Tough Calls An Editor Has To Make
Fair enough question: What would I do as an editor if a cartoonist or commentator wanted to make fun of the Muslim prophet Mohammed (my preferred transliterated spelling from the Arabic)?
I’ve been an editor. Never had to make that call. It’s a big one because it straddles the line between free speech and public tolerance.
You also might ask how an editor would have handled an earlier year’s cartoon making fun of a public official generally suspected of being gay.
Or a cartoon today that portrays God in full-frontal nudity, and not very flattering.
I have a simple answer and it covers those magazines that are publishing nude sunbathing photos of Princess Kate and the Vegas nudes of Prince Harry:
What’s the point, other than trying to prove you can push public opinion to the limit and legally get away with it? What information is passed on by a drawing of Mohammed as a debaucher, God frontally naked, Kate’s bosom or Harry’s privates?
None of that would have passed by me in my editor days.
Free speech? Sure, take your cartoon or photo and stand on a street corner. I’m not using it in my newspaper or on my TV station.
I might privately get a laugh out of them, but I’m not going to force them on readers or viewers who may not share my amusement of the bizarre.
Your free speech skids to a halt at my editorial desk.
You also won’t see me using common words for sexual intercourse or genitalia in my columns, even if allowed by my editor (he doesn’t!). They are not commonly acceptable across all reader cultures.
High school and college newspaper and magazine writers have a tougher time with this issue than we elders. They like to push the limits. It’s their nature.
And good on them. How about graphic photos of horrible events? Two recent ones upset people. The shooter dead on the sidewalk at the Empire State Building and the bodies at the recent suicide bombing of a Westerners’ van at the Kabul airport.
I vote “yes” on these. I don’t like to sugarcoat newsy reality. It’s not sensationalism. Bad stuff makes people die. Why hide that from our sight?
No, we don’t need blood and guts. But some bodies? Yes. And we needed to see those people leaping from the World Trade Center on 9/11 so we’d never forget.
Not everyone will agree with me, but I think this needs to get out there in discussion.