On the same day two news stories emerge as startling, both reminding us that editors and journalists exercise a particular kind of power that politicians and terrorists alike both seek to degrade.
On January 7, 2015, at least twelve people were killed when armed gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. For the story as well as a profile of Charlie Hebdo‘s controversial history, see USA Today.
BBC News is calling the massacre “an apparent militant Islamist attack” and witnesses report hearing the gunmen shout, ” ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad’ and ‘God is Great’ in Arabic (‘Allahu Akbar’).”
The BBC article continues, describing the ostensible target of the attack:
Stephane Charbonnier, 47, had received death threats in the past and was living under police protection. French media have named the three other cartoonists killed in the attack as Cabu, Tignous and Wolinski, as well as Charlie Hebdo contributor and French economist Bernard Maris. The attack took place during the magazine’s daily editorial meeting.
Cartoonists all over the world are uploading memorials to Charlie Hebdo, to show their support for the slain, and to speak out for democracy and freedom of expression.
Coincidentally democratic principles are being tested here in the States today, though in a way bordering on ridiculous. Frederick County (Maryland) Council Member Kirby Delauter threatened a local journalist with a lawsuit if his name ever showed up in a news story again. NPR offers the backstory, but read the editorial hilariously titled “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter” if you’re curious about how the newspaper’s editor handled the matter.
Although the situations are very different in tone, scale, and scope, we should see both stories as proof of the power editors hold to influence public opinion regarding the truth of the world. Satire has the power to provoke massacres, because it allows us to laugh at the people who set themselves higher than the rest of humanity. But more often, satire just gives us a release, to find humor in the shared joke that the arrogant tell on themselves.