President Barack Obama has a moral responsibility to push back on the nation’s journalism community when it is planning to publish anti-jihadi articles that might cause a jihadi attack against the nation’s defense forces, the White House’s press secretary said Jan. 12.
“The president … will not now be shy about expressing a view or taking the steps that are necessary to try to advocate for the safety and security of our men and women in uniform” whenever journalists’ work may provoke jihadist attacks, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at the White House’s daily briefing.
The unprecedented reversal of Americans’ civil-military relations, and of the president’s duty to protect the First Amendment, was pushed by Earnest as he tried to excuse the administration’s opposition in 2012 to the publication of anti-jihadi cartoons by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The White House voiced its objections in 2012 after the magazine’s office were burned by jihadis, followings its publication of anti-jihadi cartoons.
Earnest’s defense of those 2012 objections came just five days after the magazine’s office was attacked by additional jihadis. Eight journalists, two policeman and a visitor were murdered by two French-born Muslims who objected to the magazine’s criticism of Islam’s final prophet.
In 2012, “there was a genuine concern that the publication of some of those materials could put Americans abroad at risk, including American soldiers at risk,” Earnest said.
“That is something that the commander in chief takes very seriously,” he added, before saying that “the president and his spokesman was not then and will not now be shy about expressing a view or taking the steps that are necessary to try to advocate for the safety and security of our men and women in uniform.”
In December, Congress approved and the president signed a $585 billion defense budget to train and equip soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen to defend Americans — including journalists — from foreign threats. The nation’s media industry does not have a defense budget to protect soldiers.
Earnest tried to rationalize the president’s opposition to the publication of anti-jihadist materials as a moral duty.
Whenever journalists consider publishing materials disliked by jihadis, “I think there are a couple of absolutes,” he told the reporters.
The first is “that the publication of any kind of material in no way justifies any act of violence, let alone an act of violence that we saw on the scale in Paris,” he said.
The second absolute is the president’s duty to lobby editors and reporters against publishing anti-jihadi information, he said. “And there is — this president, as the commander in chief, believes strongly in the responsibility that he has to advocate for our men and women in uniform, particularly if it’s going to make them safer,” Earnest said.
He repeated the two-fisted formulation a moment later. “What won’t change is our view that that freedom of expression in no way justifies an act of violence against the person who expressed a view. And the president considers the safety and security of our men and women in uniform to be something worth fighting for,” he said.
Throughout the press conference, Earnest repeatedly said the media would be able to decide on its own whether to publish pictures, articles or facts that could prompt another murderous jihad attack by Muslim against journalists.
But he did not say that his government has a constitutional and moral duty to use the nation’s huge military to protect journalists from armed jihadis, but instead hinted strongly that journalists should submit to jihadi threats.
“I think that there are any number of reasons that [U.S.] media organizations have made a decision not to reprint the cartoons” after the January attack, he said. “In some cases, maybe they were concerned about their physical safety. In other cases, they were exercising some judgment in a different way. So we certainly would leave it to media organizations to make a decision like this.”
“What I’m saying is that individual news organizations have to assess that risk for themselves,” he said. “I think the point in the mind of the president and certainly everybody here at the White House is that that is a question that should be answered by journalists.”
“I’m confident in saying that for the vast majority of media organizations, that [fear is] not the only factor. But I would readily concede that it is one in the minds of many of those news executives. But again, that is a decision for all of them to make,” he said.
Obama’s willingness to pressure media outlets, to quit defending First Amendment rights and also to mollify jihadis, reflects Obama’s overall policy of minimizing conflict with militant Islam.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has tried to shift the public’s focus away from the jihadi threat toward his domestic priorities.
He also repeatedly praised Islam and Muslims, and criticized criticism of Islam. “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” he told a worldwide TV audience during a September 2012 speech at the United Nations.
“As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam,” he declared in a 2009 speech in Cairo. “It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar [seminary] — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment,” he claimed.
Obama ha also tried to elevate the status of Islam in the West. “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam,” he told his audience in Cairo. “It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. … I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story.”
To reduce the public’s focus on jihadis, Obama has even named the jihadi threat as a non-specific issue of “violent extremism,” and has repeatedly said jihadis have no connection with Islam. “Those who have studied and practiced this religion would tell you — Islam is a peaceful religion. … [Violent acts are] entirely inconsistent with the basic principles of that peaceful religion,” Earnest said Jan. 12.
But that claim of a peaceful Islam was repeatedly coupled with Obama’s policy of pressuring journalists not to anger aggressive Muslim believers. “I will say that there have been occasions … where the administration will make clear our point of view on some of those assessments based on the need to protect the American people and to protect our men and women in uniform,” Earnest said.
“I wouldn’t rule out making those kinds of expressions again,” he added.