The Dangers of Defamation and Ridicule in the Media: Why Freedom of Speech Must be Restricted
No one can doubt that images and stereotypes presented in the media are very powerful. In many cases, they form a person’s perception of reality. In particular, many of the West, more so in the US than in Europe, do not have first hand experiences with Muslims and therefore they must rely on the media to develop their perception of Islam and Muslims. Nacos and Torres-Reyna write, “Some 55 years ago, before the advent of television, Walter Lippmann observed that what people know about the world around them is mostly the result of second-hand knowledge received through the press and that the ‘pictures in our heads’ are the result of a pseudo-reality reflected in the news.”

Thus, the press bears a great responsibility. What and how the press presents something can ultimately lead to decisions of life and death or war and peace. Indeed, political cartoons and yellow journalism can be sufficient to drive a country into a war frenzy—as they appeal to the emotions of the masses. Anyone familiar with the Spanish-American War is well aware of this fact. There were powerful forces in the United States who were determined to go to war against Spain, fearing the “Spanish threat” on the Americas. The New York Morning Journal (headed by William Randolph Hearst) and The New York World used yellow journalism to depict Spanish oppression in Cuba. Even though President McKinley wanted to follow a hands-off policy, the effect of the media was such that it led to great popular support to come to the aid of the Cubans. This put great pressure upon President McKinley, leading him to send the Battleship Maine to Havana in 1898. The Battleship Maine exploded. The Navy at that time was unable to determine the cause of the explosion—although more recently many have concluded that it was due to mechanical problems. At that time, the Spanish offered to turn the issue of responsibility over to an arbitrator. However, even without being able to identify the exact cause of the explosion, the media pounced on the opportunity, spread the slogan “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain” and continued to depict the evil Spaniards in their cartoons. The United States was now definitely going to war. The lessons of those events should not be lost on the world today.

Another example of the influence of the press is discussed in the following passage: “The racism that led to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was created partly by the motion picture industry, which for years typecast Orientals as villains, and partly by the press, especially the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst.”  Today, of course, the internment of the Japanese is something that Americans remember with shame—while at the same time, the media continues to play its role, as can be seen by the fact that even years after the Invasion of Iraq, many people still believed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks..

The result—if not the goal—of blatant defamation and ridicule is the dehumanization of the enemy. When the enemy is dehumanized, one no longer cares how much they suffer. One can then do things to them that humans would, under normal circumstances, completely shun—such as all forms of horrendous torture and humiliation.