There are few things I believe America stands for more than being the world’s greatest marketplace of ideas. This is distinct from “freedom of speech” and the First Amendment, which deal with the government’s restrictions on speech. Instead, the marketplace of ideas comes from encouraging the private citizens of this country express themselves and challenge others without being chilled by the forces of group thinking.
More than anyone else, the American press is supposed to carry the torch of this concept. I assumed that when the riots by radical Muslims over cartoon depictions of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper escalated over the past week, every news organization in the United States would publish those cartoons so that we could understand exactly why this was happening (or at least put it into some type of context).
What subsequently happened was shocking. The New York Times decided not to publish the cartoons. The Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post didn’t do it, either. The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Dallas Morning News, and the Denver Post? Nope. The Los Angeles Times decided to print one example of a cartoon. Other than that, no other major media organization published any of the cartoons that have sparked one of the most important news stories of the year. Each news organization justified its decision upon some variation of how it did not want to show images that would be offensive to one’s religious beliefs. Of course, all of these organizations were fine in the past with publishing the infamous “Piss Christ” photo or statements by terrorists advocating violence against Jews. So, not offending the religious beliefs of readers is a convenient and shallow excuse to me.
What news organization had the intestinal fortitude to actually educate Amercians about what was happening across the world by publishing the cartoons? Well, I’m proud to say that it was the student newspaper of my alma mater, the Daily Illini. In the face of the group think of the mainstream American media, the Daily Illini published the cartoons in this past Thursday.
The backlash was predictable, with the Daily Illini accused of being insensitive. Rather than the general public shaming the mainstream media for leaving a student newspaper out to dry, the Daily Illini has been forced to make an apology today where it emphasized that the decision to run the cartoons wasn’t made by the paper’s entire editorial board.
The last thing that the Daily Illini should do is apologize for its actions. Instead, the paper ought be commended for showing that a handful of college students have the ability to carry forward the marketplace of ideas even when the powerful voices in this country decide not to speak up. Are the images offensive or worth having people killed over? I urge you to look at the cartoons and decide for yourself. That’s the American way.