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Making Sense of Charlie Hebdo

Jan 23, 2015

Credit npr.org

The terrorist attack on the Paris satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo led people around the world to proclaim "Je Suis Charlie -- I am Charlie."

Twelve people died in the attack that was allegedly in retaliation for the publishing of cartoons that disrespected the religion of Islam.

But American journalists have struggled with publishing some Charlie Hebdo cartoons because they really are offensive to a wide range of people and groups.

Even the cover of the first issue of Charlie Hebdo published after the massacre -- which shows the Prophet Muhammad holding a sign that reads "Je Suis Charlie" -- is giving editors fits.

"I am getting this question from editors all over the country," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "And there are good reasons for running the cover and good reasons for not running the cover.  In favor of running the cover editors are saying we need to show our readers what's on the cover. That's important. If we don't give them information, how will they know. I think some editors also want to stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. But there are a lot of reasons for not running it as well. And one of the reasons is that some Muslims find the image of Muhammad offensive. But the best argument I've heard is from editors who say it could put members of their staff in Muslim countries in danger."

McBride said that she does not think that the cover cartoon in the return issue crossed the line into hate speech, but that's not to say Charlie Hebdo doesn't go there on a regular basis.

"This particular satirical magazine is known for absolutely, patently offensive speech," McBride explained. "Many of their cartoons would be clearly racist, misogynistic, and certainly criticizing ethnic minorities as well. And, that part of the magazine has been glossed over because people are so shocked by the assault on free speech. But if we were talking about some of the cartoons that have run in this particular magazine in a different context I think we would be very critical of the magazine itself."