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Illinois Student Newspaper Editors Suspended for Running the Danish Cartoons:

A Statement from the Publisher in the latest Daily Illini says:

A student task force has been formed by the Illini Media board of directors and the company's publisher to investigate the internal decision-making and communication surrounding the publishing of The Daily Illini Opinions Page of Thursday, Feb. 9.

The student staff in The Daily Illini newsroom has questioned in print and in meetings the manner in which Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska produced the page. While the task force convenes for approximately two weeks, these two editors have been suspended, and Managing Editors Shira Weissman and Jason Koch will serve together as interim editor in chief.

The board and publisher reaffirm that final decisions about content in The Daily Illini rest with the editor in chief. But the board and publisher also recognize that journalistic norms regarding professional behavior dictate that it is the editor's obligation to engage other student editors and student staff members in rigorous discussion and debate of sensitive content.

Mary Cory
Publisher and General Manager
Illini Media Co.

The Daily Illini is an independent nonprofit in which the ultimate decisionmaking authority is in the hands of the publisher and an eight-member board, which consists of four students and four faculty members.

I'm pretty sure there's no constitutional problem here; the board of directors of a nonprofit publication is entitled to ultimately control what the publication publishes, and to control who gets to make the daily decisions about such matters. That some of the board of directors members are faculty at a public university doesn't change the matter; I don't believe they're acting in their official capacity, and, even if they were speaking for the university so that the newspaper were a university-controlled organ, the university would generally be entitled to dictate what is published in the media that it controls. (A public university is not entitled to dictate what is published in privately owned student newspapers; but here either the newspaper is private and controlled by a board of directors acting in its private capacity, or [less likely] it would be seen as being controlled by faculty members acting as public officials, in which case it's no longer really quite private.)

Nonetheless, one can certainly question whether the board of directors decision is sound. The cartoons are extremely newsworthy; to understand the worldwide events of the last several weeks, people have to be able to see the cartoons. They are indeed easily available online, but it certainly makes sense that a paper publication would want to make them instantly available to its readers, rather than providing a link that they hope their readers will eventually plug into a browser.

The strongest defense I can see of the Board's decision is if indeed the editor's decision violated traditional consultative norms of the Daily Illini editorial process. If the Daily Illini had indeed generally been run on a principle that, before any "sensitive content" (e.g., potentially offensive criticism of Christianity, material that some readers might find vulgar, and so on) is published, the editor must "engage other student editors and student staff members in rigorous discussion and debate" of the subject, then an editor's departure from this norm might be seen as an undue arrogation of decisionmaking authority. I don't think that there are any general "journalistic norms" requiring such consultation — a dictatorial editorial model is perfectly within journalistic norms, it seems to me (with some possible exceptions that are not applicable here). But if there are such norms at the Daily Illini, the Board may reasonably insist that the norms continue to be followed, to protect a decisionmaking process that it finds valuable.

I'd love to know more about this procedural justification that the Board is giving. Do any readers know more details on what actually happened here, and what Daily Illini practice has been? Has the Board made more detailed statements on the subject? Are the Illini's own "journalistic standards" available somewhere? Here is what one of the suspended editors says (I quote from a Chicago Tribune article on the controversy):

Acton Gorton, 25, said he believes he made a sound journalistic decision in running six of the cartoons because the public has a right to judge their content. He said he consulted with top staff members and journalism instructors before making the decision to publish them in Thursday's newspaper.
Here's the contrary view:
[O]n Monday, the paper ran an editorial apologizing for Gorton's decision and called the move "a blatant abuse of power" by a "renegade editor who firmly believes that his will is also the will of the paper."

The task force will study whether Gorton made his decision in a vacuum that was improper according to the Illini's journalistic standards, written in 1947.

Thanks to reader Mark Deming for the pointer.

DavidBernstein (mail):
Somehow my comment didn't make it, and I don't have time to replicate it, but a quick Google search for "Daily Illini" and anti-Semitism will show that the Illini has been perfectly willing to court controversy on issues related to the Middle East without concern for, at least, Jewish sensibilities, and without any editors being suspended.
2.15.2006 1:15pm
tefta (mail):
Ah, the liberal mindset at work. A wondrous thing.
2.15.2006 1:25pm
jgshapiro (mail):
Here is a link to an article in today's Daily Illini about the reaction to the incident from the Muslim community on campus.

Interesting, how the speakers (one from CAIR, others from campus) try to turn the dispute into one about "hate" for Muslims. Mobin Shorish, who is described as an emeritus professor in comparative education and economics of education, goes even further, claiming that printing the cartoons is contrary to the mission of a university (!) because [this is a paraphrase from the reporter] learning cannot take place in a hostile environment.

Does the printing of offensive material - even assuming that this is objectively offensive to a reasonable person - constitute an act of hostility toward the reader? How can that view possibly be reconciled with a free press, let alone consistent with the mission of a university?

And when you take way the assumption of offensiveness according to an objective standard, and replace it with offensiveness according to a subjective standard, the campus is reduced to debating esoteric issues that have no relevance to modern life, and its newspaper is reduced to reporting news that is already known and well-accepted. Anything else might give offense to someone and imperil the mission of the university.
2.15.2006 1:31pm
great unknown (mail):
If the board and publisher are implying that the editor violated established norms, using perjorative terms such as "renegade", and this is shown to be untrue, are there grounds for a libel and defamation suit?
2.15.2006 1:32pm
gvibes (mail):
Mr. Bernstein - From reading the recent letters to the Daily Illini regarding the cartoon issue, I got the impression that the editor who approved an anti-semitic cartoon was suspended or otherwise reprimanded, and that the ADL now gives "training" sessions to the DI reporters on avoiding anti-Semitism (does that practice seem a little odd?). I'm not familiar with the story, however.


This kind of sounds like a non-issue to me. The problem seems to have been, not that the cartoons were published, but that the editor-and-chief did not run the decision to publish the cartoons past the editorial board.


Interestingly, the Northern Illinois University newspaper (the Northern Star) ran all 12 cartoons on Monday.

2.15.2006 1:33pm
Gordo:
The decision isn't unconstitutional.

It's only political and moral cowardice, along with an abrogation of press responsibility to publish the news and all the news.
2.15.2006 1:37pm
Mr Diablo:
In addition to not calling this decision "unconstitutional", let's try to elevate the discourse here from calling this decision "liberal" or from blaming "the liberal mind."

Press censorship, self or by some board of bone heads like this one, is not a liberal or a conservative cause. Both sides like to see censored the stuff they don't want to hear or see, punishing people for judgment calls like this one is also a quality that both dominant political viewpoints are guilty of.

Still, a highly foolish decision by this board. Students, both conservative and liberal, need no coddling from student newspapers. College is supposed to be the time where you learn and confront things (and are confronted).
2.15.2006 1:53pm
farmer56 (mail):
News groups have never printed all the news. Why did people like Hearst by newspapers? To present their slant on things. this happpens now more than ever. Heard obut Ford pickups blowing up in crashes? After several tries to get a Ford pickup blow up in a crash simmulator, and failing. The grand media decided to plant an explosive charge to get an explosion on film. GWB is a draft dodger. point of fact, according to the media. Cant prove it? Lets use documents that our own legal department have told us ore faked. But hey! The importance of the story is better than the fact. Tales of crack babies? Gee making it up dont mean its not true. Blair guy? Ah, well it was some good print.

In the areas I understand, the media gets it wrong about 90% of the time.

Those teaching our future 'reporters' Stop the reporting of facts? Wow! I am shocked!

So much for educational openess. Hah!
2.15.2006 2:02pm
1L in Canada (mail):
Michelle Malkin posted a link to the cached page.

This is what the Daily Illini editorial in question looked like: Click
2.15.2006 2:24pm
Joe Kristan (www):
A "renegade editor?" I didn't go to journalism school, but I thought "editor" meant "boss" of what goes in the paper. By U of I logic, I'm a renegade parent when I tell the teen-ager to empty the garbage.
2.15.2006 2:33pm
Steve Donohue (mail) (www):
I'm a student at the University of Illinois, and I personally was shocked when the paper ran the cartoons- not so much because of the nature of the cartoons themselves, but because the newspaper (like most college newspapers) is at the absolute vanguard of the PC movement. It was a very unusual step for the Daily Illini to step forward and print the cartoons, and I was suprised.

From what I can tell from who I talked to, the editor and chief and the opinions editor of the newspaper were very supportive of the running of the cartoons, and the rest of the board less so. However, the rest of the board did not reject it, and they also saw the layout and context of the pictures before they were published, once again not rejecting it. It was only after a weekend of browbeating that the neutral members of the board caved in, and the editor-in-chief and the opinions editor were left out to dry.

I know that the editor-in-chief does not have absolute power at the DI, and that the editorial board has overruled decisions in the past. However, it seems much more likely at this point (and it bears stating that we don't know the whole truth) that the editorial board did not reject the decision until after the reaction had been gained, and it is now retroactively trying to make nice with those who complained (and, undoubtedly, the higher-ups at the university; the chencellor himself released a statement voicing his displeasure a day after the cartoons were published.)
2.15.2006 2:38pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Joe Kristan:

A "renegade editor?" I didn't go to journalism school, but I thought "editor" meant "boss" of what goes in the paper. By U of I logic, I'm a renegade parent when I tell the teen-ager to empty the garbage.

Slightly OT, but your comment reminds me of all the references to Ken Starr as an "out of control" Independent Counsel.
2.15.2006 2:43pm
JSS:
The Daily Illini has in the past been quick to print patently anti-semetic stories and cartoons (albeit under different editors), with little accountability to those involved. Apparently, in regard to the Muslim Cartoon story, Chancellor Richard Herman publicly rebuked the newspaper for printing the cartoons. One can only conclude that the firing was a direct result of that rebuke. Is that truly the job of a university chancellor?

As a Illinois alum, the whole thing sickens me. My current policy has been to withold donations to the school until Francis Boyle retired from the law faculty-I may have to make that stance permanent.
2.15.2006 2:45pm
TheSquire (mail) (www):
Kiyoshi Martinez, last semester's Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Illini, has a number posts up at The Next Frontier on how things went internally at the DI on the night in question.
2.15.2006 5:35pm
TallDave (mail) (www):
Two words: Abu Ghraib.

I remember hearing how important it was everyone see those pictures, which also incited a reaction.
2.15.2006 5:56pm
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Does anyone else find it interesting that the sacked editor-in-chief who "does not have absolute power at the DI" is named Acton? Did his parents name him after Lord Acton, who wrote "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", or is the connection purely coincidental?
2.15.2006 6:52pm
great unknown (mail):
How much money does University of Illinois get from Muslim donors?
2.15.2006 7:32pm
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
A quick reading doesn't deliver this for me: Were they suspended from the paper, or suspended from the school?
2.15.2006 7:50pm
Running Man (mail):
Kevin,

I believe the two editors were suspended from the paper, and not from the school. As an Illini 1L, I was quite proud that my university paper published the cartoons while the rest of the professional and collegiate press continues to refrain from doing so.

I am pretty disappointed, however, with the university wide email that I received from our Chancellor, in which he criticizes the Daily Illini for publishing the cartoons. A quote from this wonderful, extremely non-controversial email:

"I find the cartoons personally offensive and would have taken the position of numerous respected news organizations in America - including The Washington Post -and not run them. I believe that the DI could have engaged its readers in legitimate debate about the issues surrounding the cartoons' publication in Denmark without publishing them. It is possible, for instance, to editorialize about pornography without publishing pornographic pictures."

Two points, among other, really annoy me about his letter.

First, the argument that because the Washington Post and other major newspapers didn't publish the cartoons neither should have the Daily Illini seems weak. I get the feeling both here at UIUC and where I did my undergrad (BU), that it's a journalistic faux pas for university newspapers to even slightly deviate from what the NY Times, Washington Post, etc. do.

Second, his point about being able to editorialize about porn without showing porn is ridiculous. What major newspapers have ever editorialized for or against pornography while simultaneously publishing pornographic photos on their pages? He's hypothesizing on a fictitious situation that's doesn't happen

But this is the typical PC response that I've come to expect from university officials whenever a group gets "offended".
2.15.2006 8:21pm
harmon (mail):
I just have to sit back & laugh. Forty years ago, when I was in college, the official student newpaper was irrelevant. Now, in the internet age, I can't believe that anything has changed - what college student pays attention to the student paper at all?

The Media board of directors doesn't have a clue. They are concerned about who holds the reins to the horse & buggy. A "real" newspaper would publish the cartoons because they are news. It's interesting to see the cowardice & hypocrisy of so much of the mainstream media concerning these cartoons. I suppose that the U of I editor is being given a dose of reality. So the University is, in truth, doing its job!
2.15.2006 10:13pm
Neal Lang (mail):
I just have to sit back &laugh. Forty years ago, when I was in college, the official student newpaper was irrelevant. Now, in the internet age, I can't believe that anything has changed - what college student pays attention to the student paper at all?

Forty years ago when I was Editor-in-Chief of my College (a private institution) Newspaper I had the distinction, according to our newspaper's faculty advisor who also handled the schools PR, of getting the the President of the College as mad as he had ever been because I refused to "spike" my editorial for that week's edition. Of course, the editorial did not involve anything as noble as "freedom to publish" offensive cartoons. Instead I had taken the 2 local banks to tasks for refusing to purchase ads in our paper.

At the time I wrote the editorial (suggesting a student boycott of the only 2 local financial institutions) I did not know that one of these banks had just donated 25 acres of prime land at the intersection of the Indiana Turnpike, US-27 and I-69. The local newspaper, whose publisher was a trustee of the college, also printed our student newspaper. Apparently he had been "proofing" our editorials and stories, and in this case informed the President of our pending "hard-hitting" editorial.

When confronted by the college president, a retired Navy captain, I refused to "pull" the editorial and he looked as if he could explode. However, seeing as how the college was being evaluated for accreditation at the time and one of the requisites for accreditation was a "free student newspaper", the college President could do nothing about it. I did agree to give the bank's land donation frontpage "play" in the next edition, however.

Apparently things have changed with regards to "free college newspapers" based on "The Daily Illini" story.
2.15.2006 11:30pm
Ammonium (mail):
Here's a cached article about the alleged anti-semitism at the Daily Illini. The same Chancellor criticized the paper, but there were no firings that I am aware of.

This blog entry chronicles the response to a letter the Daily Illini published titled "Jews Manipulate America". It had absolutely no newsworthiness and was pure propaganda, but the editorial staff and the former chancellor defended its publication. The responses are interesting because they parallel Gorton's defense of publishing the cartoons (although they do not as eager to criticize the letter as Gorton is to criticize the cartoons).

Part of this firing is probably a political move. The Daily Illini has usually been left-wing, but the two editors who will be fired were formerly with a conservative newspaper.
2.16.2006 12:46am
Mark Deming (mail) (www):
The suspended Daily Illini Editor-In-Chief has been forced to seek legal counsel. A second Chicago Tributne article is available here.
2.16.2006 1:35am
farmer56 (mail):
All need to remmember that the paper in question is supported by tax $'s. Thus under control of tax payers.
2.16.2006 9:13am
Bemac (mail):
farmer56 is 100 percent wrong on the facts. The Daily Illini is published by the Illini Media Corporation. It is independent of the university. This contrasts the paper with most others, which are products of their universities' journalism programs.

The DI makes its money through advertising revenue. IMC, a non-profit corporation, also operates WPGU, the campus radio station, and publishes the Illio, the campus yearbook; the Technograph, a magazine targeting the university's College of Engineering; and Buzz,a weekly.

(The DI has used its independence. Journalists and students from the early 80's will remember the DI's lawsuit against the university to obtain university documents related to NCAA sanctions.)

Disclosure: I am a long-ago former DI staffer, having held a variety of positions on the editorial side. FWIW, I say publish.
2.16.2006 11:34am
PD Shaw (mail):
I worked at the affiliated radio station, WPGU, about 20 years ago (WPGU) and Bemac's quite right. The media operations are run on advertising. Students ran the commercial station, played music on the mandatory programming list created by student programmers and were paid for their work. Decisions to ban certain music (like the Cure's "Killing an Arab") were made by students. There was a lot of focus on advertising, promotions and show sponsorships. I frankly was unaware of any involvement by the University.

Its quite possible that the concerns aren't p.c. as much as cha-ching.
2.17.2006 2:24pm