Americans are free to characterize political leaders as corrupt and vapid empty suits, corporate titans as soulless money-grubbers and religious leaders as proselytizing charlatans. We can question the ancestry of our commander-in-chief, mock the authenticity of our House speaker's tears, second-guess our secretary of state.
We're at liberty to disparage fellow reporters and commentators as "lamestream" or "drive-by" media, to use the pet phrases of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. (To some, maybe CBS news foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan, who was assaulted and nearly killed by an Egyptian mob last week, fits that dismissive label. To others, she's as much a brave defender of U.S. principles and values as any soldier.)
But whether you're paid millions for your opinion, or nothing, it's easy to forget that freedom-lovers elsewhere risk paying with their lives to speak their versions of truth to power.
I've kept in touch recently with a young Egyptian cartoonist, Amr Okasha, whose piece hailing the end of the Mubarak regime you see here. I met Amr at a U.S. State Department-sponsored event in Portland last year, and was reacquainted with him through the Cartoonists Rights Network, a non-profit that looks after the interests of cartoonists, mostly abroad, who run into trouble.
The cases of the Danish cartoonists who dared to draw Mohammed are widely known, but most CRN clients are not.
Prageeth Eknaligoda, a Sri Lankan recipient of our annual Courage in Cartooning award, has been missing for a year, and many others have suffered jailings and beatings at the hands of authorities who, shall we say, lack a sense of humor.
Happily, our Egyptian cohorts are not at risk for the moment. It's a different story for their counterparts in other parts of the Arab world, where anti-authoritarian fervor has met with suffocating edicts and brute force.
Amr e-mailed Feb. 4 that "... we are now in the streets to protect our property ... criminals and members of the secret police come at night to shoot us ... One of my neighbors was killed the day before yesterday ..."
By Feb.14, an entirely different story: "We are still celebrating in the streets ... everyone raises the flag of Egypt ... my seven-year-old daughter ... she wants to take a photo beside the tank ... everyone is cooperating to clean up Tahrir Square ..."
What a difference 10 days make to a courageous journalist. Or a lamestream media stooge, as Hosni Mubarak might regard him.