American news media have suffered in recent years. Thanks to the Internet and talk radio, millions of Americans have ceased relying on The New York Times and CNN for their written and televised news.
But it is difficult to recall a greater blow to the credibility of American news media than their near-universal refusal to publish the Mohammed cartoons originally published in a Danish newspaper that have brought about worldwide Muslim protests.
This loss of credibility owes to two factors: dishonesty and cowardice.
Everyone and his mother knows why the networks and the print journals haven't shown the cartoons — they fear Muslims blowing up their buildings and stabbing their editors to death. The only people who deny this are the news media. They all claim that they won't show the cartoons because of sensitivity to Muslim feelings.
Which brings us to the other reason for the latest blow to the news media's credibility: They are lying to us. If some politicians were telling lies as blatantly as the news media are now, the media would be having a field day exposing those politicians and calling for their removal from office. But, alas, what TV news station will criticize another TV news station? And what newspaper or magazine will criticize another newspaper or magazine?
So, without anyone in the media holding them accountable, the news media continue to believe they can fool nearly all the people all the time when they say they are not publishing the cartoons out of respect for Muslim sensibilities.
Why is this false?
First, major papers in virtually every European country have published the cartoons. It is inconceivable that European papers are less concerned with Muslim sensibilities than American media are. If anything, in Europe they are more pro-Muslim given their anti-Israel and anti-American views and given that they live in countries with far greater numbers of Muslims than live in America.
Second, the reason to publish the cartoons is not to offend Muslims; it is to explain the most significant current news event in the world. How can anyone understand the Islamic riots without having seen the cartoons that triggered them? If millions of Christians rioted after cartoons were published in the Muslim world, does anyone doubt that the Western press would publish them, or that it had the obligation to do so?
The argument that people can see the cartoons on the Internet is specious. Anyone could see the photos of the abuse of Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison on the Internet, yet the news media presented these photos day after day for weeks.
Third, the American press has routinely published cartoons and pictures that insult Christians and Jews. The Los Angeles Times published a cartoon depicting the stones of the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, the holiest site to Jews, as spelling out the word "HATE" and showing a religious Jew bowing down before it. And what newspaper did not publish a photo of "Piss Christ," the Andres Serrano work of "art" depicting a crucifix in the artist's urine?
American newspapers "insult" every group whenever they feel like it, but no one riots, burns and kills because of it.
Fourth, the ban on depicting Mohammed applies to Muslims, not to non-Muslims. It is remarkable that American newspapers, so frightened of any breakdown between church and state, are suddenly guided by Muslim religious prohibitions.
Fifth, the argument that publishing the images would inflame Muslims' passions is another coverup for cowardice. No American newspaper or TV news show exhibited the slightest concern with inflaming Muslim passions when they endlessly published and depicted Abu Ghraib abuse photos.
If the liberal news media in America — conservative Fox News and The Weekly Standard have shown the cartoons — admitted they feared being hurt if they showed the cartoons, one would have respect for their honesty, if not their courage. But the liberal news media's lack of courage coupled with their dishonest justifications make for a devastating commentary on American news media.
One should not be surprised. A few years ago, New York Times foreign affairs reporter John Burns reported — to his great credit — that some of the most prestigious American news organizations had made a deal with Saddam Hussein not to report negatively about his regime in exchange for being allowed to have a Baghdad news bureau.
When it comes to taking on conservatives, Catholics, Evangelicals and the like, liberal news media are Supermen. When it comes to confronting real evil, however, the news media are Mickey Mouse.