William J. Bennett and Alan M. Dershowitz on the failure of the US Press regarding the cartoons controversy. First, the double-standard:
Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind — images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.
The press has had no problem with breaking a story using classified information on detention centers for captured terrorists and suspects — stories that could harm our allies. And it disclosed a surveillance program so highly classified that most members of Congress were unaware of it.
In its zeal to publish stories critical of our nation’s efforts — and clearly upsetting to enemies and allies alike — the press has printed some articles that turned out to be inaccurate. The Guantanamo Bay flushing of the Koran comes to mind.
But for the past month, the Islamist street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in London — never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles — included signs that read, “Behead those who insult Islam.” The mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is, after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies. And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons that purportedly caused all the outrage.
Secondly, the intimidation:
What has happened? To put it simply, radical Islamists have won a war of intimidation. They have cowed the major news media from showing these cartoons. The mainstream press has capitulated to the Islamists — their threats more than their sensibilities. One did not see Catholics claiming the right to mayhem in the wake of the republished depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in cow dung, any more than one saw a rejuvenated Jewish Defense League take to the street or blow up an office when Ariel Sharon was depicted as Hitler or when the Israeli army was depicted as murdering the baby Jesus.
Finally, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
So far as we can tell, a new, twin policy from the mainstream media has been promulgated: (a) If a group is strong enough in its reaction to a story or caricature, the press will refrain from printing that story or caricature, and (b) if the group is pandered to by the mainstream media, the media then will go through elaborate contortions and defenses to justify its abdication of duty. At bottom, this is an unacceptable form of not-so-benign bigotry, representing a higher expectation from Christians and Jews than from Muslims.
When we were attacked on Sept. 11, we knew the main reason for the attack was that Islamists hated our way of life, our virtues, our freedoms. What we never imagined was that the free press — an institution at the heart of those virtues and freedoms — would be among the first to surrender.