Editor's Letter: Rewarding bad behavior

The definitive account of the Danish cartoons; Clinton and Kim Jong Il; Killing grandma with death panels

Yale University Press will soon be releasing The Cartoons That Shook the World, touted as the “definitive account” of the Danish drawings that sparked deadly riots throughout the Muslim world in 2006 because they mocked both Islamic extremism and the Prophet Mohammed. The “definitive” part is debatable: The book will not include the cartoons that are at the heart of the saga. The risk of having “blood on my hands,” explains publisher John Donatich, was just too great. Now there’s a profile in courage. When even Yale University Press must self-censor a scholarly work intended for an academic audience, something’s deeply wrong. Chalk up another victory for Islamic fanatics in their holy war against intellectual freedom.

Child psychologists call this sort of thing “rewarding bad behavior,” and there’s a lot of it going around. When Bill Clinton flew to North Korea to meet and pose with Kim Jong Il before returning with two captured American journalists, Kim was essentially being rewarded for sentencing the pair to 12 years of hard labor. Closer to home, policymakers have succumbed to a different kind of intimidation. Last week, senators dropped from their health-care reform bill Medicare coverage of voluntary counseling on living wills, hospice care, and other “end of life” issues. Until recently, such programs enjoyed broad bipartisan support. But that was before opponents began arguing that the bill would create “death panels” that could soon be “killing grandma.” Republicans who once backed end-of-life counseling are expressing astonishment at how it’s been distorted. But the counseling provision may be sacrificed so that senior citizens aren’t frightened—proving once again that when it comes to exerting political power, fear often trumps reason.

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