo willingly took the risk of being associated with the images. The staff at other publications have not signed up for that, and the editors and newspaper proprietors have a duty of care for their staff. Abiding by that duty of care does not equal cowardice.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t say that it does equal cowardice: what is cowardice is to pretend that your reasons are other than they are. Editors should just say that they are scared and then discuss the cultural implications of their being scared and why they have good reason for feeling that. x

      • nightglare
        Posted January 8, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        I agree that they should be open if fear of reprisal is a reason for not publishing. If I remember correctly, The Independent were open about this. (And they were the one paper I thought were most likely to publish them.)

        However, I do think part of the reason that at least some outlets didn’t publish was a genuine concern not to offend Muslims. Interestingly, one of the few UK publications to publish the cartoon was the Guardian, which is by far our most Muslim-friendly paper. And it was sure to offer a trigger-warning for any offence that viewing the image might cause some readers.

        • nicky
          Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:24 am | Permalink

          Of course it is cowardice. The important question is, would I (you) be a coward or not? (Since I’m not in the situation I’m not able to answer that, I very well might be one). I agree the media not publishing should be open about that: we don’t publish out of fear, we’re cowards, pass us the white feather, etc.
          I do not buy the ‘genuine concern’ thing at all.
          After all, ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was, since its ‘Harakiri’ days, a front-fighter defending the socio-economic and ‘dignity’ rights of minorities, most of them (in France) Muslim.

          • Posted January 9, 2016 at 2:50 am | Permalink

            Time to update the old aphorism: “Publish and be damned!” → “Publish and be bombed.”


          • nightglare
            Posted January 9, 2016 at 3:48 am | Permalink

            Call an editor a coward if you like, if it’s only her own safety she’s worried about. But being concerned for her staff isn’t cowardice. And her staff won’t only be journalists, but clerical staff, security staff, cleaning staff etc. She may especially feel that she hasn’t the right to endanger those people for some high-minded ideal of journalistic integrity.

    • Randy Schenck
      Posted January 8, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think the subject was just “other Publications”. It was our first line hard news shows – NBC,CBS,MSNBC,CNN. The folks who are suppose to have the guts to, you know, show us the news. And why one g*d and not the other?

      • nightglare
        Posted January 8, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Why one God (or prophet) and not another? Because you’re unlikely to get assassinated for publishing a picture mocking Christianity but you might for mocking Islam.

        We know there’s a double standard amongst some liberals with regard to causing offence to Christians and Muslims. I know Jerry and most others who comment on this site find that indefensible, but I don’t. There is huge and unjustified prejudice against Muslims in the west and I think those of us of a liberal and progressive bent should be mindful not to stoke that fire any further. I have nothing against criticism of religion, and I 100% agree that people should be free to offend religious sensibilities. But just because you have the freedom to do something, it doesn’t mean you have to exercise that freedom.

        • Posted January 8, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Appeasing violent Muslims is more likely to increase the “unjustified prejudice against Muslims” than to decrease it. Those pixelated images say louder than words what Westerners have lost in recent decades.

          • nightglare
            Posted January 8, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

            I understand what you mean. Making us coy about publishing the images can be seen as a victory for the terrorists. And I think I agree that it is. But it’s a complex thing. Personally, and I know most here will disagree, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to respect the fact that most Muslims find depictions of Mohammed offensive, and to refrain from reproducing them, for the sake of inter-cultural harmony.

            • Randy Schenck
              Posted January 8, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

              I understand what you are saying about not saying it just because you can. I like to think of the free speech part of the amendment as a wiser man than I said – think of it as a restriction on government, not incitement to the people.

              However, I get very sick of those who lay off of religion of all kinds or show preference for one or the other. If a full on news organization is intimidated over this, they should get out of the news business and do something else. What journalism is suppose to be and stand for is more important than any religion. If publishing a picture of this g*d gets a fine group of people killed in France or anywhere else, we have a right to see the picture that got them killed.

              • Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

                “If a… news organization is intimidated over this, they should get out of the news business and do something else. What journalism is suppose to be and stand for is more important than any religion. If publishing a picture of this g*d gets a fine group of people killed in France or anywhere else, we have a right to see the picture that got them killed.”

                I think you are setting the bar too high. Our rights are mirrored by other people’s obligations. I also feel that I have a right to see that picture, but I don’t feel like another person, even if in the news business, is obliged to risk his life for the sake of this right of mine, unless he himself wants to.

                When I was young, journalists in my country worked with heavy auto-censorship in order not to go to prison. In many countries, it is still so. I don’t blame the journalists if they mute their reports and analyses in order to stay safe.

            • Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

              Do you actually know why Muslims find depictions of Muhammed offensive? Because the Koran (or Hadith) bans them because these pictures can lead to idolatry. But there is surely no danger of Muslims worshipping a cartoon mocking Muhammad.

              • dallos
                Posted January 9, 2016 at 5:55 am | Permalink

                “In 1999, Islamic art expert Wijdan Ali wrote a scholarly overview of the Muslim tradition of depicting Mohammed, which can be downloaded here in pdf format. In that essay, Ali demonstrates that the prohibition against depicting Mohammed did not arise until as late as the 16th or 17th century, despite the media’s recent false claims that it has always been forbidden for Muslims to draw Mohammed. Until comparatively recently in Islamic history, it was perfectly common to show Mohammed, either in full (as revealed on this page), or with his face hidden (as shown on the next page). Even after the 17th century, up to modern times, Islamic depictions of Mohammed (especially in Shi’ite areas) continued to be produced.”


            • Posted January 9, 2016 at 6:57 am | Permalink

              I partly agree with you. I once wanted to show to another person something educational on my blog, but it was next to an anti-Islam post, and she was married to an Arab, likely Muslim. So, before e-mailing the educational post to the lady, I reverted the anti-Islamic one to draft. And kept it this way for months, just in case :-).

            • Filippo
              Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

              I wonder whether and how many Muslims are of the opinion that Christians ought to kill anyone who draws and publishes a drawing of Jesus.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:03 am | Permalink

          Would you as likely say that there is a huge and unjustified prejudice against non-Muslims in the Middle East?

          • nightglare
            Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            Yes, that’s true as well. People across the globe have distorted views of each other, fostered by politicians and the media.

  13. keith cook + or -
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Free speech, depending on the time and place, has always carried an element of danger. A newspaper or a news channel who are in the business of communication (this is not a cooking show we’re talking about)and in this CH case, the images were crucial to the story is absurd. Pack up and get out? well maybe if free speech is a hindrance where no such barrier exists.

    • Posted January 9, 2016 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Everyone is free to boycott the media that auto-censor and turn to other media. However, when it comes to offending Muslim sensitivities, there are few news sources that would satisfy your requirements, and they are likely to have other issues.
      I think that, instead of demanding other people to be heroes just because they are supporting their children by what they earn in the business of communication, we must think what to do to counter the danger that Islam poses to our freedoms, well-being, and sometimes our very lives.

  14. Filippo
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 4:09 pm | Permalink


  15. Posted January 8, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    That guy looks suspiciously like that wacko sky-fairy Yahweh to me.

  16. jpchgo
    Posted January 8, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think it’s cowardly to handle Islam differently as long as you’re upfront about why.

    For sample, Sarah Silverman and Penn Jillete have completely reasonable and honest explanations (both from 2010.)

    Sarah Silverman: “I don’t want to get blown up with explosives. I am afraid of angering Muslims but not afraid of angering Jews and Christians, so I choose to depict the Judeo-Christian God instead. It seems extremely obvious to me, but so many people asked”

    Penn Jillette: “…we haven’t tackled Islam because we have families. …and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it –- I can’t think of anything more horrific.”

  17. Posted January 8, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

  18. Filippo
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Many human primates are named Mohammed. I should think that that would trivialize the name Mohammed. Surely the trivialization of Mohammed is not tolerated. (In my sheltered Southern Baptist upbringing, I never met any human primate named Jesus; it just wasn’t done. But as I became more aware of the world, I noted that many male children are named “EH-soos.”)

    I contemplate a man named Mohammed sitting for a portrait in 2016, in what might be construed as traditional attire. Then it gets photographed and published for the world to see, with the caption, “Mohammed.” (Or would it be captioned, “This is Mohammed, but not THE Mohammed”?)

  19. Mike
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    The Terrorists have won, they have the Press running scared, all they have to do is make a oall and everything stops, you won’t beat them if every time they say Jump. you say How High?

  20. Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Killing people over cartoons.

    And to think an omnipotent creator would be insecure enough to worry about parodies of itself.

    And that people would have the hubris to believe they REALLY know what this creator wants from them, so that they must go out and kill those who parody him/her/it.

    Shameful, sad, crazy all rolled into one.

    But how to deal with it because the threat is real. Some of these believers will come and kill you for drawing cartoons that they dislike.

    How many of us have the balls when it comes down to it to stand up to the crazies and say freedom of speech, freedom of thought and the search for Truth are important. Important enough to die for?


  21. Brujo Feo
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    PCC wrote: “Of course they had an excuse: “we didn’t want to offend people”, but the real reason was cowardice.”

    And then PCC wrote: “The Daily Caller has decided to publish the photos when necessary — partly as a stand for free speech, but mostly out of a complete disregard for staff safety.”

    Nightglare pointed out the problem with this analysis. And as Sarah Silverman and Penn Jillette pointed out, it isn’t just our “staff” that we put at risk by not being cowards.

    Cowardice to not publish, but throwing your children to the wolves if you do? That seems to me to be a textbook definition of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

    I’ve done enough dog-bite cases that I know, when out with my grand-daughter, to be hyper-vigilant around pit bulls and chihuahuas (the WORST), and maybe less so around, let’s say a border collie. But with Islam you just never know where the threat is coming from.

    We didn’t eradicate smallpox because individual smallpox organisms had evil intentions. We eradicated it because, on balance, it was…smallpox. But we can’t do that with religion. So perhaps a bit of hyper-vigilance is in order, and calling it “cowardice” counter-productive.

    Dermot C proposes a solution: “Editors should just say that they are scared and then discuss the cultural implications of their being scared and why they have good reason for feeling that.” But that’s no solution at all, because the “why” would be, inevitably, a statement that for SOME Muslims at least, Islam is NOT a “religion of peace.” Which sort of statements have ALSO led some Muslims to kill people.

    I would be loathe to call a doctor a coward, just because she was willing to treat accident victims, but less willing to go into a room of active ebola cases. Or if she were to treat a snake-bit victim, to at least insist that she not be asked to do so in a pit full of carpet vipers.

    • Posted January 9, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      « And then PCC wrote: “The Daily Caller has decided to publish the photos when necessary — partly as a stand for free speech, but mostly out of a complete disregard for staff safety.” »

      That’s not PCC’s analysis, that’s the Daily Caller’s own statement.


      • Brujo Feo
        Posted January 10, 2016 at 12:26 am | Permalink

        Gack! Thank you for pointing out my error. *Mea culpa*.

    • Dermot C
      Posted January 9, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      Of course my comment is not a solution, Brujo Feo, and it is not designed to be. No journalist can provide a solution to the fact that some Muslims will kill you for publishing pictures of Muhammad the prophet: the fact that the more publications print them then more the risk is spread is still true. And freedom of speech, the freedom to laugh and to ridicule, and to expose the moral difference between Muslim liberals and Islamic murderers is non-negotiable.

      This century will see a decades-long war of ideas between secularism and Islamic attempts to limit its application to the umma: if Islamists wish to curtail toleration in whatever form then the law will deal with them, for as soon as their ideas transfer to action then they will breaking the law.

      Take a look at the Cologne mass attacks on women the other night. Where did these men learn to organize themselves in such a way? Is it possible that they are actually led by the Shabiha, Assad’s rape squads, who have wandered into Europe via the refugee crisis? Well, it’s certainly imaginable and there is credible evidence that the rape squads have come to Europe, as Merkel unilaterally suspended European immigration rules last year.

      In the next few decades we will be faced with frankly awkward and uncomfortable questions like this, while the far left actively seeks to include the Islamist far right in its organizations. We need to be honest and clear about what is going on, while seeking to split the moderate Muslim from their self-appointed ‘community leaders’ who almost invariably turn out to be crypto-Islamists: Maajid Nawaz vs Ibrahim Hewitt; Asra Nomani vs. CAIR; Waleed al-Husseini vs Tariq Ramadan.

  22. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 9, 2016 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    MSNBC, supposedly a liberal venue, may be the worst.

    Which is why, apart from Rachel Maddow and a couple other things, I don’t watch it. All that unrelenting earnestness can quickly get boring, too. To relieve the boredom (and to get my blood up and remind me of everything I stand against) I’ll flip over to FOX … for as long as I can stand it, anyway. (So far, four minutes is a personal best.)

  23. ana
    Posted January 12, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    the hebreos invented a violent god, a roman warrior, Constantine invented a violent trinity and the muslams invented a violent god to kill the infidels cristians…what”s the problem with the caricature?, it is true! the abrahamic god always was and is violent!

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