Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Friday, October 30, 2009

Danish cartoons spawn gutlessness

The Yale University Press has carried political correctness to amazing depths: it has published a book about the 12 controversial Danish cartoons without printing a single one of them!
It is as if an author wrote a life of Christ without mentioning the Sermon on the Mount, omitting the Good Samaritan parable or failing to cite the passage from John about the woman “taken in adultery.”
Muslims worldwide were incensed by the cartoons, particularly one showing the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.
Rioting, burning and vandalizing ensued. About 200 people were killed. Ambassadors were withdrawn. A boycott of Danish goods was demanded.
But what provoked such outrage was difficult for Americans to assess. Almost no U.S. newspaper printed the cartoons. This censorship is understandable. Newspapers are short on courage.
Even the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, supposedly devoted to truth and learning, did not show one cartoon at a seminar supposedly about the Danish cartoons. What a wonderful lesson for journalism students: it’s OK to censor some things.
Irony aside, censorship is inexcusable in the Academy. And it is inexcusable for a university press.
The Yale book is called “The Cartoons That Shook the World” yet readers are unable to see what is so world-shaking.
The press also refused to publish such an innocuous illustration of Muhammad as a drawing for a children’s book. It refused to publish a sketch by French artist Gustave Doré showing the prophet being tormented, a scene from Dante’s “The Inferno.” Never mind that the scene has been depicted by famed artists like Blake, Botticelli, Dali and Rodin.
Reza Aslan, author and religious scholar, rightly deplored publishing the book without illustrations.
“What kind of a publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?” he asked. “This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. It’s not just academic cowardice. It is just silly.”
So let’s give an award to the Yale University Press: the Most Gutless Publisher in History.

Only in America
Sarah Palin, the erstwhile governor of Alaska and whilom pretender to the vice presidency, is a dimwit with nothing important to say. Yet the publisher of her 400-page memoir has already printed 1.5 million copies.
As the great H.L. Mencken wrote: no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

Ad link curse
The newspaper business has always been plagued by its reliance on advertisers.
The latest baneful example comes from Hartford, Conn. The consumer affairs columnist for the Hartford Courant was fired for the “crime” of offending advertisers.
The columnist, George Gombossy, had been with the Courant for 40 years. He started the consumer watchdog column three years ago after getting excellent performance reviews as business editor for 12 years. His popular column was heavily promoted by the paper.
But things changed in March. The Chicago-based Tribune Company took over the Courant and installed a business manager as publisher.
Gombossy was pressured by the new management to “be nice” to the angry advertisers. But he rightly insisted that “being nice” was a gross violation of newspaper ethics.
The last straw for management was his column about a state investigation of Sleepy’s, a mattress maker and a major advertiser. Sleepy’s was accused of selling used mattresses as new.
Gombossy was fired in August. “Crime” does not pay.

Chronicle deserves to die
I wrote this letter to the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I sympathize with the terrible plight of the newspaper business in this Digital Age, circulation declining and advertising plummeting. But severe dilution of the quality of your paper will hardly reverse the trend.
“You no longer publish Mark Morford, acerbic and excellent essayist. You no longer publish liberal columnist Robert Scheer,. You no longer publish liberal columnist E.J. Dionne. But you do publish many rabid conservatives.
“When you tear the guts out of your newspaper you deserve the death that many industry watchers forecast for newspapers.”
The letter was not printed.
You would think Scheer and Dionne perfectly suited for the liberal Bay Area. But Scheer made one intolerable “mistake”: castigating Israeli policies.
The truth is that the Chron is not really a liberal newspaper. America does not have one. The New York Times is Establishment to the core although it is liberal socially.
The Sparks Tribune stands out in the gloomy newspaper landscape. My column has regularly criticized the Jewish state. The column is socialistic and atheistic. It constantly criticizes U.S. policies at home and abroad.
It criticizes newspapers, universities and the seamy history of America. It criticizes mankind, manners and morals. It is often vitriolic.
Yet the Trib has run it for 21 years. No other newspaper or magazine would. My gratitude is immense.


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