Feb 2, 2006
I agree with Robert Thompson's assessment of the publication of anti-Muslim political cartoons in Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen. The publication caused uproar resulting in a powerful boycott against
the purchase of Danish goods, internationally. Any honest reader
must agree that these cartoons were obviously designed to cause
distress, conflict, and hatred toward Islam and Muslims. Rather than
encouraging the reader to give this publisher more traffic, we will
briefly describe 2 of the cartoons to allay curiousity. They are not
worth viewing. One of the cartoons depicts the Prophet Mohammed as
a "terrorist" and another is a slur against all Muslims
everywhere. Those who claim the right to free speech as a defense of
this sort of publication are either confused or are of the same
meanness of spirit and mind that is expressed in the cartoons.
Predictably, the publisher attempts a "free press" defense for what it
The "Free Speech" Defense
For far too
long, the corporate news and entertainment media has hidden their lewd
and politically-motivated behavior behind their demands for "freedom of
speech". We as members of the same human family
must realize that the media is an extremely powerful tool in all our
societies. Simply put, a power differential exists when
considering the influence of the media on all people, not to speak
of young people and children. The media has an enormous
responsibility. One of their responsibilities is
to build up, encourage and strengthen family and societal
structures that serve the people as a whole. Instead, what we see in
the entertainment and news industries are constant attacks on the
structures that hold society together; values of mutual respect
for the things that are important to our fellows, positive regard for
the values of others and common courtesy.
media defends its destructive practices by claiming that such
considerations are a "slippery slope" - pretending that such
self-imposed restrictions amount to censorship and will lead to
imposition of the media's values on others. They pretend to be
"value-free" - a position that is at once - disingenuous and
philosophically naive. All people and all organizations do
what they do from underlying sets of assumptions and values.
The honest ones admit to the genesis of their ideas and behaviors; the
dishonest ones do not.
What is "Fit to Print"?
In my 11 years
of higher education I was only once asked to leave a class. It was a
Jouralism course at the University of Tennessee and the professor was
an editor at the Nashville Tennessean. In this particular lecture, he
was using the term "newsworthy" in what I thought to be a cavalier
manner. I raised my hand and began an in-class discussion with him. I
will try to recall that discussion to my best memory - paraphrasing, of
LMB: How do you as an editor determine what is "newsworthy"?
Professor: "It should be obvious" (and began to move on with his lecture)
LMB: "But you haven't really answered my question"
Professor: "We give the people what they want".
LMB: "What if what you determine to be 'what the people want' turns out to be destructive to society as a whole?"
the media determines what's good for people, they are placing
themselves in power over society instead of submitting to the will
of the people.
LMB: How do you know that what the people want is the best thing?
Professor: We have to assume that it is. Otherwise, we are imposing our values on them.
LMB: How do you determine what the people want?
Professor: Simple - by the numbers - our circulation. If we're not giving people what they want, they will stop buying our newpapers.
LMB: Doesn't the will of the advertisers come into play somewhere in that scheme?
Professor: No, they choose to advertise in our paper based on our circulation.
So you're telling us that the editors of the Nashville Tennessean
speculate by floating news and opinion articles and if people continue
to buy the paper, you know your articles are "newsworthy" and if they
stop buying your paper, you know that you have to make some adjustments
in your criteria for what is "newsworthy"?
Professor: That's correct.
So you don't see that you have any responsibility for whether or not
your publication is a constructive force in society or one that causes
a breakdown in social order and harmony?
Professor: We believe people know what is best for themselves.
I persisted with my argument, the professor became frustrated with me
and asked me to leave the class. I was a young man and "full of piss
and vinegar" as they say. I'm sure now that in his view, I deserved it!
This little discussion that took place more than 30 years ago fairly depicts part of
the corporate media's defense for their theory and practice even today.
There is a fundamental abrogation of responsibility in the position the
professor held. As individuals and organizations of individuals,
we are responsible for the words we speak, the news articles and
essays we publish, the words we select to convey them and for
the scripts and films we write, produce and broadcast.
instrument called "television" blasts society day after day, night
after night with images of violence, explicit sex and mean-spirited
words. When a parent is watching a rare, benign sitcom with his child,
why should the television broadcaster have the right to suddenly
surprise them with images of violence and sex in a movie
commercial? Shouldn't parents have the right to choose their time
to discuss these matters with their children in their own way - rather
than have a stranger suddenly enter their living room with vile images
child's mind can be a match for the smart, sophisticated technologies
that produce rapid-fire images, not allowing the child to recover from
one before being hit with the next? Unrealistic, "Reality Shows" like
Fear Factor and the Jerry Springer Show degrade human beings with
their mockeries, pitching hapless people against one another,
generating mean-spirited attitudes, conflict and anger among the
political agendas, lack of integrity and responsibility of television
news hardly needs to be described. Today, we published dramatic charts
that show the deceitfulness with which they have reported the
deaths of children in Palestine since the beginning of the second
Intifada. They attempt to justify these social atrocities with
lame rationalizations. But we all know that their bottom line is
ratings and money. We all know that they are not "value-free" but have
underlying political agendas dictated by external forces in the
government and large corporations.
The Print Media
The powerful, corporate print
media is no better. We see what they select to print and what they
choose to omit. The people see their careful wording of news articles.
For the last 5 years we have watched them manufacture fear among
the people with their warnings
against an enemy that never existed. We have watched them
support the wars on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and then
gradually begin to distance themselves from those wars as they turned
sour and the people turned against them. The owners and publishers of
the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los
Angeles Times and many other newspapers have blood on their hands today
- the blood of children, women and men who never posed a threat to them
or anyone in the so-called "western world". They are as guilty for
their roles in these wars as the politicians, military
officers and triggermen are for theirs.
From shows like,
"Cops" and "Survival" to "Sex in the City" to "House" - negative
attitudes of meanness, vengeance, retribution and cynicism are
pervasive throughout the corporate media. Seldom do we see tenderness,
kindness, gentleness, real love, complete compassion and other
positive, loving human conditions promoted among human relationships in
the media. Typically, we see melancholy, pity and shallow
emotions surrounding a theme of "getting the bad guy" - so there
can be "closure" for the victim - a formula that makes heroes out of
cops and worship at the altar of a police state. The formula of the
villain, the victim and the rescuer. The viewer is left with hatred for
the villain, pity for the victim and an awesome admiration for the
rescuer - i.e. the state.
I say the
position taken by my professor so long ago is only "part of
their defense" because most media bosses would also be quick to
determine - not only what is "newsworthy" but also what is "not
newsworthy" even morally wrong - as in the famous motto of the
NYT, "All the news that's fit to print". And therein lies
what is known in debating circles as their "internal
inconsistency". This part of their defense obviously contradicts the
explanation given by my professor many years ago. This position is
the same assumption that has produced "hate laws" and our
modern "thought police".
Corporate Media Wants it Both Ways
So the corporate
media wants - and has had it - both ways. If they publish something
that's mean-spirited and destructive - they can blame it on the people
because, "We are only giving them what they want". If they wish to
publish something that fits with their own values or the values
and agenda of their advertisers - they can claim their social
responsibility as justification. When pinned down in a formal debate on
these issues - and challenged about where "free speech" begins and
ends, they frequently use the "You can't cry 'Fire!' in a crowded
movie theater" argument. Their strategy in this debate is as simple as
it is obvious -wear the opponent down with obfuscation and
Why was it wrong for Jyllands-Posten,
the newspaper in Denmark, to publish offensive and misleading cartoons
about Mohammed, Muslims and ultimately their faith: Islam? Generally,
it was wrong because their publications have power to influence large
numbers of people and they are ultimately responsible for the effects
their work has on society - for good or ill. One of the specific
reasons it was wrong was the cartoons are a vile, disrepectful
and uncivil attack on the Muslim people and their religion.
The newspaper defended itself by saying that they have published
cartoons that were also "critical" of Christianity. Even a child
knows - especially a child knows - "two wrongs don't make a right".
This defense appeared to make the strong, international objections
raised by Muslims as being somehow unreasonable and telling something
about "the Muslim temperment" - repeating the suggestion that Islam is
inherently aggressive and violent. But if anyone published
something about "their temperment" - referrent to certain other
religious or ethnic bodies they would be denounced
as "racist", "bigot" or "anti-semitic".
Complexity used to obfuscate and defend
for publication are not as complex as the corporate media and judiciary
have tried to make them. Making them complex with circular
argumentation and obfuscations is a method used by those who hide
from the light of simplicity and honesty. We will not get sucked
into their relativistic arguments on these matters - at least not
outside the integrity of a formal debate. But we will explain our
own rules for publication and will freely publish your honest
critique of our practices.
At Axis of
Logic, we freely admit to our set of assumptions, our values and
presuppositions. For it is from those assumptions and values we
determine what we think is "newsworthy" and important to make known to
the public. We make no apology for doing our best to tear down forces
and practices that we believe are degrading and destructive to people
as individuals and societies as wholes. We will do what we can to
bring light to bear on things done in darkness by those who are in
power. We will do our best to expose the things done by them in
secret. But we also have a responsibility to praise what
is right, good and true. How do we know what is "right, good and
true"? First and foremost, we know "the right thing" because
we know it intuitively. We also provide the reader with
standards against which she or he can measure our performance - the
values we set forth in our manifesto and our mission statement. Do we
make mistakes? Absolutely. Sometimes in the heat of passion we may
write and publish things in a discourteous manner or even things
that are not factually correct. But if when we become
aware or are made aware of those misdeeds - we will apologize - as
we have in the past - publish a retraction prominently and learn from the experience.
- Les Blough
© Copyright 2006 by AxisofLogic.com
Additional letters and essays by Robert Thompson
Additional essays and poetry by Les Blough