Playing the victim

Posted: Apr 07, 2006 7:05 AM
It seems everyone is looking to be offended these days.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., recently breezed past a police checkpoint without stopping. She wasn’t wearing her member pin -- the lapel marker that lets police know she’s far more important than the rest of us. So the officer at the gate was just doing his job when he chased her down. When he did, McKinney hit him.

Yet it’s the congresswoman who claims she was offended.

McKinney is “a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin,” her lawyer announced. McKinney added, “Let me be clear: this whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me -- a female, black, progressive congresswoman.”

She might need all of her famous wit and charm to stay out of trouble, since the Capitol Police are considering pressing charges against her.

Of course, McKinney’s not the only offended “victim” resorting to violence. Just a few months ago, aggrieved Muslims attacked embassies, burned flags and even killed people because an obscure Danish newspaper had printed several cartoons that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Doing so is supposedly banned under Islam, and Muslims around the world were offended.

Most of the violence stayed clear of our shores, though, because very few American newspapers were willing to print any of the cartoons. “They wouldn’t meet our standards for what we publish in the paper,” Leonard Downie, Jr., executive editor of the Washington Post, told Editor and Publisher magazine. “We have standards about language, religious sensitivity, racial sensitivity and general good taste.” Big papers including USA Today and the Los Angeles Times took the same line. Every time it showed the drawings, CNN pixilated the prophet.

Fair enough on one level. The drawings were indeed amateurish, and if a paper had received them from an artist it’s completely understandable that the paper would have said, “no thanks.”

But as columnist Mark Steyn has noted, in this case the cartoons are the story. By refusing to print them, newspapers are telling readers “there’s a furor over something -- but we’re not going to let you see what it is.” It would be akin to TV networks covering Vietnam protest marches without showing pictures from the war itself.

Americans ought to be able to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about. Unfortunately, we’re not going to get any help from Borders bookstores. They’ve pulled copies of a small circulation magazine called Free Inquiry off their bookshelves. The magazine, which has a circulation of about 30,000, published several of the controversial cartoons in its April-May issue.

“Borders absolutely supports the customers’ right to choose what to read and what to buy, and Free Inquiry has the right to publish the cartoons,” spokeswoman Anne Roman said. Still, “we made the decision not to carry this particular issue of Free Inquiry because of the fact that we place a priority on customer and employee safety and security.” For some reason, safely keeps coming up. “For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” another company spokeswoman, Beth Bingham, announced.

I’ve been in hundreds of bookstores, and never once felt unsafe, although I can see how people might be frequently offended. Bookstores make their money selling ideas as well as publications, so National Review or The Nation may well offend even those who aren’t offended by magazines such as Playboy or books such as Madonna’s “Sex.” As bookstore owner Michael Powell noted, “The truth is that many of the books I stock have material that will offend somebody with something.”

Borders seems to be offering up a preemptive surrender here. In effect the company is saying, “Muslims may react with violence, so we’ll just knuckle under to prevent that.” But there are many things Americans do that are offensive to Muslims. Ocean City, Md., with its women in bikinis is clearly offensive -- but are we as a society ready to demand that all women wear burkas to the beach?

Today’s “victims” need a reality check. Our society benefits from freedom of the press, just as our members of Congress benefit from their guards. If we want our society to survive, we can’t allow either to be beaten up with impunity.