Juggling controversial images is tricky business.
On Monday, The New York Times published an image of Niki Johnson’s “Eggs Benedict,” a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI made entirely from condoms.
The portrait, she told the Times, is “not hate-based.” Rather, she intends to criticize the Pontiff for his views on contraception while de-stigmatizing condoms. Johnson’s work was recently accepted by the Milwaukee Art Museum but it isn’t on display as the museum is undergoing renovations.Image Credit: Screen shot/The New York Times)
Yet, the Times’ decision to run the portrait comes only months after the august paper declined to publish cartoons of Muhammad from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
At the time, executive editor Dean Baquet told The Washington Examiner that the Muhammad cartoons, which led to the death of 17 people at the hands of Muslim extremists in France, were too offensive to print:
“Was it hard to deny our readers these images? Absolutely. But we still have standards, and they involve not running offensive material. … They are provocative on purpose. They show religious figures in sexual positions. We do not show those.”
But the condom Pope portrait doesn’t violate those standards, apparently.A person reads an issue of Satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo to be published on November 2, 2011, whose cover features prophet Mohammed. (Photo: MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
As the Times’ associate managing editor for standards Phil Corbett told the Examiner Monday:
“I don’t think these situations – the Milwaukee artwork and the various Muhammad caricatures – are really equivalent. For one thing, many people might disagree, but museum officials clearly consider this Johnson piece to be a significant artwork.”
“Also, there’s no indication that the primary intent of the portrait is to offend or blaspheme (the artist and the museum both say that it is not intended to offend people but to raise a social question about the fight against AIDS). And finally, the very different reactions bears this out. “Hundreds of thousands of people protested worldwide, for instance, after the Danish cartoons were published some years ago.
“While some people might genuinely dislike this Milwaukee work, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable level of outrage.”
As Becket Adams at The Washington Examiner notes, the Times has a history of reproducing controversial images inconsistently.
In 1999, for example, the Times published Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a painting of Christ’s mother made from animal feces and pornographic images. And in 2005, 2006 and 2010, the Times republished anti-Semitic cartoons in full.