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Daily Illini Fires Editor Who Published the Mohammed Cartoons:

Details here; my earlier post on the subject here.

Kovarsky (mail):
It should be clear that he appears to have been fired not because he published the cartoons, but because he and one of his assistant editors egregiously short-circuited the publication's normal editorial process in making that decision.
3.16.2006 2:34pm
Joe Malchow (mail) (www):
Kovarky...

It is also clear that the editor disputes the reason for his having been fired. Here.

-joe
3.16.2006 2:49pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Joe,

His response is "then why have every trace of the cartoons been taken down." The answer that it is because of the procedural violation is, of course, as consistent with this result as would be a substantive opposition.

Obviously he disputes the reason. He's the guy getting fired.
3.16.2006 3:14pm
Cornellian (mail):
Assuming he was fired for bypassing the editorial process and assuming that's also the reason why they've basically tried to "unpublish" the cartoons, I'd like to know where the rest of the editorial staff stands on the issue. If they would have agreed with publishing the cartoons, why try to unpublish them now? If they wouldn't have agreed to publish the cartoons, why not? They can hardly claim they're not newsworthy and it's not as if student newspapers are reluctant to offend.
3.16.2006 3:25pm
JLR (mail) (www):
Mr. Kovarsky,

Eric Zorn, the Chicago Tribune blogger whose post Professor Volokh linked to, writes (in the same post):
UPDATE

I sent this e-mail to Mary Cory Wednesday:

The memo on Gorton's dismissal says "Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material."

Are those policies posted online or can you copy to me the relevant portion where it requires in writing the above and defines its terms?

What's thoughtful? How many people must be involved in a discussion? What's the threshold for "inflammatory"?


If she responds, I'll let you know.
It will be interesting to see if Mary Cory responds to Eric Zorn.
3.16.2006 3:28pm
Walk It:

If Acton is already collecting money to support a lawsuit, Mary Cory is probably wise not to respond to a newspaper columnist.

A non-response to Zorn indicates common sense, nothing more nothing less.

If it turns out the student editorial board did not support the decision to publish, with or without substantial discussion among those staffers, I support Cory. My student newspaper was not run by the school, but by a separate entity with their own board of trustees. This affects the first amendment issues, since it is not the public school/government overseeing the publication.

What if we recast this issue as a rogue editor seizing control of what he thinks should be published? Regardless of how courageous you might think publication, one individual should not be allowed to hijack a paper's contents. There is a bigger issue here and sometimes you have to work on a team. Why couldn't he use his influence and persuasive skills to convince the majority of the staff to run the cartoons? Again, you can't just jump procedure to get what you want.
3.16.2006 4:38pm
jgshapiro (mail):
How is the editor in chief a rogue editor? Doesn't his title alone suggest that editorial decisions are his to make in the final instance? (Res ipsa loquitor -- his title speaks for itself). Moreover, there appears to be no written standards for when he was to check any such decision with the publication board, which essentially acts as his publisher.

Furthermore, the previous articles on this subject made clear that he checked the idea of publishing the cartoons with the board and they did not object. Then when the uproar came, they claimed he needed explicit approval or something of that nature.

This entire episode smacks of a pretextual firing. They didn't want to fire him expressly for publishing the cartoons because it raised free speech concerns and made them look bad. So they instead claimed he bypassed procedures which they could not point to at the time and now refuse to identify.

Nevertheless, I don't see how he can win a lawsuit on this. He is probably an employee at will and I doubt there is a statute prohibiting a publisher from firing an editor for almost any reason. Nor do I see how his firing would be a first amendment violation, even if the stated reasons are pretextual.

However, his firing is still a reprehensible decision by a group of people that refuse to take responsibility for what they are actually doing.
3.16.2006 4:49pm
jvarisco:
jgshapiro) Editors edit a paper. They are responsible to the board. How much or little independence they allow him is their choice. If he wants to pay to publish his own paper, he can publish whatever he wants.

I don't see how it matters what the board thinks. The fact is that they were not consulted. Is it ok to search some guy's house on a hunch if it turns out he actually did have drugs? Bypassing the process, regardless of whether the same outcome would have occurred normally, is a problem.
3.16.2006 4:58pm
jgshapiro (mail):
jvarisco:

You beg the question when you say "editors edit a paper." What is 'editing' and what is 'publishing'? I submit that editing is making the editorial decisions of what to print in the paper. Publishing, apart from the commercial aspects of the job, is deciding general policies. The final editorial decisions are made by an editor-in-chief or an executive or managing editor. Gordon was the top editor at the paper.

If there was a general policy requiring more consultation than Gordon already gave the board (remember, he did run it by them) for controversial editorial decisions, where is it? Why has the board refused to say what it is?

The issue is not bypassing 'the process.' The issue is that there was no stated process until after the fact, which tells you that the board was looking for a reason to get rid of him after the uproar ensued and made up the process ex post. If they just wanted to fire him because they disapproved of his decision to publish the cartoons, they should say so and take the criticism that will come with that statement, and not blame it on some vague and unknowable process that doesn't exist.
3.16.2006 6:07pm
great unknown (mail):
Walk it:
Since a copy of the regulations underlying the dismissal should be immediately available to the dismissee, there is no reason not to provide these ostensibly published regulations immediately to the press.
BTW, is there enough government entaglement to allow a suit for the information under the FIA?
Is it true that "farming out" the publication immunizes the University from the FIA?
3.16.2006 6:30pm
Kovarsky (mail):
jgshapiro,

just because you infer something from the title "editor in chief" does not mean that your inference is what most people that have worked at a newspaper understand it to be. major publication decisions like the one here are usually subject to at least discussion by the senior editorial staff.

here, it appears that the editor in chief basically did this with one other junior editor, without consulting the rest of the editorial board. i would also caution posters from mixing up references to "the board." there is often an administrative or financial oversight board associated with the university. that is distinct from the editorial board, which are generally editors. they're different entities entirely.

furthermore, whether the policies are "posted" could resolve the question definitively against the dismissed editor. the absence of such written policies does not, however, conversely absolve him. most newspapers have informal policies about how these decisions were made, and if the editor in chief violated those in order to publish the cartoons, then his discharge is hardly "pretextual."
3.16.2006 6:47pm
Walk It:
Seconding Kovarsky.

Every afternoon, the staff editors, the students selected to "run" the departments (sports, photos, opinion, news-- oncampus and off, features, etc.) meet to discuss the content of "tomorrow's" paper. Though I didn't attend Illinois, the student and daily papers I've worked at all meet like this. A newspaper is a TEAM product, and that res ipsa reads too much into the editor-in-chief title. He or she is the leader, the point person if you will, but no way does a daily paper get out without TEAMWORK and joint decision making. I would be very surprised if the Daily Illini works any differently.

From what I've read, this process was skipped if the editor in chief and the opinion editor solely decided what was going on that page. ("I knew from the start that Gorton had consulted other staffers - and that he didn't listen to them.") You run these things by other ranking editors at the paper so you do not have just one or two people's views influencing the topics, treatment, etc. It's not a blog folks.

That appears to be what Cory is saying too. If you make a decision like that on your own, you alone are responsible. As in fired. That's the big thing here, not the cartoons. I'd be pretty pissed as a member of that student editorial board to open the paper and find any "surprises", whether they were not discussed at the meeting the day before or whether there was discussion and not . You work with these people for three or four years usually to get the senior positions. TEAM.

Regarding the two "boards". The student editorial board is paid (a pittance). The board of trustees representing the entity are not students, but professionals ususally with other jobs, who handle the money, printing contracts, etc. The business end of things. They stay on the board for years, while the students graduate and move on. They do the payroll for the newspaper. It is rare to "consult" with this board about the daily content of the newspaper, and the student editors are usually given a great deal of freedom of what is in the paper. This only works if the team process is respected. Otherwise, without the "checks" of that daily meeting, you don't have a representative student newspaper, but risk giving a platform to the views of a select few. That's what those smaller, self-run, usually weekly campus papers are for. Or a blog.

You can say the staff was cowardly in not deciding collectively to run the cartoons, but from what I've read there's more here, and that's not the main issue. This guy sounds like a real prince of an editor in chief.
3.16.2006 8:21pm
Walk It:
Correction:

I'd be pretty pissed as a member of that student editorial board to open the paper and find any "surprises", whether they were not discussed at the meeting the day before or whether there was discussion but not an agreement reached to print the material under discussion. (usually a majority vote verbally going around the table.)
3.16.2006 8:26pm
EricRasmusen (mail) (www):
The press release doesn't say that the editor was fired for not following normal consultation procedures. It says he was fired for policies (not stated specifically) "for the publication of inflammatory material". Thus, speculation about his not following everyday procedures about consulting his subordinates or colleagues seems misplaced.


"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."
3.16.2006 9:17pm
Walk It:
"Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material."

That's what happens at those daily meetings I described, Eric: thoughtful discussion amongst editors (not subordinates; it's not heirarchical like that) on how to present the story — what page to play them on, accompanying photos, etc. Sometimes an editor would just say what is going on his page, if it's innocuous enough—no real discussion takes place, but in the case of inflammatory or controversial material, it's important to listen to other views and move forward together. Everybody doesn't have to agree, but you do have to respect the other people working to put out the paper. Usually, majority rules or more commonly, it gets hashed out with minor changes made until everyone is on board. = Persuasion skills.

Check out these closer-to-the-action stories about how the cartoons got "sneaked" in, right before the paper went to bed, sounds like. Funny how we usually advocate reason, not emotion, but here people's opinions on whether the cartoons should run or not is taking precedence over understanding of common newsroom protocol.

thesquire

NightEditor
3.16.2006 10:26pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I think it's odd that this issue seems to inspire inconsistent responses on the part of people advocating absolute freedom of the press.

The notion that editorial control does not vest in a single node in the publication hierarchy is as much a cornerstone of free press ideology as any free floating obligation to print inflammatory material. Whether or not the obligation is really written down doesn't matter. Nobody is claiming that this guy consulted his ed board. People unfamiliar with the way newspapers work are just assuming that it is normal for someone in this person's just to decide and execute that decision. It's not. If he is the fall guy for printing inflammatory material that's one thing. If he had a particular viewpoint and usurped the decisionmaking authority of his ed board in printing it, that's quite another.
3.17.2006 1:18am