The Associated Press, the largest news-gathering organization in the world, is being attacked by a California newspaper editor over the wire service's refusal to distribute cartoons of Muhammad, images which have ignited Islamic fury across the globe.
Don Holland, editor of the Daily Press in Victorville, Calif., holds nothing back in a scathing editorial against the news cooperative.
"The mindless violence by Islamic radicals is par for the course. But what is incredible is that the Associated Press, which distributes news stories and photos from across the globe, has decided that you shouldn't see it," Holland writes. "The point is not whether it is offensive or not. The point is that it is part of a worldwide news story. The fact that radical Muslims are going berserk over a cartoon says more about their mindset than it does about a cartoon."
The Daily Press is one of the few print publications in the U.S. that have published at least one of several controversial cartoons featuring the Muslim prophet wearing an explosive turban. Others include the Philadelphia Inquirer, Austin American-Statesman and New York Sun. With the exception of Fox News, broadcast networks including CBS and NBC have not aired the cartoons, joining national newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today in the AP blackout. WorldNetDaily has been displaying the images since the controversy erupted.
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, issued a statement to say the images don't meet the AP's long-held standards.
"We don't distribute content that is known to be offensive, with rare exceptions," Carroll said. "This is not one of those exceptions. We made the decision in December and have looked at the issue again this week and reaffirmed that decision not to distribute."
Holland of the Daily Press responds by stating, "What is offensive is that AP fancies itself to be the guardian of good taste for thousands of American newspapers rather than letting individual newspapers make that decision. AP's philosophy also strikes at the heart of a free press and the elementary principles of libertarian thought -- that individuals have the God-given right to read what they please and decide for themselves what is and isn't offensive."
The editorial department of the New York Press, an alternative weekly publication, walked out en masse over its own publisher's decision to not print any of the cartoons.
"We have no desire to be free speech martyrs, but it would have been nakedly hypocritical to avoid the same cartoons we'd criticized others for not running, cartoons that however absurdly have inspired arson, kidnapping and murder and forced cartoonists in at least two continents to go into hiding," editor-in-chief Harry Siegel wrote in an e-mail.
When asked by Fox News host John Gibson if he took into account the fact that Muslims may be grievously offended by the images, Tim Marchman, who resigned his position of managing editor of the Press, said:
"I think the press has an obligation not to gratuitously offend, but I also think that the press has the right and occasionally the obligation to blaspheme. These images aren't shown. We're extending the supposedly spontaneous -- but in fact politically organized and politically motivated -- rioters veto power over what runs in American newspapers. It's ridiculous and indefensible."
In America's heartland, the Des Moines Register has chosen not to publish the cartoons, as its editor Carolyn Washburn explains the intent is not to spread any perceived insults or stereotypes.
"The point is that some Muslims are offended by them," Washburn said. "I think that people need to apply their own faith tradition to this debate and ask themselves how they would feel if hurtful, stereotypical images of someone important in their faith tradition -- Jesus Christ or Buddha -- were also shown in an offensive way."
Leonard Downie, Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, said, "We have standards about language, religious sensitivity, racial sensitivity and general good taste."
Jim Michaels, deputy foreign editor of USA Today, noted, "At this point, I'm not sure there would be a point to it. ... We have described them, but I am not sure running it would advance the story."
But Amanda Bennett, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, took a strong stand in favor of publication.
"This is the kind of work that newspapers are in business to do," Bennett told the AP. "We're running this in order to give people a perspective of what the controversy's about, not to titillate, and we have done that with a whole wide range of images throughout our history. ... You run it because there's a news reason to run it."
WorldNetDaily columnist Michelle Malkin observed a seeming double-standard with the Muhammad cartoons compared to the photos of U.S. soldiers harshly handling prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News also ran one of the cartoons -- but, like CNN, pixelated the image (as if it were porn) to protect readers' delicate eyes," Malkin writes. "Funny, I can't recall any newspapers that pixelated the Abu Ghraib photos. Can you?"