IS THE U.S. AFRAID OF CARTOON VIOLENCE?

What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Are newspapers across the U.S. hurting themselves by refusing to run the now infamous Danish cartoons that are being blamed for setting off riots around the world?
Photo: AP
Mohamed Bechari, a VP at the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said: 'Here's some advice to those newspapers today facing ruin, bankruptcy or collapse: All you need do is insult Muslims and Islam, and sales will get hot as blazes.'

Never mind the truth about the cartoons. (Despite first being published last September in Denmark and republished in Egyptian papers in October, there were no riots until Danish Imams, beginning in December, went on a world tour with the cartoons, as well as fake photos, with the specific intent of raising an outcry.)

And never mind journalism’s new-found devotion to sensitivity. It’s not like any journalist was ever afraid of upsetting Don Wildmon, and it was only two weeks ago that Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt (rightly) told the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take a hike after they complained about an editorial cartoon. (And, please, it wouldn’t do to point out that all this “sensitivity” talk really means editors and publishers are simply afraid of bombs and fire.)

But if U.S. papers won’t run the cartoons on free-speech grounds (or simply to prove they have spines), perhaps they should consider another reason: old-fashioned greed.

As Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten pointed out: “For newspapers in France and Norway that reprinted the drawings with much international ado, sometimes in defense of free speech, the caricatures have become a profile boost and tonic for lackluster sales. If there's a lesson, it's an old one: Controversy sells.”

Take your choice as to why this controversy is selling. Mohamed Bechari, a VP at the French Council of the Muslim Faith, told the AP: "Here's some advice to those newspapers today facing ruin, bankruptcy or collapse: All you need do is insult Muslims and Islam, and sales will get hot as blazes."

Philippe Soing, circulation director at France Soir, which saw a 40% increase after running the cartoons (and fired its editor for running them), told the AP he believes the move “could change the brand image of France Soir ... it shows we're capable of running scoops and leading a battle for freedom of the press.”

Either way, the papers are selling.

Yet, in a week that saw the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project soliciting new-fangled ways to scare up some profits, most U.S. newspapers, watchdogs over the land of the free and home of the brave, were ignoring the oldest way to drive up circulation: scandal!

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