Freedom of Expression,  Media

Comedy Central’s cowardice

I suppose most readers are familiar by now with the craven decision by Comedy Central to censor an episode of “South Park” involving the prophet Mohammad in a bear suit who turns out to be Santa Claus, or something.

Here’s how The New York Times Arts Beat summed it up:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet. Revolution Muslim, a group based in New York, wrote on its Web site that the “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” for an episode shown last week in which a character said to be the Prophet Muhammad was seen wearing a bear costume. Mr. Van Gogh was slain in Amsterdam in 2004 after making a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.

The new episode of “South Park” on Wednesday night tried to revisit this character, but with the name and depiction of the character blocked out. It was unclear how much of the bleeping was Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker’s decision. In a message posted on their Web site,, they wrote that they could not immediately stream the new episode on the site because:

After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show.

On Thursday morning, a spokesman for Comedy Central confirmed that the network had added more bleeps to the episode than were in the cut delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not giving permission for the episode to run on the studio’s Web site.

On Thursday afternoon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone released the following statement:

In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

Times columnist Clyde Haberman writes:

Saying that the “South Park” team would end up like [van Gogh] sure seemed like a death threat, no matter how much Revolution Muslim denied it.

Haberman wonders why nobody from the New York-based Revolution Muslim– which appears to have only a handful of members, including a number of converts– has been arrested. He notes that if somebody publicly declared President Obama would probably meet the same fate as John F. Kennedy, an arrest warrant would not be long in coming.

Fortunately the misfits of Revolution Muslim seem entirely on their own among American Muslims– many of whom may be unhappy about depictions of Mohammad, but aren’t about to get violent over it. This is far more about the cowardice of Comedy Central than it is about any sort of serious threat from radical Islamists.

In case you missed it, this is from the opening sequence of last Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons”: