The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, March 04, 2004

'New York Times is inoffensive: Official'

Ted Rall is a leftie cartoonist who let the Times run his strips online for free. Then Rall got cancelled.

The E&P asked for an explanation:
Spokesperson Christine Mohan said in an e-mail: "After two years of monitoring cartoons by Ted Rall we decided that, while he often does good work, we found some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone we try to set for ... While and its parent company support the right of free expression, we also recognize an obligation to assure our users that what we publish, no matter what its origin, does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience."

There's a lot to unpack there. Why, for instance, the Times spokesman should place its support [for] the right of free expression in a concessive clause - equivalent to an enormous but in front of the we also.

But most alarming, perhaps, is the notion that the Times thinks its audience have a right (corresponding to the Times' obligation) not to have their reasonable sensibilities offended.

Which audience is it talking about? The Times site gets visitors from all over the world. And all over the US. A Miller-style community standard is a non-starter. Different parts will be offended by different things.

And which of their sensibilities are reasonable? On what basis does the Times arrive at a decision in particular cases?

Cartoons are one thing; news is another. If the Times is prepared to can Rall's stuff on the ground that it is offensive, does it spike otherwise valid news stories on the same ground?

(There is nothing in Mohan's email (as quoted) to suggest that the Times' 'obligation not to offend' is restricted to cartoons.)

If the Times is running scared of conservative write-in campaigns about cartoons, what about some of the other notable lobbies?

If Mohan's email is indeed the Times' policy, it's a thousand times greater a concern than hapless Uri Schmetzer's fictional source.


Does the same policy apply to the dead-tree edition? Whose readership would be geographically much more compact than the online paper, but otherwise still broad enough for some section of it to be offended at virtually anything the paper might run!

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