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Spectator editorial: Drawing the line

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Journalists have a social responsibility to explore and disseminate sensitive issues, and must be prepared to face criticism for doing so. But in the constant struggle to inform the public in an accurate and compelling manner, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of decency and simply contribute to the problem.

One of UW-Madison’s student-run newspapers, The Badger Herald, fell prey to this dynamic last week when it reprinted one of several political cartoons that have provoked violent riots and bolstered anti-Western sentiment across the Muslim world.

Originally published in a Danish newspaper, the cartoons feature drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, a forbidden practice under current interpretations of Islam. Muslims also find the cartoons offensive for the ways they depict Muhammad, which include a drawing of him wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

The Badger Herald based its decision to run that very cartoon on a desire to promote the free exchange of ideas, editor in chief Mac Verstandig said in a Capital Times article.

While the Badger Herald’s editorial board no doubt explored the issue thoroughly, one should question whether the paper published the cartoons simply to increase readership.

But regardless of motive, the Badger Herald’s actions can only exacerbate the situation.

Aside from being insensitive to Muslims, reprinting the cartoon provided an incomplete message to those readers who simply looked at the cartoon and did not read the editorial to gain proper understanding – therefore perpetuating unfair stereotypes about Islam and those who practice it.

The Badger Herald’s editorial on the matter would have served as a sufficient exploration of the issue. The paper could even have provided a link to the offensive cartoons online to provide readers with a more thorough understanding.

But actually publishing one of the cartoons, which have caused so much violence and animosity, crosses the line of responsible journalism.

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The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.
Spectator editorial: Drawing the line