New York Times Under Fire Over Denial Of Anti-Islam Ad After Running Anti-Catholic Ad

There is an interesting controversy in New York where The New York Times ran an ad calling on Catholics to leave their church, but refused to run a similar ad targeting Muslims. Conservatives have jumped on what they say is a double standard. They may have a point.

The New York Times ran an ad from Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation on March 9 which asked Catholics, “why send your children to parochial schools to be indoctrinated into the next generation of obedient donors and voters?” The group also referenced “two decades of sex scandals involving preying priests, church complicity, collusion and cover-up going all the way to the top.” While the newspaper has been attacked by Catholic groups, it is in my view a core exercise of free speech and the newspaper was right to run the advertisement. I do not see why newspaper should censor our advertisements that criticize religion while running hard hitting advertisements taking sides on environmental, taxation, and other divisive issues. Moreover, I would rather see political or religious advocacy in ads than another advertisement for Viagra or “Gator Boys.”

Then there is the added controversy over the refusal to run an advertisement by Pamela Geller, a blogger and executive director of Stop Islamization of America. Geller offered the same $39,000 to run an ad with a similar appeal to Muslims. I have not seen the proposed ad. [Update: both ads are below] However, if it was the same message, I fail to see why one is allowed and another is not.

In a letter, NYT officials reportedly focused on the response of Muslims to such an ad as opposed to its design: “The fallout from running this ad now could put U.S. troops and/or civilians in the [Afghan] region in danger.”

I am not sure that we should start to restrict speech on the basis of content in fear of a response of extremists in other countries. That would appear to reward the violence and anti-speech conduct of such extremists. It is precisely what occurred after 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. However, while newspapers swore allegiance to free press values, there was an obvious level of self-censorship to avoid pictures and cartoons of Muhammad and Islam in general. Even academic institutions like Yale University Press exhibited the same response.

The editors in this case promised that they would consider publishing the ad in a few months because “we publish this type of advertising, even those we disagree with, because we believe in the First Amendment.” However, that does not explain why they will yield to extremists in the interim. Because Catholics are not expected to become violent, they may be targeted in ads. Moreover, there was once a claim that we were fighting for democratic values in Afghanistan and Iraq. While that claim now appears tragically naive, no one told us that (in order to foster such values in those countries) we would need to curtail such values in the United States.

I have been trying to find more on this story. I believe that the New York Times does have an obligation to address the allegations and correct any misinformation. I recognize that there is a legitimate refusal to bar some ads as racist or sexist or prejudicial. However, this is a delicate balance for media companies who must remain faithful to free speech values. If the ads are similarly worded and constructed, there is a troubling judgment made on the basis for content in this case.

What do you think?

30 thoughts on “New York Times Under Fire Over Denial Of Anti-Islam Ad After Running Anti-Catholic Ad”

  1. Bdaman,
    Good post.
    My conclusions/questions:
    Who will expand on the HuffPost blog agglomeration as the future major news spreader? Who will control them. And where will they get there feeds?
    Reuters, AP, AFP, RT, Al Jazeera, etc or a new combo for just their search for the unreported news?

  2. New York Times not the only one.

    Bleak outlook for US newspapers

    The headlines about the US newspaper industry have never been so bleak.

    In recent weeks, LinkedIn, the networking website, and the Council of Economic Advisers have reported that the press is “America’s fastest-shrinking industry”, measured by jobs lost; the Newspaper Association of America has shown that advertising sales have halved since 2005 and are now at 1984’s level; and the Pew Research Center has found that for every digital ad dollar they earned, they lost $7 in print ads.

    As media from television to billboards bounce back from the recession, newsprint is being left behind. Zenith Optimedia this week predicted that internet advertising would pass newspaper advertising next year around the world – but in the US, where internet penetration is high and newspaper audiences are shrinking, digital will overtake newspapers’ and magazines’ combined ad sales this year, eMarketer estimates.

    “There’s no doubt we’re going out of business now,” one unnamed executive told Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which predicted a future of shrinking newsrooms, print deliveries only a few days of the week and more papers closing altogether. A USC Annenberg School study reached the stark conclusion that most printed US dailies would be gone in five years.

  3. TD
    Guess that’s the same Pamlico waters that their boat waste are emptied into.
    So it’s like the Ganges at Varanasi, holy and self-sanitizing. Swim, bathe, your dogs drink it, and the wives cook potatoes in the same water.
    Isn’t holiness great. Who blesses these waters. Saint Reagan?

  4. We have the Catholics at the marina outhouse saying that they wont wipe their arses with the NYTimes and the Muslims saying the same thing. So I had to buy a copy of the Wall Street Journal (reportedly a Rupert Murdoch paper) to satisfy their needs. We are saving six bucks a month on toilet paper. Go Green, Wife Clean, With The Times, When Unseen.

  5. lotta,
    too much to handle. yes you sent the satellite picture to me of the monument in the park. geez, remember it all vividly.
    Hoping the tale below is not a repeat.

    I’ll mention now that I was there for four weeks in 1962 on a company course.
    Met nice skinny ugly girl who I later became good pen pals with, from LA, and who later on my visit on the way through showed me she could drive my little dinky Sprite faster and better than I. That she had had a Morris Minor for years might have helped, but it took some of my conceit away—-but she helped build it up in other ways. Didn’t realize then how within an arm’s length how close to a life’s partner I was.
    C’etait la vie.

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