As news outlets worked to cover the attack on Charlie Hebdo yesterday — the deadliest single-day assault on journalists since the 2009 massacre in Maguindanao, Philippines — they were faced with the secondary issue of whether or not to publish the cartoons that made the satirical publication so provocative.
Media critic and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen noted that the divide between organizations who did and didn’t censor the cartoons fell largely along legacy vs. new media lines. The Washington Post was one of the few legacy organizations that didn’t follow suit. The paper’s op-ed page published in its print edition today the Charlie Hebdo cover image that is suspected to have prompted the 2011 firebombing of its office. Before publishing the image, the Post had come out strongly against media self-censorship in anticipation of violent response. In an editorial published yesterday, the Post wrote:
Consequently, the heinous attack [Charlie Hebdo] suffered Wednesday… is a direct challenge to the West’s commitment to free expression. The reaction must be not only one of protest and determination to apprehend the perpetrators. Media in democratic nations must also consciously commit themselves to rejecting intimidation by Islamic extremists or any other movement that seeks to stifle free speech through violence.
The Post‘s media critic, Erik Wemple, explained the paper’s decision to publish the image as providing necessary context for readers:
Samples of Charlie Hebdo’s work thus might appear critical to explaining this act of terrorism. Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post (and boss of the Erik Wemple Blog), said the following about his rationale for publishing the cartoon: “I think seeing the cover will help readers understand what this is all about.”