Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had “gone ghost.” Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn’t protect her against death threats from Muslims she’d angered.
Earlier this year, Norris started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” to protest radical Muslims’ violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it’s infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.
When The Examiner asked the American Society of Newspaper Editors for a statement on the issue, none was forthcoming. This despite the fact that the first sentence of ASNE’s website describes its mission as supporting “the First Amendment at home and free speech around the world.” We got a similar response from the Society of Professional Journalists, despite its dedication “to the perpetuation of the free press as the cornerstone of our nation and liberty.”
Freedom of speech and press are in deep trouble when the American government thinks the best it can do to protect a journalist from death threats is to counsel her to go into hiding, and when the elite voices of American journalism can’t be bothered to say anything in her defense. But, it’s actually worse than that. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof thinks Muslims are owed an apology. “I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you,” he wrote Sunday. “The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you.”
Instead of telling the rest of us that we’re all bigots, shouldn’t Kristof and the rest of the journalism profession be outraged by what has happened to Molly Norris? And shouldn’t they be angered that her government believes it cannot protect her? Imagine what they would be saying if white-hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan were threatening to kill Norris in Selma, Ala., instead of radical Muslims in Seattle. Would the FBI tell Norris she had to stop being a journalist and go into hiding? And would ASNE and SPJ look the other way as the First Amendment and freedom of the press were symbolically turned to ashes by burning white crosses?
The reality is that the FBI fought the KKK at every turn, including when it threatened brave Southern newspaper editors who stood up against racism and violence. And from the start, journalists were prominent figures in the civil rights movement, courageously reporting the truth about the crushing stranglehold of segregation on life and liberty across the old South, often while risking their very lives.
It’s time the present generation of American journalists found the same brand of courage that many of their forefathers showed in the 1960s.