The new, defiant issue of Charlie Hebdo was published yesterday and sold out around Paris before dawn. The press run of 3 million copies is expected to jump to 5 million today—about fifty times the usual for the satirical magazine, which hovers close to bankruptcy—and CNN reported that single copies are selling for up to $1,700 on eBay.
With that kind of massive popularity you might think that The New York Times and other media outlets that last week, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, refused to publish Hebdo covers featuring the prophet Muhammad might now reverse course and print the new cover: Muhammad shedding a tear, holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign, under the words “All is forgiven.”
At first glance, the image seems sweet, Muslim-friendly and poetically ambiguous: Is the prophet sorrowfully forgiving the terrorists for defying Islam’s peaceful tenets or Charlie Hebdo for mocking him all these years? Or both? If anything, the cover seems to portray him as a wise granter of forgiveness, like Jesus, and more caring than, say, an earlier Hebdo cover Muhammad who cracked, “A hundred lashes if you don’t die of laughter.”
But of course any image of Muhammad is offensive to many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, and so the Times—the media outlet most critics are thinking about when they charge the MSM with cowardice for not running the toons—is holding to its standards and will not run what executive editor Dean Baquet calls a “gratuitous insult” to Muslim readers.
“At what point does news value override our standards?” public editor Margaret Sullivan quoted Baquet last week. “‘You would have to show the most incendiary images’ from the newspaper; and that was something he deemed unacceptable.” In her column yesterday, Sullivan adds:
Mr. Banquet made a tough call, which also includes safety concerns for Times staff, especially those in international posts. (Those concerns are far from frivolous; just days ago, a German newspaper’s office was firebombed after it published the cartoons following the attack, and now new concerns have arisen about reprisals.)
But after previously withholding judgment, Sullivan broke with Baquet and said, reflecting the verdict of many readers, staff and outside critics, that the Times should go ahead and publish the new cartoon: