Monday, February 13, 2006

Something is rotten in the, um, state of C-U

A quick summary for those of you that read this blog but aren't in C-U (i.e. Manya) or that don't have any significant ties to the University (i.e. David, Billy, and Jon): The Daily Illini published some of the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons that are causing such a stir all over the world. This has caused some interesting discussion on the op-ed page, but also some friction in the op-ed staff itself. TheSquire has some interesting speculation here, and a followup here. Unfortunately, the DI's "Hey, ours isn't quite as crappy as the News-Gazette's" website has the editorial that introduced the cartoons, but not the images themselves in its archive. You can find a copy of them here.

Something about the op-ed explanations doesn't wash. It appears that two of the editors, the editor in chief and the opinions editor made the unilateral decision to run the cartoons, without informing the rest of the editorial staff. I don't know if that's true or not. I do want to say that I think the cartoons -- only because of the reaction they have spawned -- are themselves newsworthy. Some of them are quite innocent (I especially like the green one with the star and the one with the crescent halo), and I can't see how anyone would object to them. Some of them are flat-out racist. Some I can't figure out because they're in Danish.

Squire points out that the moral dimension to running these cartoons comes not from their newsworthiness, but from the motivations of those putting them in the paper. That's why I find the dissenting editorial by the Cartoon Two in today's DI so interesting. From that editorial:

The members of the editorial board are scared. They are scared of the unknown, scared of violence and scared to accept a principled action on our behalf, all while hiding under the guise of the journalistic "process," a process we believe has been upheld...

All editors present in the newsroom the night before publication learned of our decision to publish the cartoons. There were no objections. Not until they witnessed a backlash from the Muslim community, one that we were prepared for, did the board cower to their demands.

Are Gorton and Prochaska seriously suggesting that the other editors are afraid of a Middle-East-like violent reaction to the publication of these cartoons? It's interesting that their entire editorial is couched in language that calls their colleagues cowards. They are "scared of the unknown," they are "hiding under the guise" of the "process," and that they are "cowering" to the Muslim community's demands. This sort of "attack your opponent" arguing makes me very suspicious of their movies, but I won't speculate on them here, since I really don't know any of the individuals involved. (That I later found that Squire accuses Prochaska of being a "drinker of the neo-con kool aid" increases my suspicions.)

I just want to finish this by quoting from another article from today's DI:

Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, has seized on the caricatures as a means of rallying its people behind a government that is increasingly under fire from the West over its nuclear program.

Shiite Muslims do not ban representations of the prophet and some in Iran's provincial towns and villages even carry drawings said to be of Muhammad.

The protesting, rioting, and violence has never been about the cartoons. They were just an excuse. It's about the meme in the Middle East that the West is anti-Islam.

UPDATE: TheSquire points out that there's some good stuff about the DI controversy over at The Next Frontier. The Cartoon Two have been suspended from the paper during an investigation. My prediction: this will cease being about how the DI came to the decision to run the cartoons and the unilateral decision by the Two, and will become a "good conservative Christian vs. evil liberal Muslim university elite" soundbite.

UPDATE II: This just occured to me. If these cartoons were considered by the editors to be so newsworthy, why were they published on the Opinion page and not as a regular news article? Could it possibly have something to do with the EIC and the opinions editor having an easier time of getting them published without having to consult other members of staff? Just speculating...

1 comment:

The Squire said...

A lot of my information comes via Kiyoshi at The Next Frontier, who was the first to break this blogosphere-wise and without whose accounting of the situation I wouldn't have been able to come to base my analysis of what happened.

Also, for confirmation about Chuck Prochaska, just look up his past columns on the DI website.