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Austin Cline

Daily Illini? Daily Cowards: Editor Fired by Email Over Cartoons

By March 18, 2006

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Acton Gorton was the editor of the Daily Illini who chose to publish some of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. He was almost immediately suspended and even before this he guessed he would probably be fired. Turns out he was right - and the cowards couldn't even do it to his face, they had to use email.

Eric Zorn quotes from the Illini Board statement:

Decisions have been made regarding the status of suspended Daily Illini Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska. Gorton has been relieved of his duties while Prochaska has been invited to return as the opinions editor.

Decisions have been made? Interesting way for them to avoid taking personal, specific responsibility for their actions.

The Illini Media Co. board of directors - following a thorough review, a report by a student task force of senior members of the staff, and a hearing with Gorton - found that Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material.

Zorn wrote to Mary Cory asking what those policies are, how many people should be involved in these discussions, what qualifies as “inflammatory,” etc. I doubt that there are any good answers to such questions — the standards are all designed to be too vague to easily follow, but they do allow the people in charge to fire anyone who does something unpopular.

Gorton himself writes:

Last night’s meeting before the board of directors took only about 10 minutes of the 30 minutes I was allotted to defend myself against the allegations levied against me. There were no questions. Just a curt dismissal after my statement. And I wasn’t interviewed by the “student task force”.

I’ve got a mid-term exam I have to study for tonight, so I can’t be up all night working on addressing this issue, but let me say this last part. If this was about the process and not the publishing, then why was every trace of the cartoons systematically wiped from existence at the Daily Illini’s website, including the request from the company to Google.com that they take down the cache of the original cartoons?

Censorship is spreading. Gorton links to a story about how the student newspaper at Oregon State University is now pre-clearing material with Muslim students before publishing — and deleting sections that are deemed offensive:

[DD Bixby, the Barometer’s editor-in-chief.] said editors have been checking copy with Muslim students, and on Tuesday deleted one paragraph from a piece scheduled to be published the next day.

Why not just pass every column by everyone who might ever be offended by something? That’s impractical. The newspaper should just establish one general censor who makes sure that nothing offensive can ever get through, right? Of course, in the end only those with power will be able to impose their will via censorship — minorities never have and never will benefit from any censorship regime. Those who seek censorship to protect their delicate sensibilities will only end up getting bit by it in the end.


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