Student Editors Suspended After Publishing Muhammad Cartoons

Ricky Ribeiro, Student Press Law Center, Feb. 16, 2006

ILLINOIS—Two editors at The Daily Illini were suspended Monday night, five days after they decided to publish the controversial Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad.

Mary Cory, the newspaper’s publisher, suspended Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and opinion editor Chuck Prochaska because the two did not consult with the entire editorial board and other editors before publishing the cartoons, co-interim editors in chief and managing editors Jason Koch and Shira Weissman said in a statement.

“Gorton and Prochaska did not allow meaningful input to occur from the other student members of The Daily Illini editorial board and executive team,” according to the statement.

The statement said Cory made the decision to suspend Gorton and Prochaska “only after it was requested by other student members of this newspaper and a newsroom-wide staff meeting about the issue.”

Student members of the newspaper staff are not allowed to suspend an editor in chief, according to the statement. Cory, who is not a student, acts as the newspaper’s publisher and adviser.

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The interim editors’ statement criticized Gorton’s decision, saying, “Something of this magnitude takes careful planning to handle in a sensitive and tactful manner while still getting the point across.

“It is a time-honored tradition that the editor in chief has the final say on content. However, the position of editor in chief holds great responsibility, and in this instance Gorton did not act responsibly.”

Gorton and Prochaska decided last Wednesday to reprint six of the original cartoons accompanied with an editorial explaining why they were being run.

The cartoons and the editorial are no longer accessible on the student newspaper’s Web site.

The publication of the cartoons in the The Daily Illini has incensed the Muslim community on campus and struck fear in newsroom staff, Gorton said.

“Monday night we had a meeting and I addressed the staff. People were telling me why didn’t I consider their safety, and what if the newsroom was fire bombed,” Gorton said. “I couldn’t believe it. We’re Americans, we don’t do those kind of things here.”

Editors and staff at The Daily Illini say the suspension was a result of “the process” which Gorton and Prochaska went about publishing the cartoons and not the actual publication of the cartoons themselves.

Gorton said that the staff is using the process as a shield and that the real reason for his suspension is the publication of the cartoons.

“They know that if they attacked me based upon the cartoons themselves, then they’d look bad on free speech rights,” Gorton said. “Of course they don’t like that the cartoons had to be published. Somebody’s head has to roll on this issue and it has to be me.”

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