During the moments that the Muhammad/Griffin exchange were to be seen, Comedy Central instead put up a title card: "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network."
Here's how they explained their decision at the time:
Thank you for your correspondence regarding the “South Park” episodes entitled “Cartoon Wars.” We appreciate your concerns about censorship and the destructive influence of outside groups on the media, entertainment industry and particularly Comedy Central.
To reiterate, as satirists, we believe that it is our First Amendment right to poke fun at any and all people, groups, organizations and religions and we will continue to defend that right. Our goal is to make people laugh and perhaps, if we’re lucky, even make them think in the process.
Comedy Central’s belief in the First Amendment has not wavered, despite our decision not to air an image of Muhammad. Our decision was made not to mute the voices of Trey and Matt or because we value one religion over any other. This decision was based solely on concern for public safety in light of recent world events.
With the power of freedom of speech and expression also comes the obligation to use that power in a responsible way. Much as we wish it weren’t the case, times have changed and, as witnessed by the intense and deadly reaction to the publication of the Danish cartoons, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum without considering what impact they may have on innocent individuals around the globe.
It was with this in mind we decided not to air the image of Muhammad, a decision similar to that made by virtually every single media outlet across the country earlier this year when they each determined that it was not prudent or in the interest of safety to reproduce the controversial Danish cartoons. Injuries occurred and lives were lost in the riots set off by the original publication of these cartoons. The American media made a decision then, as we did now, not to put the safety and well being of the public at risk, here or abroad.
As a viewer of “South Park,” you know that over the course of ten seasons and almost 150 episodes the series has addressed all types of sensitive, hot-button issues, religious and political, and has done so with Comedy Central’s full support in every instance, including this one. “Cartoon Wars” contained a very important message, one that Trey and Matt felt strongly about, as did we at the network, which is why we gave them carte blanche in every facet but one: we would not broadcast a portrayal of Muhammad.
In that regard, did we censor the show? Yes, we did. But if you hold Comedy Central’s 15-year track record up against any other network out there, you’ll find that we afford our talent the most creative freedom and provide a nurturing atmosphere that challenges them to be bold and daring and places them in a position to constantly break barriers and push the envelope. The result has been some of the most provocative television ever produced.
We would like nothing more than to be able to look back at this in a few years and think that perhaps we overreacted. Unfortunately, to have made a different decision and to look back and see that we completely underestimated the damage that resulted was a risk we were not willing to take.
Our pledge to you, our loyal viewers, is that Comedy Central will continue to produce and provide the best comedy available and we will continue to push it right to the edge, using and defending the First Amendment in the most responsible way we know how.
Comedy Central Viewer Services
Odd, since a 2001 South Park episode ("Super Best Friends") depicted the Prophet Mohammed, along with Moses, Buddha and a few other religious figures:
However, more recently, Comedy Central's show Li'l Bush included images of God Almighty.
Apparently the Comedy Central people don't quite get the notion that the reason certain Muslims abhor images of Muhammad is that they wish to avoid any appearance of idolatry in violation of the Second Commandment. A depiction of God (Allah Himself!) is no less offensive -- and is in fact more so, since all Muslims agree that images of Allah are idolatrous, even those Muslims who tolerate images of Muhammad as being of a man and not a God.
This brings up an interesting series of questions.
1) Did Comedy Central refuse to air the image of Muhammad for fear of offending the religious sensibilities of Muslims? Clearly not -- and, in fact, the South Park episode in question included an image of Jesus Christ defecating on George Bush and the American flag, an image that was aired by Comedy Central without comment.
2) If Comedy Central is unconcerned with offending Christians and Jews, why would it show concern over offending Muslims? The executives of Comedy Central are simply afraid of violent retaliation by offended Muslim fundamentalists. But if that's the case, why not have the same fear of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists? After all, the official position of the politically correct is that fundamentalists of all religious stripes are equally violent and equally to blame for the chaos and terrorism afoot in the world today. Look at Christiane Amanpour's "God's Soldiers" on CNN for a perfect example of this reasoning.
3) Yes, the executives at Comedy Central are cowards, afraid that airing an image of Muhammad will mark them and their families as targets for for suicide bombers. But only Muslim suicide bombers, apparently -- and thus they are also bigots who assume that Muslims are prone to violence and murder whereas Christians and Jews are prone to peaceful protest and reasoned argumentation.
4) Because Comedy Central has made its reputation on its proclaimed willingness to "speak truth to power" and "hold nothing sacred," its executives are hypocrites in the extreme. The courage to speak truth to power -- to change society through a willingness to poke fun at its shibboleths -- must necessarily include the courage to stand up to those who use violence for censorship. The cowardice to shrink from doing so is worse than the mere failure to act: it is an act of emboldening, strengthening and empowering the enemies of free speech and free thought. Put another way: the willingness to hide from Muslim violence may one day encourage the rise of Christian or Jewish violence, because that willingness has proven how effective violence is as a tool of censorship.