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Cartoon Violence 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & N & lt;/span & ews that the FBI does not consider Jim West's indiscretions exposed by the Spokesman-Review cause for further investigation calls attention to a more recent editorial decision. Editor Steve Smith told readers that he decided against publishing those Danish cartoons that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad because "of the offense they would generate in our local Muslim community."


No doubt there are many reasons not to publish these cartoons -- but causing offense? While most newspapers in the United States are not publishing the Danish cartoons, I would argue that the only question for Smith or any editor was simply this: Is the telling of this story in the public interest? Surely the public has an interest in learning why hundreds of thousands of Muslims rioted because of -- are they kidding? -- the publication of six cartoons? That's news! That a cartoon -- any cartoon -- can cause this much mayhem, a mass expression of social insanity, now that's the story.


Telling the story of the violence without discussing the cartoons in detail seems a little like reporting on a murder but not mentioning the gun. Since cartoons are visual, they need to be seen for full effect, unless they are obscene (as defined by Western standards), which these are not. Bad taste? Maybe. Not all that funny? Some. A few aren't bad, though. One that should be seen depicts suicide bombers with smoking backpacks being turned back from the Pearly Gates. The caption reads: "Stop, stop, we ran out of virgins." (Doesn't have the same impact as looking at the cartoon, does it?)


Muslims demand respect. Respect for whom? Muhammad? The suicide bombers who kill in his name? The many moderate Muslims who say nothing? Shouldn't we all be caricaturing people who commit these horrible acts? Shouldn't Muslims want to join in? In the West, this is called black humor. Pretty common, actually. We learn to laugh at ourselves, even though it hurts sometimes.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & G & lt;/span & iven the S-R editorial decisions that resulted in stories leading to the FBI investigation of Jim West, Smith's stated reason for not showing the cartoons seems a tad disingenuous. After all, causing offense did not prevent the Spokesman-Review from printing sensational, even lurid, stories about West's sexual activities, some on the front page and in very graphic detail. If you want to talk about causing offense, many people were deeply offended by the e-mail transcripts of the conversation between former Mayor Jim West and MotoBrock. Many S-R readers took offense when they opened up their morning paper and immediately had to hide it from their kids. And ever since the paper revealed all about Mayor West's private sex life, Smith has been out and about justifying his decision. At the very least, might we agree that printing this transcript was in bad taste?


But, OK, let's grant that Smith decided to go with the e-mail transcripts to lend support to a story that he thought should be told. And let's agree that Smith decided that he could not tell the story without showing smoke from the gun. So why doesn't he apply the same criteria toward covering all this Muslim insanity about respect? Doesn't this story need to be told at least as much as the West story? Aren't these cartoons the MotoBrock e-mail transcripts of the Muslim rioting story?


Well, actually, there's a difference: The cartoons were distributed in the public realm, whereas West was nailed in a Spokesman sting operation. Additionally, the Spokesman knew that it could publish the transcript and, whatever else the fallout, there would be no rioting in the streets, no demonstrations. Fear of violence certainly falls into a different category of concern than "causing offense." The former does call upon the courageous to take a stand. The latter only requires that ranks be broken with politically correct pack journalism, which seems to buy into "I'm OK, and you're OK -- but if you aren't, it must be our fault."


The cartoon story segues into the larger story, which also needs be told. The Muslim world, as these riots so graphically demonstrate, is confronted by the real problem of how to maintain religious traditions in a secular world increasingly hostile to them, while at the same time partaking of what Western liberal democracies offer -- personal freedoms, security and welfare.


But rather than following the story like so many scared sheep, the American press can do no better than applaud the moderate Muslim clerics who call for an end to the violence. That most of these same clerics are also calling for an apology only shows that the clerics are missing the entire point, which is yet another dimension of the story. Under the circumstances, extending apologies can be viewed as the close relative of worrying about "causing offense."





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