Jon Stewart, Barack Obama, Conan O’Brien, and ‘The Onion’ React to the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Tragedy


On Wednesday, tragic news broke that a terrorist attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, left 12 people dead, with more seriously wounded. Those killed were cartoonists, journalists, editors, and police. One of the assailants has turned himself in, while two of the main suspects are still at large.

In the wake of this tragedy, protests and demonstrations of support for the magazine broke out across the world, drawing attention to the necessity of creative freedom and the freedom of speech. American political and cultural leaders also reacted strongly, responding on TV, in interviews, and over Twitter.

When asked about the events of the attack, comedian and 30 Rock creator Tina Fey defended all forms of satire and speech. “Obviously, that news is terrible and tragic and upsetting,” Fey said Thursday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena. “You look at that and you look at the controversy surrounding The Interview, it makes you think about how important free speech is and how it absolutely must be defended. [We] cannot back down on free speech in any way. We all have to stand firm on the issue of free speech.”

Fellow satire outlet The Onion responded wryly with a post titled, “It Sadly Unclear Whether This Article Will Put Lives At Risk.” The article, in addition to highlighting the sad absurdity of the violence, also skewered the motivations behind the attack, saying, “Reports further confirmed that to somehow use this article — or indeed any article or any piece of self-expression — as a pretext to violence, let alone deadly violence, is simply impossible to justify and should never, ever transpire in human civilization. Then again, sources added, that’s what actually happened today.”

Reactions continued with Barack Obama speaking out for “America’s oldest ally,” and then as the day wore on, late night hosts picked up the thread. 

Speaking to reporters, President Barack Obama offered his condolences, calling the attack “horrific,” and showing support to the attacked nation. “France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers,” he said. “We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice.”

Bill Maher discussed the role of religion in the Charlie Hebdo attack on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, resulting in a bitter and angry tirade from Maher.

Conan O’Brien addressed awareness for the acceptance of satire in media by opening his show and posting a video statement on his Team Coco website on Wednesday night after the attack, stating: “This story really hits home for anyone who day in and day out mocks political, social, and religious figures. In this country, we just take it for granted that it’s our right to poke fun at the untouchable or the sacred. Today’s tragedy in Paris reminds us very viscerally that it’s a right some people are inexplicably forced to die for.”

Jon Stewart also opened the Wednesday night Daily Show with a serious and heartfelt statement, saying that producing comedy shouldn’t have to be an “act of courage.”

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