In a groundswell of support for freedom of the press and in solidarity with the victims of last week's political assassinations, all major U.S. newspapers-with the exception of The New York Times-have published the cover of the satirical Charlie Hebdo's first issue since the terrorist attacks.
Social media channels throughout the English-speaking world have responded to the Times decision with an unambiguous negative 45% social sentiment in the past few days, according to our NetBase social crosstab analysis of Charlie Hebdo. In contrast, French social sentiment over the Times decision, while still in the red, trails considerably higher, at only minus 13%. Perhaps a sign of greater French tolerance for the right to refuse? The unique and enduring tradition of French political satire?
Inversely, it is likely more plausible that the adverse New York Times social sentiment reflects a broad spectrum social intolerance for what has been called their "expedient," "contradictory," even "hypocritical" stand in refusing to publish the cartoon cover image of a tearful Muhammad with the caption "Tout est pardonné" [All is forgiven].
The decision, according to Managing Editor Dean Baquet, stems from the Times standards against publishing innately offensive images and the Muslim proscription against publishing depictions of Muhammad, a position not universally shared by Muslims. "Many Muslims consider publishing images of their prophet innately offensive and we have refrained from doing so," said Baquet.
Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, disagreed with Baquet's decision, citing the news value of the Charlie Hebdo cover should have prevailed and that Times readers shouldn't have to go elsewhere for the full story, including images.
Sullivan went even further, requesting a review of the Times' standards: "One question, surely, is whether guidelines on offensive images are applied rigorously across the board; many readers have doubted this. Another is at what point news judgment ought to trump the likelihood of offending some readers."
France has a deep-seated tradition of political and religious satire, dating to the medieval French court buffoons, who even had permission to mock their kings, as Remi Piet explains in Al Jazeera. It wasn't until Louis XIV banned the buffoons that French writers like Molière and Jean de la Fontaine set the standard for modern French satire, which has not only endured, but grown in France over the past couple of decades with the success of other satirical publications.
Labeled "defiant" by the Times, Charlie Hebdo's latest cover-now synonymous with free expression-couldn't have been more misconstrued by Baquet-an unfortunate sign of a perturbing veil of cultural illiteracy of the moment. Perhaps even more perverse in a multicultural nation.