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Not All Publications Reprint Material From 'Charlie Hebdo'


We are spending this morning tracking the hunt for Cherif and Said Kouachi. Those are the two men suspected of the shooting at the offices of a French satirical magazine this week.

Today, outside Paris, two men stole a car. The victim thought she recognized the two suspects, who've now been chased to a building. Television channels around the world are showing footage of that standoff near Charles de Gaulle Airport.

News agencies had a tougher time deciding whether to air the cartoons that apparently set the shooters off. They are unquestionably offensive to some people, so we asked NPR's David Folkenflik about the decision-making process news outlets faced.

So what is the case for picking up these cartoons and other material that many people find offensive and republishing them?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Right, and this is a conscious choice. You're talking about a lot of offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad, someone who many Muslims believe should not be depicted or represented in imagery at all. The case being made is one of standing up for freedom of expression, even if that expression does offend people. The entire guiding principles since 1970, the establishment of Charlie Hebdo, is one that there's no ox that cannot be gored, no faith that cannot be satirized, no political figure or political party that cannot be made fun of, that every institution in French society should be subject to scrutiny and therefore, subject to satire as well. Republishing those covers, even ones that offended a lot of people, is a way of expressing that in the days since these deaths.

INSKEEP: And what are some news organizations that have made that choice? They're going to republish these cartoons.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you've seen that in, perhaps a specific and defined way, The Washington Post and USA Today on Thursday published cartoons that were among the most offensive ones, just single cartoons, not an enormous number of them. You saw greater galleries from online sites like The Daily Beast and Slate.

But, you know, news organizations that have significant presences around the world have been much more cautious. You've seen the BBC, The New York Times, NPR, CNN and others make clear that they are very unlikely to show those images themselves, limiting themselves much more to describing what offended people, describing what Charlie Hebdo has done over the years.

INSKEEP: OK, those organizations you described as sometimes being a little more international in character - what explanation did they give? What argument do they make for restraining themselves?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the argument that you hear - a place like New York Times will say, you know, we don't air things that are deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. The Associated Press made the same argument. Places like CNN and NPR, officials have told me that they're in constant discussion about how best to do this. But there is also the recognition that you have reporters on staff and producers and stringers as well who are around the world in places where there's significant Muslim populations, often places of conflict, where journalists are exposed to danger. And they don't want to be a part of a renewed episode that focuses attention on their news organization and the safety of their journalists, who are trying to bring news from often complicated and dangerous places around the world by simply cavalierly reposting or republishing somebody else's incendiary cartoon, as satisfying as it might be as a statement of the principle of free speech.

INSKEEP: One other thing, David Folkenflik. Are there news organizations that have sort of published the cartoons without publishing them? Putting up, for example, archival photos of slain cartoonists who happened to be holding one of their cartoons at the time they were photographed?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and I think that would be, you know, seen as, in a sense, a declaration of defiance by republishing the cartoon. What has interested me is that you have seen Stephane Charbonnier, the slain editor, holding up the cover of his magazine after the firebombing in 2011, and the copy he's holding includes the offending cartoon on it. And that photograph has been republished many times in publications now that are cropping out the actual image, the offending image itself. It's an understandable approach. If you made a decision that that's not an image you're going to broadcast or reprint, you're not going to do it in a photograph either.

But at the same time, it's sort of cutting out part of his political point that he was making, bravely and quite sadly in retrospect, after the firebombing that didn't damage any lives. Now, of course, his life and those of many of his colleagues were taken this week.

INSKEEP: NPR's David Folkenflik is in New York. David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.