The mainstream media could not have handled coverage of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy worse if they sat around a conference room table and said, "How can we simultaneously insult the Muslim community, denigrate the work of the victims of a terrorist attack and set our rights to freedom of the press back into the days of the Spanish Inquisition?"
If they have any regard for the gravity of what happened, here are a few things I'm begging American media outlets to fix right now.
1) Stop randomly interviewing Muslim citizens and showing their social media responses to catalog "how they feel about this attack."
This is both horribly demeaning and fruitless. This is not an attack related to the Islamic faith. It is a terrorist attack by insane people who hide behind a bastardized interpretation of their religion. When white men commit atrocities such as Newtown, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing, the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords (the list, pointedly, could go on and on) then you can count on terrible and pointless interviews filling our airwaves for weeks on end. What you won't see are Baptists, agnostics, Catholics -- or people of whatever spiritual background the terrorist happened to identify himself -- being rounded up and quizzed to see if they think murder is really REALLY bad.
Plus, the responses tend to be the non-story we would predict them to be because it would be in poor taste to answer these types of questions honestly. Otherwise we'd see more things like, "Yes, I think cold-blooded killing of people is bad. Thank you oh so much for the patronizing need to have me state that for the record. I am also angry, sad and a little bit scared because here comes another round of anti-Islamic rhetoric and nonsense that my family will have to put up with because three idiots with brown skin did something horrific somewhere on the planet. By the way, I think cancer is bad too if you're interested in more mundane polling."
2) Stop pretending that the reason you are not showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons is because you are suddenly scared to offend people.
In recent memory on various "reputable" news outlets I have seen reprints of Anthony Weiner's crotch shots, cartoons with my president's facial features exaggerated in an arguably racist fashion and Kim Kardashian balancing champagne on her bare ass. As a parent who's a non-racist feminist, I happen to find all of that highly offensive for obvious reasons. I'm also an adult who realizes that I can change a channel, turn a page or click a different key to move on with my life.
Here's a news flash for the mainstream media: The Muslim-American community is filled with sane, rational adults that comprehend what has happened and the context of this important discussion. Their "sensibilities" will be just fine. To imply otherwise insults the intelligence and emotional maturity of all involved. (I'm looking at you New York Times.)
3) Stop acting like you are protecting your staff members when you cower to terrorism.
This is Bullying 101: When you give in to a bully's demands then they learn that their system of using fear to get what they want works on you. If you keep giving them your milk money then they will keep punching you when they want it.
By not reprinting those cartoons in any form, you may have felt a little more at ease when you came into work for the next few days, but you also set a precedent. The minute that a terrorist is willing to murder because they don't like what a journalist says, you just taught them that you will comply with their demands.
Where does it end? If terrorists kill another set of people and claim that it's because they hate the American flag, do we pull that symbol of our freedom from our buildings in the name of "safety"?
Though this attack happened in France, there are few things considered to be more American than our right to our freedom of speech. By contrast there should be few things less patriotic than skulking away with our tail between our legs when someone threatens that freedom.
This was not just a moment for our news media to show sorrow; it was a time where they should have shown solidarity alongside people who died doing their jobs. It was a not enough for them to express their grief; they had the duty -- and the opportunity -- to show defiance against those that threatened a core tenet of our Democracy. The next time some psychopath spills blood for ink (and there will be a next time) then we demand better from our so-called fourth branch of government. Not only should they stand behind the art someone died to create; they should proudly display it on anything standing still.
Je suis Charlie.
Shawna Vercher is an author, media strategist and political correspondent in Florida. While she does not consider herself a journalist, she does consider herself fortunate to live in a country where - for now - she will not be imprisoned for expressing her opinions. Learn more about Shawna and her work at www.ShawnaVercher.com.