HEADLINE: Protests Escalate Over Danish Cartoons
President Bush today called upon world governments to stop the violent protests against Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed. Tonight, we have with us four guests who are at the center of the growing debate over religious sensibilities and freedom the press.
Here in New York, I’m joined by Harry Siegel who today resigned his post as editor-in-chief of the “New York Press,” rather yesterday. When the paper refused to run the Danish cartoons, his editorial staff quit along with him.
>From Cheyenne, Wyoming tonight, Reed Eckhardt, he is the managing editor of the “Wyoming Tribune Eagle” which published two of those cartoons yesterday. We’re also joined by Nick Anderson, the vice president the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, who joins us from Louisville, Kentucky.
And from Washington, Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. We thank you for joining us as well, all four of you.
Let me start with you, Harry. The fact that you walked off, what simple refusal to do this? On what grounds?
HARRY SIEGEL, FORMER EDITOR, NEW YORK PRESS: Well, the morning our paper was due to come out, I spoke with the cartoonist in America, in the south who I can’t name, who had done a cartoon about this and had to go into hiding.
There was a threat of violence here and an attempt to intimidate the press, that was anything but spontaneous. I couldn’t be a party to and I felt it was very important that people saw the cartoons, which are fairly innocuous stuff that triggered this — saying overreaction.
DOBBS: And we want to point out that this network’s management made the decision that we will not be able to broadcast images of this cartoon. I will tell everyone here, the audience knows I’m straight- up, straightforward on these things. It’s my personal belief that you cannot report the story faithfully without showing these images, particularly when they’re so widely available on the Internet.
Let me, if I may go to you, Reed, Reed Eckhardt in Wyoming. Why did you make the decision to go ahead? Was there a great balancing of interests in your judgment?
REED ECKHARDT, MANAGING EDITOR, WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE: No, there really wasn’t a big demand for the cartoons themselves. My concern was, as you said, the images are pretty innocuous as Mr. Siegel said. And also be quite frank, they’re quite innocuous.
I didn’t find much in them that would be offensive. The biggest thing that I wanted was for our readers an opportunity to see for themselves what was going on in the world around them, without those decisions being made for them. It concerned me that a number of agencies, including the “Associated Press,” they decided not to distribute those images, despite the demands of their own newspapers for them. And if the A.P. wouldn’t distribute them, that I would find a way get them to my readers.
DOBBS: Nick Anderson, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist. You’re a — effectively the head of the Association of Editorial Cartoons. I would think you would be thrilled to hear that kind of support for an editorial cartoonist.
NICK ANDERSON, ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS: Well, actually I’m the vice president the organization. And although there’s not a total consensus among editorial cartoonists about the wisdom of publishing these or republishing them.
There’s a consensus that you have the right to publish them and there is a consensus that we — vigorously condemn the reaction to them in the Islamic world. But I don’t think there’s an overwhelming consensus that it is wise to continue to republish these, because you are playing into the hands of Islamic radicals who are using the continued republishing for their own agendas.
DOBBS: And, Nick, if I may say that, that had some of the polish nuance of the very people that you caricature from time to time.
ANDERSON: I’m sorry the — what had the polishing nuance?
DOBBS: Your very words, but we’re going to — we’ll come back to that.
ANDERSON: Oh, OK.
DOBBS: And if I may turn to you to discuss the Islamic reaction, Nihad, this is five months in the making, these reactions that we’re witnessing here.
Why the sensitivity? Why this concern over these cartoons now, do you think?
NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: There are two parts. No. 1, as you all aware, now that Muslims reject any physical or artistic presentation of Prophet Mohammed, Prophet Jesus or any prophet that Muslims believe in, in conjunction with Christianity or any representation of God.
That’s one minor part of the problem. The biggest part of the problem that we all have to acknowledge is the fact that this cartoon, or these cartoons, are extremely and highly offensive. They’re not innocuous as some of your guests suggested.
They’re deeply offensive. And if they don’t feel that they’re offensive, I think we need some education here. That when you equate the entire religion of Islam and Prophet Mohammed and his teachings with terrorism, then you must be ignorant about history, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed.
DOBBS: Forgive me, Nuwad.
DOBBS: I appreciate the statement about being ignorant, but I’m neither ignorant of what some of the radical fundamentalists in the Arab street are spewing out in Gaza, the West Bank, every week, and in Pakistan. The cartoonists there are eviscerating Christians and Jews with their cartoons. And you know it’s a staple of the Arab press.
AWAD: And that’s the second part that I would like to address. That any violent reaction to this deeply offensive cartoon is highly regrettable and I condemn it. My organization has condemned it. Majority of Muslim scholars who are level-headed, have condemned it. And what you’ve seen on television, even right now, you see the minority. The few thousand of 1.5 billion people.
The CNN camera and other cameras, they’re not going through the homes of almost 1.3 or four billion people. And show how they’re offended but they are peaceful at the same time. I respect the freedom the press. I respect their right.
But I see that there is consensus among editors and managing editors around the world, including in this country, to show respect because free expression comes with the responsibility. And I think it was poor judgment and bad faith. Bad faith to publish them, because…
DOBBS: Nick Anderson, let me ask you to respond to Nuwad’s statement.
DOBBS: Do you feel good and comfortable about a consensus among editors?
ANDERSON: I’m sorry, which part of the statement would you like me to respond to?
DOBBS: OK, Reed, we’ll try you.
ECKHARDT: It’s pretty clear that there is a consensus given the few number of papers that have published these cartoons. It does concern me that an American press, which can be so aggressive on freedom of information issues, which can be so aggressive about the rights of the American people, to see for themselves and make their own decisions can suddenly become so cold.
My worry here is that the consensus is not so much about being polite, but a consensus on fear — of a fear of retaliation that we’re seeing around the world. That’s not how it should operate here in the United States.
DOBBS: Harry, your thoughts?
SIEGEL: I think that’s entirely right. I think editors and publishers and owners have been intimidated. And I think that was the point of — that was the point of the violence. And right now it’s looking like it’s succeed.
DOBBS: Nuwad, I would ask you this, you said ignorance of…
AWAD: My name is Nihad, not Nuwad, I’m sorry.
DOBBS: … a viewpoint on the part of American toward the Muslim sensibility. At the same time, to what degree should the American values of a robust, vigorous, and frankly free press that is — I find more animated and vital to the national interests the public’s right to know, when there isn’t a consensus. Which of those values do you think should predominate? Should we become culturally sensitive to the point that we can strain ourselves and our national tradition in this country, some 200 years in the making?
AWAD: Lou, I don’t think these are just American values. These are universal values. When you…
DOBBS: Well, freedom of the press actually isn’t a universal value, as you well know. And I think that no other democracy in the world has a vigorous press that has been practicing as long as this.
AWAD: I think it is universal. And let me just share with you this. When I lived (sic) in the Koran and I speak to my fellow Muslims now who acted violent and irrationally unfortunately. God allow Satan in the Koran to speak his mind. And when he speaks his mind he does not threaten God and he does not threaten believers because believers should be in charge of their own behavior.
So I respect the freedom of the press. But, as I said, it comes with decency and responsibility. In your network, in “The Washington Post,” in mainstream media from the United States you have guidelines. You do not show nudity and naked people on the front page. You do not publish vulgar language.
DOBBS: Well, let me ask you a question. Would you suggest then that this network should not have shown the photographs from Abu Ghraib? Should we have–what should have been our reaction when Iran put a fatwa on Salman Rushdie? What would–I mean I am trying to sort through the sensitivities here, and I am having trouble.
AWAD: Mr. Dobbs, you are missing issues at the same time. On the Abu Ghraib issue it was a national security issue that we just discovered that we had been abusing people in prison. And the human face of that tragedy was not shown.
Now, if we violate people’s privacy by showing their pictures then we should not do it because we protect the privacy of our American soldiers when they are injured or killed.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
I have got to give the last word to whoever just asked for it.
ECKHARDT: Mr. Dobbs, I would like to say something if I could.
DOBBS: Quickly please.
ECKHARDT: Yes, I think that the issue here is the fact that the Muslim community has made this is an issue. When they make an issue of this sort, when they go to the point of burning embassies, it is certainly an issue of discussion beyond simply religion.
AWAD: …another representative of the Muslim community.
DOBBS: I think that is a very fair point. (CROSSTALK)
SIEGEL: …address that directly and say that this sort of violence is unacceptable.
DOBBS: In point of fact many Muslims are speaking out against that violence to their credit.
DOBBS: But not states, as you correctly point out, Harry. But I think Nihad’s point is absolutely clear. We are not talking about the Muslim community. We are talking about an Arab street that is being manipulated, and too few news organization are focusing on why it has taken five months in order for that process to be well underway and unfortunate cost of lives.
Gentlemen, thank you very much. Appreciate you all being here and to help illuminate the issues. We appreciate it.