President Obama Wednesday emphatically defended freedom of expression following the Islamist attack on a French magazine, but his own White House lent moral support to free speech opponents and contributed to the opprobrium surrounding the magazine when it criticized in 2012 the very cartoonists who were murdered.
This is not to say the White House is in any way responsible for the attacks. The terrorists who did this surely had more than enough of their own warped ideological motivation to proceed. But Obama’s passionate, and even commendable defense Wednesday of the freedom of the cartoonists to express themselves is nevertheless hypocritical in light of his own effort to limit their speech.
Wednesday, Obama said:
The fact that this was an attack on journalists, attack on our free press, also underscores the degree to which these terrorists fear freedom — of speech and freedom of the press. But the one thing that I’m very confident about is that the values that we share with the French people, a belief — a universal belief in the freedom of expression, is something that can’t be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few.
But speaking to reporters at the daily briefing on September, 19, 2012, then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested that the cartoonists lacked “judgment” and should stand down:
Well, we are aware that a French magazine published cartoons featuring a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad, and obviously, we have questions about the judgment of publishing something like this. We know that these images will be deeply offensive to many and have the potential to be inflammatory. But we’ve spoken repeatedly about the importance of upholding the freedom of expression that is enshrined in our Constitution.
In other words, we don’t question the right of something like this to be published; we just question the judgment behind the decision to publish it. And I think that that’s our view about the video that was produced in this country and has caused so much offense in the Muslim world.
Now, it has to be said, and I’ll say it again, that no matter how offensive something like this is, it is not in any way justification for violence — not in any way justification for violence.
Carney is careful to wrap himself in the mantle of free speech even while clearly demanding silence. This, in scientific terms, is called covering one’s ass. The flowery add-ons about free speech directly contradict the point of the comment, which is that the cartoonists should stop publishing “deeply offensive” material.
As has been said many times, but apparently not within earshot of the Obama White House, free speech protections are meant to safeguard unpopular speech, not platitudes everyone accepts.
H/T to Chuck Ross at The Daily Caller.