Newest Charlie Hebdo Issue Empowers, Offends And Sells Out

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Exactly one week after the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, which killed 12 people, the remaining staff published a new issue that hit newsstands today. The relatively small publication managed to print millions of issues that sold out in many places in France before sunrise.

NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik speaks with Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson about what’s inside the new issue, how people around the world are responding to it and what the new issue’s cover, depicting the Muslim Prophet Mohammad, means for free speech.

Interview Highlights: David Folkenflik

On Charlie Hebdo as an 'intentionally transgressive, provocative publication'

"This very cover appears to many observers to contain a cartoonish depiction of male genitalia in the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. Again, if true, very provocative. If perceived to be true, very provocative — and intentionally so. This is not something that's been denied by the artists. I think one of the editors there said, 'people will see in it what they want to see.' But they're saying our kind of anarchistic depictions are going to continue, even as on its face you might think this is a tearful moment of reconciliation."

On NPR's decision not to publish the Charlie Hebdo cover

"As the media critic — not speaking for NPR in any way — but I've said and I will say again, I disagree. I think it's worth reproducing as part of coverage. But I will say this isn't 1975 or 1978. We live in an age where images are a click away, and if people want to find it, they can find it in the galleries of websites like The Daily Beast or Slate. And I think it's more likely to be found in those news organizations that don't have a major presence of journalists — as we do, as NBC does, as CNN does, as The New York Times does — in conflict areas where the tensions over the role of the Muslim faith in public life are paramount. And that is where reporters could in some ways — and their fixers and their translators — could somewhere be harmed. I think that is one of the elements playing into this decision."

Is that letting the terrorists win?

"I think you've seen this surprising unity between secular people on the left who are not people of strong faith, and strong conservatives who believe that there is essentially an Islamist movement in some ways, in clashes and in tension with the West. ... You've seen this union say 'well it's cowardly not to publish it.' And there are some journalists who just say on free speech grounds — Jacob Weisberg who oversees The Slate Group, for example, says all the more reason to do it now. And yet you're in this tension: either you're being cowardly and you're allowing people to stamp this out, or you're essentially turning over your own news pages to the people whose own standards are very different from your own every time there's a major controversy. And that's the editorial tension you're seeing. I personally happen to think in this moment, it is newsworthy to incorporate it in a smart, contextualized way, and that news organizations can treat their audiences like grown-ups. Even if it's online, put a little warning screen to say 'click here but know that these images will be offensive.' But in this day and age, it's not fair to say that those images aren't otherwise available, and therefore I think to accuse those organizations of cowardice, I think is ungrounded."


This segment aired on January 14, 2015.


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