Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, May 16, 2005

When Should the Press Self-Censor?

Suppose you are the editor of a big news organization and you have an explosive story that you know will get many upset. You are pretty sure the story is true, but it is hard to vet. You also know that many people around the world – people who hate America and have contempt for respect freedom of the press – will become violently upset by the story you are about to publish. To what extent should you self-censor the news you are about to print because people who neither share our values nor love our freedoms might riot over the news you will print?

This is precisely the situation that Newsweek was in. They chose to publish their story. Demagogues in the Islamic world whipped up a frenzy of anti-American rioting. At least 15 people died. And now Newsweek has to recant the story because they cannot verify it.

Many conservative bloggers have come out to criticize Newsweek. They are only too glad to twist the knife in the MSM. Bloggers like Michelle Malkin, Black Five, and even Glenn Reynolds have come out with arguments that Newsweek was partly (or wholly) to blame for the deaths of those people killed in riots.

This is shameful. It is perfectly reasonable to criticize the reporting of Newsweek. But to blame them for the rioting is to suggest that Newsweek should self-censor their news to avoid upsetting the sensibilities of people who neither love America nor respect the first amendment. This is the antithesis of freedom of the press. For bloggers to side with the zealots who would gladly flush our U.S. Constitution down the drain because it gives them the opportunity to stick it to the MSM is contemptible. Either you support freedom of the press or you don’t. If you only support the freedom to do intelligent things, print truthful stories, and do “the right thing”, you really don’t support freedom at all. Freedom means freedom to make mistakes.

It is easy to criticize the quarterback on Monday morning. What is hard to do is to support the rights of people whose politics you disagree with.

I don’t want zealots from the Islamic world or anywhere else determining what goes in my news. I want the editors to make that decision. I fully support their right to publish whatever they think if fit to print.

I want to thank the excellent blog Half Sigma for raising this issue and pointing to the links above. You should read his post. Also read LHM’s excellent post in which he lays the blame for the riots on the rioters instead of our press.


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