In Thursday’s print edition, the Washington Post op-ed page is publishing the controversial cartoon of Charlie Hebdo magazine spoofing the prophet Muhammad — the very piece of satire that prompted the 2011 fire-bombing of the publication’s Paris offices. (See a PDF of the full page here.) The cartoon depicted Muhammad saying, “100 lashes of the whip if you don’t die laughing.” That drawing and many others that align with its edgy and often offensive spirit may have motivated terrorists on Wednesday to unleash a heinous and deadly attack that claimed the lives of 12 people. According to reports on the attack, the perpetrators could be heard saying, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”
Samples of Charlie Hebdo’s work thus might appear critical to explaining this act of terrorism. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post (and boss of the Erik Wemple Blog), said the following about his rationale for publishing the cartoon: “I think seeing the cover will help readers understand what this is all about.”
But many mainstream U.S. media feel otherwise: The Associated Press, CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC, NBC News and others have all shunned the images under one rationale or another. The New York Times has an expansive explanation: “Under Times standards, we do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. After careful consideration, Times editors decided that describing the cartoons in question would give readers sufficient information to understand today’s story.” That’s from an official statement provided to the Erik Wemple Blog. Newer media outlets like Gawker, the Daily Beast and BuzzFeed have published the images.