:: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 ::
Setting The Record Straight
Since Acton Gorton has apparently tacked on another thirty seconds to his fifteen minutes thanks to the Daily Illini actually firing him last night, a lot of people have decided to run their mouths off without knowing (or remembering) what actually happened. As such, I've decided to create a chronology of events. I expect this to take a while, so I'll be hitting the publish button as I go along, so if you're reading this today the version you see may not be the final post.
Before I get started, one of the major factual errors people seem to want to make in this case is to assume that the University of Illinois itself fired Acton from his job. They didn't. The Daily Illini (the DI for short) is run by the Illini Media Company, which is an independent entity from the university. Hence, any argument about the first amendment regarding this case is a red herring, since it doesn't apply to the situation at hand.
Wednesday, 8 February: After mulling the decision over for a few days, then DI Editor in Chief Acton Gorton and Opinions Editor Chuck Prochaska decide to run six of the Danish Cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in the next day's paper. Kiyoshi Martinez, the night editor for the paper and the previous semester's Editor-in-Chief, was asked how the cartoons should be run. He said:
...if the cartoons were to be published by us, we should take a more intellectual and informative approach. This would include perhaps a Point/Counter-point columns from our staff columnists saying whether or not newspapers should continue to publish the cartoons. It should have an Editor’s Note explaining our decision to publish them. It also would probably be a good idea to accompany a story about the historical, social and religious context of why Muslims find these cartoons offensive and educate our readers on the Islamic faith and the prophet Muhammad. And finally, we should definately encourage dialogue from our readers; first by encouraging them to write in with their own opinions and also perhaps host open meetings to further debate on campus about first amendment issues.Kiyoshi was only partially listened to - no context ran with the cartoons. Kiyoshi and all involved in putting the cartoons in the paper were asked to keep quiet about it, and the paper was put to bed. Kiyoshi put up a post on his blog, The Next Frontier, announcing the decision and then tracked the various news reports and other comments about it.
Thursday, 9 February: The paper hits newstands, with the cartoons on the Opinions page alongside of an Editor's Note written by Acton Gorton. Meanwhile, fecal matter hit the air circulation appliance. Chancellor Richard Herman writes an opinion disapproving of the printing of the cartoons, which is then published in the next day's paper. Bill Dennis of Peoria Pundit lays out a post describing why he didn't run the cartoons.
Friday, 10 February: The reaction to the printing begins. Kiyoshi publishes his relfections on the printing of the cartoons, including what is still the best public account of what actually went on. After reading what Kiyoshi wrote and thinking on the matter further, I published my reaction to the printing of the cartoons, which has evolved somewhat since. Bill Dennis reverses his earlier decision and posts the cartoons.
Over the weekend, a small media circus ensued, but no new developments really occured, bringing us to the wee hours of...
Monday, 13 February: After a slow weekend, I posted a roundup of blog comments on the incident. Among those I linked to was the blog of Junaid M. Afeef, who is now Acton's attorney. In this day's paper, the Daily Illini editorial board, all of whom (except Acton and Chuck) disagreed with the running of the cartoons, ran an editorial saying such. [Link has been fixed - Ed.] The editorial board also took Gorton to task for having his friend come to his defence as a guest columnist and representative of the Muslim community, without disclosing this link between them. (Personally, I'm not sure how relevant this is, since half the DI columnists are members of the Illinois Student Senate yet don't disclose that with every column, but then again I'm not an expert on journalistic ethics.) Astoundingly, Chuck and Acton decide to run a dissenting opinion. Kiyoshi says that this is unprecedented; I personally shy away from temporal absolutes but agreed that, as far as I could tell, this was something which simply is not done. The best commentary on the dissenting editorial was by Elia Diodati of e pur si muove, who ripped it to shreds. Meanwhile, DI columnist Josh Rohrscheib claims that he will resign his job if Acton and Chuck are fired. (So, since only Gorton was fired, does this mean Josh'll only give up writing half his columns?) Pat Doran, the comic artist who draws "The Way Life Should Be," makes the connection between what had recently happened and the big deal over a cartoon by Matt Vroom that was run by mistake the previous year.
Sometime late this evening, a meeting was held with the entire DI staff, including the Cartoon Two, to discuss what happened. From what I've heard of the meeting, a lot of people took Acton and Chuck to task for what they did - not many people there were happy. Another bone of contention at the meeting was the continuing blog posts of Kiyoshi Martinez, who wasn't viewed to highly in the newsroom for blogging about the internal affairs of the newspaper. [Update: I've been told that before the meeting, Acton was given the Illini Media blogging policy, which he then forwarded on to the managing editors, and from there it went out to the rest of the staff.]
Tuesday, 14 February: At the request of the staff of the DI, Acton Gorton and Chuck Prochaska are suspended from their positions in the newspaper, with pay, for a period of two weeks while a student task force investigates what went on. A letter is sent out to all Daily Illini alumni describing the situation (be warned, it's hosted on Acton Gorton's blog), and notice of the decision is put in the next day's paper, although this is scooped by many regional and national news sources who have been tipped off by Gorton. A rally was held on the quad protesting the publication of the cartoons, which was crashed by members of the campus right-wing hate rag, the Orange and Blue Observer. [Update, 31 March: upon further review of my own blog archives, it appears that I overlooked Michelle Malkin's notice on this date of the games the DI was playing with the URL of the Editor's Note.]
Wednesday, 15 February: Junaid Afeef becomes Gorton's lawyer (as if there were anything to legally defend Gorton against). The DI first hears about this from the Chicago Tribune. Way to make friends and win allies.
Thursday, 16 February: Making an announcement about something that had come down the pipe a few days previously (I'm not quite sure when, so I'm listing it here), Kiyoshi announces that Illini Media's new blogging policy effectively keeps him from saying anything more about the Cartoon Two on his blog. [Update: I've gotten word that the policy came down on Monday, and that Acton Gorton was fully aware of it, please see above.] Also, today is when people noticed that the DI had pulled the cartoons from their original spot in the DI archives. [Update, 31 March: actually, this happened two days previously, see above.] One of my commenters claimed this was in response to copyright issues, though this has not to my knowledge been further substantiated. In any case, the Editor's Note that ran with the cartoons was reposted at a different URL.
Friday, 17 February The ACLU issues a press release (again on Acton's blog) condemning the University of Illinois for suspending Acton and demanding that he be reinstated - which makes absolutely no sense, considering that the Daily Illini is not run by the University.
Saturday, 18 February Somehow, Bill Dennis gets ahold of the Illini Media blogging policy and posts it on his blog.
Sunday, 19 February Acton Gorton starts up his blog, focusing on how he got fired and why he's such a great guy. His blog's very subject matter is in direct violation of the Illini Media blogging policy, which he knew full well. Way to make friends and win allies.
Early March Gorton finally catches on to his blog being in violation of his employer's policies, and puts up a melodramatic post proclaiming such (since taken down, now that he's been fired). I half expected to find the phrase "the man is getting me down" in it.
Sunday, 12 March I made a post noting that it'd been about a month since the Cartoon Two were suspended, longer than the two weeks previously given, and got word that a decision was coming very soon.
Tuesday, 14 March The Daily Illini officially fires Acton Gorton. Chuck Prochaska is invited back by the acting Editors-in-Chief, but declines. Acton has his side of the story is posted on his blog, and since he is no longer an employee of Illini Media, the rest of his tale of woe is back up on the site. The Daily Illini's announcement of the decision is hidden online as the only story in the Campus Briefs section. Hint to the DI: If you're trying to bury this story, this was a good week to do it, what with spring break being next week and all. However, to truely do it right, you should've waited until Friday to announce it when nobody pays attention. Bush has been in office for five years now, you should've picked this little trick up.
[New Info] Wednesday, 15 March: The News-Gazette reports that Gorton has decided to sue the DI, with an official anouncement coming Friday unless someone talks him out of it.
Closing Thoughts, For Now
A lot of people seem to want to make this a discussion of the first amendment (which doesn't apply) or of the content of the cartoons themselves. The thing is, to consider what Acton and Chuck did, it doesn't matter what the actual content was - they could even have been pictures of fluffy bunnies, for all it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Cartoon Two knew how to properly run a news story on the cartoons and chose not to while, presumably, knowing the consequences of their actions. Acton has since gone on to continually attract attention to himself in the aftermath, which doesn't help dissuade me from the conclusion that publishing the cartoons was an act of sensationalism and/or self-aggrandizement.
As for the punishment handed down to Acton, I would've been happy with his merely no longer being Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper. He screwed up to the detriment of his paper's reputation with the community it serves, and such things shouldn't go unpunnished. However, I wouldn't be surprised if having a disgraced former EiC kicking around the DI office would've been viewed as unfeasible by the Illini Media board, hence my understanding and support for that board's decision to fire Acton.
Personally, I think that the DI's argument that Acton should've consulted the full editorial board is weak at best. The only reason it holds water at all is because Acton would've had to involve other people in the newsroom to properly cover the story, which he didn't do. However, a newspaper, as I understand it, is not a democracy. As such, it was Acton's call to publish the cartoons, and so Acton takes the fall for the decision.
One of the unsubstantiated claims that Acton has made is that the DI staff was afraid of violence, etc. being directed at them as a result of Acton's publishing the cartoons. I've heard of this from no one else, and am not sure if it's true, an exaggeration, or Acton projecting why he thinks others refused to run the cartoons onto his former employees. Some more insight onto this claim would be appreciated.
In fact, any additional information that can be provided on the matter would be great. The more complete this timeline is, the better.
UPDATE: For anyone looking for a blog-centered, pro-Acton (and his defense fund) timeline, there's one up at Winds of Change.
:: The Squire 12:54 PM :: email this post :: ::