In the past week, the world has been glued to the violent unfolding events in France and their aftermath. As journalists, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine cut particularly deep. Both France and the U.S. have long, proud histories of free expression, and we are happy to see that people have responded to terrorism by refusing to be terrorized.
In the world of argument, humor has the sharpest teeth, and mass violence has the world’s ear over the din of individual tragedies. But it’s worth noting that this attack is not by any means the first time people have died in their pursuit of free expression.
In 2014, at least 61 journalists died worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Journalists are killed by politicians and crime bosses, by thugs and crossfire. According to CPJ, 221 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide, and many others die in mysterious circumstances—in 2012, a recent Iowa college graduate died in an elevator shaft shortly after publishing a story about corruption at the Mexico City airport.
No journalist should be a martyr, and journalists make errors in judgment, as do other humans. But no written or spoken expression is an excuse for violence, just as the acts of extremists should not be used to incite violence against other innocents.
Journalism in the U.S. does not involve the daily dangers of journalism in Syria or the Philippines. Though we’re trying to do the same thing—pursue the truth—we work in a much safer environment. However, asking questions and demanding public accountability is never entirely without risk.
The horrifying retribution visited upon the satirists reminds us of the power of the pen, and the responsibility that comes with that power. Free use of the pen is not always responsible use of the pen but, in the words of Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
In a lighter news story, a local Maryland politician has unwittingly made himself a headline story after he threatened to sue the local newspaper for writing his name in its city government coverage. Sorry—printing someone’s name is not illegal. Kirby Delauter made himself a laughingstock, and has since apologized.
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh responded appropriately: “Uh, council member. In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avant-garde experiment, to be sure, but we’ve had some success with it.”
In case you were wondering, laughter is appropriate here. Charlie Hebdo would approve.
Our Opinion is the consensus of the Dyersville Commercial editorial board.