It happened during their weekly editorial meeting.
Heavily armed gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday morning, singling out the newspaper's editor by name. The attackers shot and killed 10 people there. Two police officers were also killed, and at least 11 others were injured.
The brutal attack rattled newsrooms everywhere. It's becoming clear that the attackers sought revenge for stories and cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication that often lampooned militant Islam and mocked the religion's venerated Prophet Muhammad.
Some Western publications wondered whether to reprint Hebdo's controversial cartoons in their own coverage. Run the pictures and some say you're deliberately fanning the flames. Don't run them and others say you're caving to terrorists. The Associated Press and The New York Times decided against it; CNN said it wouldn't broadcast the images "at this time." Newer media such as BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, however, ran some of the cartoons.
Charlie Hebdo had been threatened—and attacked—in the past. In 2011, its offices were firebombed after it published an issue "guest edited" by Muhammad. Editors were apparently not fazed. A week later, they ran a cover depicting a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist kissing a bearded, presumably Muslim man against the backdrop of their burned office. The headline read, in French, "Love is stronger than hate."
Journalists were quick to call the rampage an attack on press freedom. And in Thursday editorials in French, American, and British newspapers, they added that the attack threatens speech not only in France but also across the globe.
Le Monde praised the Hebdo staff for its courage despite numerous threats. "Every week, armed with only their pencils, they continued their fight for freedom of thought and expression," its director wrote. He went on:
Some did not hide their fear, but all surmounted it. Soldiers of freedom, of our freedom, they died for it. Died for drawings. Through them, it was freedom of expression—of the press as well as of all citizens—that was the assassins' target. It was this freedom to inform and to inform oneself, to debate and to critique, to understand and to convince, this independence of spirit, this necessary and vital audacity of freedom that the killers wanted to crush with their bullets.
The managing editor of le Figaro called the attack a "real war" on Western values:
For a long time we did not want to see this war. It was happening so far from us, wasn't it, within the borders of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, or Libya. For doubt—certainly for fear, as well—we didn't dare say its name. Doomsayers who were not afraid to upend the order were promptly discounted. The warning signs ... were immediately minimized. Since yesterday, the euphemisms are no longer acceptable: it's a war, a real war, that was declared on us: the war of Islamic fanaticism against the West, Europe, and the values of democracy.
Libération's publishing director said the newspaper stands strongly in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo's mission:
Charlie was intelligent laughter, unforgiving laughter, derision, the refusal of tragedy, hopeful irony, Voltaire in vignettes, a kick in the fanatics' ass. Against pencils, crayons, and bubbles, they took out their Kalashnikovs. What a confession of weakness! When one has no argument, he fires.
So they killed Charlie? No. They missed. Charlie will live thanks to its readers, Charlie will live in spirit through us all. We are all Charlie.
The New York Times wrote that some people could say Hebdo "tempted the ire of Islamists one too many times, as if coldblooded murder is the price to pay for putting out a magazine." But stifling democratic processes is no way to stop terrorist attacks, the editorial board writes. More:
Just days after the 9/11 attacks, an editorial in the newspaper Le Monde declared: "We are all Americans." In France, "Je suis Charlie"—"I am Charlie"—has gone viral as the words to show solidarity with the victims at Charlie Hebdo. This attack was an assault on freedom everywhere.
The Washington Post called the attack "a direct challenge to the West's commitment to free expression." It went on:
The reaction must be not only one of protest and determination to apprehend the perpetrators. Media in democratic nations must also consciously commit themselves to rejecting intimidation by Islamic extremists or any other movement that seeks to stifle free speech through violence.
The Guardian wrote that the gunmen were aiming at free speech:
When men and women have gone to their deaths for nothing more than what they have said, or drawn, there is only one side to be on. The hooded thugs trained their Kalashnikovs on free speech everywhere. If they are allowed to force a loss of nerve, conversation will become inhibited, and liberty of thought itself will falter too.
The Financial Times described the attack as "more than a human tragedy":
It was a calculated act of intimidation, an attack on the freedom of expression that is the pillar of any democratic society. It was designed to seed an insidious form of self-censorship. It must be roundly and defiantly condemned.
The Telegraph wrote that some publications' decision to not publish controversial cartoons doesn't mean they are caving to terrorists:
Free speech offers latitude but not necessarily license. It does not follow that because many newspapers, such as this one, do not publish cartoons of Mohammed that somehow we have been intimidated into not speaking out. Any suggestion that a publication failing to follow Charlie Hebdo's example is caving into terrorism is absurd: we all make editorial decisions to avoid offending people that have nothing to do with appeasing militant Islamists.