“There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance, and indifference,” Edward R. Murrow said back in 1958. “This weapon of television could be useful.” The words apply equally to today’s networked and instant-news world.

At the height of the Cairo riots last week, the US Embassy controversially tweeted: “Sorry, but neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry.”

Bravo. Just because bigots have the right to publish offensive material doesn’t mean I must defend them any more than I would defend the news organizations that recently published the name of the Navy Seal who shot bin Laden.

Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish the cartoons (just as Newsweek has the right to its inflammatory cover). But, as Laurent Wauquiez, the former French minister once asked, “Is it necessary to do this week? I do not think so.”

Back when I was a young reporter, I owned a belt buckle with a Superman-style logo that read: “Newsman: Truth, Justice, and the American way.” None of those ideals are served by throwing journalistic firebombs in the name of freedom of the press.

Related stories:

Western, Arab Journalists Miles Apart in Cartoon Rift

Breathing Room: Toward a new Arab media


 

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Lawrence Pintak is founding dean of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University; a former CBS News Middle East correspondent; and creator of the free online Poynter course, Covering Islam in America. His most recent book is The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil.