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. James Sweet

    You bring up one point inadvertently when you mention the reputation of the organization who wishes to post.
    When does the eventual complication you mention effect or hinder placing a commercial ad? Which is a use of free speech and the free press.

    Unpleasant, inflammatory, etc etc. But beyond the immediate restraint of shouting fire, there seems to me to be none.

    As for my analogy to shouting “fire”, that raises similar questions as to
    false and misleading advertisements, inflammatory editorial material leading to war, and other bad decisions. And this can be shown to exist in the hundreds of thousands in the last decades.

    Having as a newspaper, used a position involving the freedoms mentioned before, and offering indirectily your prestige and directly your podium to whoever purchases space, then you must be truthful to your creed of being a public protected whore, whose services are open to any payer. Only his money can be allowed to be a criteria.

  2. This is a repost of a comment I posted at a blog that linked here, but anyway:

    The fact that the paper said they would consider running it in a few months seems to imply that they are spooked not so much by the threat of Muslim retaliation in general, but rather they seem to think it would be a rather bad week for it given the recent shooting and protests over the (probably accidental) Quran burning. If that is the case, then I think I can probably accept this as a measured response that seeks to balance open debate with practical concerns. I sure as hell don’t like it, I can’t say I’m fully comfortable with it, but I also don’t think it’s quite analogous to, e.g. Yale University Press’s abject cowardice.

    Complicating matters of course is the fact that Pam Geller is a wingnut extraordinaire and the organization being promoted here are not exactly nice folks. Note that is not a reason to refuse the ad in and of itself, but I think it does complicate things.

  3. LOTTA
    “The only thing I missed about the NYT was driving over to the Central West End to a book store to buy it a couple of times a week, or more, as the story dictated. There was a row of antique shops (junk shops actually) across the street and a deli around the corner and it made for a nice way to wait out the rush-hour traffic before I drove home from work. Good times.”

    Nonsense perhaps below..

    Did you have a car in NYC? Where did you park it. Or was this another town’s Central West End?
    Saying you bought it at the end of the day, and in a bookshop, says it was another town than NYC.
    Nice nostalgia anyway. Guess you never experienced the overnight closing of the deli, etc. Life is cruel at times, as though it cared what it does.
    A nonsense concept, of which we have many.

  4. Mike S, my only regular reading material to survive the end of the war was The Nation. The Joe Eszterhas years of Rolling Stone were gone in the mid 70’s so I gave it up when he left. Mother Jones came along in the mid 70’s so it took up the slack as a regularly read zine.

    The only thing I missed about the NYT was driving over to the Central West End to a book store to buy it a couple of times a week, or more, as the story dictated. There was a row of antique shops (junk shops actually) across the street and a deli around the corner and it made for a nice way to wait out the rush-hour traffic before I drove home from work. Good times.

  5. Talking Dog,
    How Carolina has changed, or is it a military facility that has NYTimes in a grocery store.
    Speaking of outhouses, the swankiest part of Stockholm in ’68 had some rundown old apartments with outhouses, one for each apartment.

  6. “The NYT stopped being the paper it used to be about 30 years ago IMO; I am not surprised by this. If people still think the NYT is the nation’s “paper of record” then we are on the record as being a nation of pussies.”

    LK,

    You took the words right out of my mouth. I began to feel that way when the first hired William Safire and made that huckster into a seemingly serious columnist.

  7. Dredd,

    Many thanks for the NY Times link:

    You said, “Another department at the NY Times is warning the public that the government behind the smoke and mirrors is psychotic.”

    Wicked things goin’ on out there and many Americans have no idea… It’s time to air the dirty laundry because it stinks to high heaven. Those behind the program to which I’m alluding are, indeed, sociopaths, given what I’m seeing… Thank god for Charlie Savage.

    ========

    “Democratic Senators Issue Strong Warning About Use of the Patriot Act

    By CHARLIE SAVAGE
    Published: March 16, 2012

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/us/politics/democratic-senators-warn-about-use-of-patriot-act.html

    Democratic Senators Issue Strong Warning About Use of the Patriot Act
    By CHARLIE SAVAGE
    Published: March 16, 2012

    WASHINGTON — For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming if the public — or even others in Congress — knew about it.

    On Thursday, two of those senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado — went further. They said a top-secret intelligence operation that is based on that secret legal theory is not as crucial to national security as executive branch officials have maintained.

    The senators, who also said that Americans would be “stunned” to know what the government thought the Patriot Act allowed it to do, made their remarks in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. after a Justice Department official last month told a judge that disclosing anything about the program “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”

    The Justice Department has argued that disclosing information about its interpretation of the Patriot Act could alert adversaries to how the government collects certain intelligence. It is seeking the dismissal of two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits — by The New York Times and by the American Civil Liberties Union — related to how the Patriot Act has been interpreted.

    The senators wrote that it was appropriate to keep specific operations secret. But, they said, the government in a democracy must act within publicly understood law so that voters “can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf” — even if that “obligation to be transparent with the public” creates other challenges.

    “We would also note that in recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the ‘intelligence collection operation,’ ” they added. “This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch’s assertions about the importance of this ‘operation’ at face value.”

    The dispute centers on what the government thinks it is allowed to do under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which agents may obtain a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing them to get access to any “tangible things” — like business records — that are deemed “relevant” to a terrorism or espionage investigation.

    There appears to be both an ordinary use for Section 215 orders — akin to using a grand jury subpoena to get specific information in a traditional criminal investigation — and a separate, classified intelligence collection activity that also relies upon them.

    The interpretation of Section 215 that authorizes this secret surveillance operation is apparently not obvious from a plain text reading of the provision, and was developed through a series of classified rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

    The letter from Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall also complained that while the Obama administration told Congress in August 2009 that it would establish “a regular process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions” of the court, since then “not a single redacted opinion has been released.”

  8. “Free speech argument certainly valid but simple fairness would appear to dictate.”

    Pretty sure fairness is all that dictates here, considering the NYT isn’t the government. NYT is of course perfectly within their rights to deny an ad if they perceive its message may provoke violence while another similar ad may not, however I do agree that the denial of this particular ad rewards very bad behavior. All in all I feel I would have run the ad.

  9. I’m in favor of any ad that challenges the viewer to place any long-held belief in the crucible of reason.

  10. The NYT employs the best in their respective areas of expertise. Subscribe online and in print and have subscribed to the Sunday paper since the seventies. I actually understand what they did as there is already so much anti-muslim sentiment surrounding the mosque at ground zero and Peter King’s various activities.

  11. Don’t they also own the Herald Tribune….From a business perspective…and this is a publicly traded company or at least Class A shares are (non-voting) owe a duty to its share holders….The ramifications of running this ad would be tremendous to the company….If I recall…the only shares that have real voting rights are Class B….which the original family owns about 90%…..then again….what can you expect from a minority owner of the Boston D-Red Sox’s….

    It maybe a double standard…..but….advertisers can stop supporting newspapers at anytime….Just ask Rush….

  12. I read the headlines of the New York Times when I am at the grocery store.
    On my computer I go to the website and read some junk. I have to negotiate all the ads. Then they tell me if I want to read more I have to subscribe to their webservice for fee. So I dont buy it. The old copies get thrown out at the grocery store and we put a copy in the outhouse by the marina so that it can be put to good use. Do not use the silky section for that purpose.

  13. The NYT stopped being the paper it used to be about 30 years ago IMO; I am not surprised by this. If people still think the NYT is the nation’s “paper of record” then we are on the record as being a nation of pussies.

    Did I say that out loud?

  14. While I don’t favor any ads encouraging someone to forsake their religious beliefs – I am not religious at all but understand it’s value to many people – I do have to agree with you. Once you “pierce the veil” it would seem you’re honor bound to accept like-kind ads. Free speech argument certainly valid but simple fairness would appear to dictate.

  15. This is a case of the national emotions having been intoxicated by fear and propaganda.

    At least the ad department.

    Another department at the NY Times is warning the public that the government behind the smoke and mirrors is psychotic.

    Send a copy of that warning over to the ad department.

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