Freedom of expression does not come free. Neither does freedom of the press.
A brutal reminder of those facts arrived Wednesday when masked cowards carrying automatic weapons burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris, ultimately killing 10 staff members and two police officers.
The rampage was condemned by political leaders worldwide. They realize an assault of this kind is an attack against freedoms cherished by many people around the globe.
And notably, cartoonists and journalists of many nationalities quickly offered powerful drawings and opinion articles to stand up for the power of the pen.
The terrorism attack was immediately linked to the paper’s longtime practice of using cartoons to mock Islam, partly because of some defiant chants the gunmen uttered before fleeing. But the murders of innocent people cannot be excused for any reason. Charlie Hebdo has satirized many other religions as well as politicians and celebrities for decades, all part of an effort to afflict those with power.
The atrocities in Paris join other recent attempts to muzzle free expression and a free press.
A cyber attack against Sony that included threats to moviegoers briefly complicated the release of “The Interview,” a comedy that features the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
And just Tuesday, in a far tamer moment, a Maryland newspaper’s editorial went viral by making fun of Kirby Delauter, a local politician who laughably threatened to sue if the paper used his name without his permission. The editorial liberally printed his name before making a more serious point. It noted that another elected official had defended Delauter, saying, “I think media outlets are cowards and they hide behind their labels of journalists....”
“Cowards?” wrote The Frederick News-Post. “Tell that to the families of the 60 journalists killed in 2014, or the 70 in 2013, or the 74 who died in 2012.... All in pursuit of the truth, or the most reliable version of it at hand in the most dangerous regions of the world.”
Thankfully, most journalists are not in danger for informing the public or challenging those in power. But Wednesday’s shocking events remind us that satire and other forms of expression are vulnerable to attack, even as free societies depend on them to guard against fear and tyranny.