The Day the Free Press Committed Suicide

There are certain moments when some popular idea or movement so thoroughly discredits itself that, though it continues to lumber along like a decapitated giant, it’s only a matter of time before it crashes to the ground, never to rise again.

One such moment occurred during the recent fracas over the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam. Christians, of course, have long been used to the fact that their most sacred beliefs are treated to casual contempt in the mainstream media.

Any morning for the past 20 years, a Christian could expect to turn on the tube or open the paper and be regaled with at least a snide comment directed at his beliefs, if not the glories of a crucifix immersed in a vat of urine or an image of the Blessed Virgin covered in dung. Organs like The New York Times have been only too happy to keep us up to date on these latest cutting-edge developments in blasphemy.

And, naturally, Christian complaints have been simultaneously disregarded as the petty bleats of small-minded censors and as the ominous rumbles of an incipient theocratic regime that is just about to impose martial law and crush the free press.

This way, journalists could not only bully voiceless Christians who do not have access to the editorial pages of The Times, but also pat themselves on the back for their raw courage as they pound on the beliefs of quiet, decent people who grieve when their crucified Lord is subjected to further abuse.

All these journalists had to do was intone words about the sacredness of our free press and they were off the hook.

Then came the “cartoon jihad,” when real theocrats who really do want to impose Islamic law on the whole world, crush the free press and shout (as one Islamic protester so eloquently summed up his beliefs), “Freedom, go to hell!” The response of the champions of the free press in the editorial rooms of The New York Times, (and Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, among others) was to discover tact and taste.

They would not publish the Danish cartoons because of a sudden and exquisite sensitivity to the religious sensibilities of their readers.

Uh huh.

Get real.

The Boston Phoenix summed up the real reason for this miraculous attack of religious sensitivity (

“There are three reasons not to publish the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed with his turban styled as a bomb and the other images that have sparked violent protests and deaths throughout Europe, the Middle East, West Asia, and Indonesia:

“1) Out of fear of retaliation from the international brotherhood of radical and bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. This is, frankly, our primary reason for not publishing any of the images in question. Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and as deeply as we believe in the principles of free speech and a free press, we could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at the Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year publishing history.”

To be sure, there are good arguments for not running the cartoons. The main one is the one the Vatican pointed to: It’s rude to insult people’s deepest beliefs needlessly.

But if, like the mainstream media, you are going to paint yourself as the valiant defenders of “the people’s right to know” and the “paladins of free speech” every time you de-pants a Christian, then for heaven’s sake at least have the courage of your convictions. If the mainstream media had a consistent policy of simply not pulling the noses of religious believers, I would not arraign them for their rank cowardice.

But the reality, as we all know now, is that their long habit of ignorant, cowardly bullying of Christians is rooted in the fact that they know Christians will seldom fight back with violence since their Lord has forbidden them to do so. But that same media, which portrays its bullying of Christians as “courage in the face of theocrats” is now on record as curling up in a cowardly little ball when we really need it to do the work of defending free speech in the face of thin-skinned bullies from the Bronze Age.

So to the mainstream media I say: If you must pull the noses of believers, then have the courage of your alleged principles and oppose radical Islam.

Otherwise, shut up about being the “guardians of free speech,” for your courage is a permanently exposed as a fraud and we can henceforth declare with confidence that the real reason you bully Christians and cringe before radical Islamic thugs is simple: The Vatican does not issue fatwas.

Mark Shea is senior content editor