:: Running from the Thought Police ::

Reality-Based Thoughts, Ruminations, and Unsolicited Opinions of a University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student alumnus and employee.
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:: Friday, February 10, 2006 ::

Landing On My Back Door

As most of my readers probably know by now, the Daily Illini ran six of the Muhammad cartoons in yesterday's paper, and has, as expected, created a small controversy, with no small amount of national attention being diverted to our local independent student newspaper. Part of this is reflected in the slew of letters to the editor printed in today's paper. Because there are so many, I'll leave a link to the Opinions section of today's paper and let you all peruse them at your leisure.

Reaction around the blogosphere has been largely supportive of the DI's actions. Kiyoshi posted the editorial on The Next Frontier and spent a good part of yesterday posting updates on the coverage of the DI's running of the cartoons. (Newspapers making news - and bloggers get accused of navel gazing!) Bill Dennis over at Peoria Pundit already posted his surprise at the DI running the cartoons, and his reasoning for not running them himself. Kiyoshi himself has also posted a long, but informative post that sheds some light on what went into the decision to run the cartoons (apart from the stated reasoning). Kiyoshi agreed with the decision to run the cartoons, but with a lot of other things to help place the entire controversy in a larger context:
...if the cartoons were to be published by us, we should take a more intellectual and informative approach. This would include perhaps a Point/Counter-point columns from our staff columnists saying whether or not newspapers should continue to publish the cartoons. It should have an Editor’s Note explaining our decision to publish them. It also would probably be a good idea to accompany a story about the historical, social and religious context of why Muslims find these cartoons offensive and educate our readers on the Islamic faith and the prophet Muhammad. And finally, we should definately encourage dialogue from our readers; first by encouraging them to write in with their own opinions and also perhaps host open meetings to further debate on campus about first amendment issues.
Kiyoshi notes that, as is obvious from yesterday's paper, only the editor's note and encouragement to contribute opinions actually made it to print. For me, this is a real pity, because the contextualizing of the cartoons that could've, or even should've, been done didn't occur.

Kiyoshi also goes to say:
I suppose it is easy to say now that “Oh, I would have done things this way,” and be very critical of the Editor in Chief for the manner in which he made his decision, but in the end, I think that perhaps the journey to put those cartoons in the paper is irrelevant, and the destination at which we’ve arrived is more important, that we’ve opened people’s eyes to something very important.
This is where I have to disagree with him. In assessing how to deal with the Daily Illini's publication of the cartoons, an understanding of the motive for publishing them is crucial. If, as the DI editorial staff claims, the cartoons were printed to as part of the newspaper's duty to inform its readership of the nature of the controversy, then the printing of the cartoons is justified. My initial reaction last night, when I first tried to write this post, was along these lines. However, based on Kiyoshi's comments, this is not what actually happened. Had DI Editor-in-Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska been interested in informing the public, they should've either followed Kiyoshi's advice, or done something similiar, to properly contextualize the cartoons. Perhaps they should've even made a separate feature section on it. I'm only an amateur journalist, and a not very good one at that, so I can't speak to the specifics, but since they had the good sense to ask Kiyoshi his thoughts on the matter, they should have done something to act on his advice. Thing is, to have done that would have forced them to involve other staff members of the DI, something Kiyoshi has stated that they didn't want to do.

Why not?

I think that's a very instructive question. Why didn't they want anyone to know about it? For me, the best answer is that they didn't want anyone telling them 'no;' specifically, they didn't want someone giving them a good reason not to run the articles and thus be forced to defend their decision, before publication, in front of the staff. Admittedly, I'm wandering into the realm of speculation at this point, but it also seems to me that the most likely reason for their wanting secrecy was that their real reason for printing the cartoons was that they could. I won't go so far as to ascribe malice to them, though I have no such compunctions for some of the commenters at The Next Frontier at the moment, or a certain local blogger. (Though, come to think of it, Chuck Prochaska is an admitted drinker of the neo-con kool-aid...) Malice, however, isn't required for me to consider this action wrong. Thing is, doing things just because one can is rather childish, and to submit a topic as sensitive as this one to such childishness is disrespectful, not just to Islam, but to the entirety of the Daily Illini's readership. I expect better journalism out of our student newspaper, and I'm sure others do too.

UPDATE: I've recieved communication from a couple people about this (one off the record, the other presumably so). Speculation, like what's in this post, can and frequently is wrong, but is proving...useful for getting more information about the topic. Once things clear up a bit, I should have more to share/link to.

:: The Squire 2:41 PM :: email this post :: ::


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