CHAMPAIGN, Ill. Two editors at the University of Illinois student-run newspaper were suspended yesterday after they decided to run a series of cartoons that have sparked outrage and violence around the Islamic world.
Editor-in-chief Acton H. Gorton said the Daily Illini's publisher suspended him and the newspaper's opinions section editor, Charles Prochaska, for two weeks pending the outcome of an internal investigation.
Mary Cory, the newspaper's publisher and general manager, released a statement last night saying a student task force will "investigate the internal decision-making and communication surrounding the publishing" of the cartoons. The editors are accused of publishing the cartoons without consulting the remaining editorial staff.
The paper's editorial staff told readers in Feb. 13 editions that the decision to run the cartoons on Feb. 9 was made by Gorton and Prochaska without their knowledge. While the staff apologized to the Muslim community, it stopped short of saying it disagreed with the decision.
"We want to make it clear that while we do not necessarily disagree with the decision to print these cartoons, we disagree with how they were run," the editorial states.
According to the editorial, Gorton and Prochaska ran the cartoons without consulting the staff or the publisher.
"The board and publisher reaffirm that final decisions about content in The Daily Illini rest with the editor-in-chief," Cory said yesterday. "But ... 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."
Gorton and Prochaska ran their own editorial on Feb. 13, defending their decision to reprint the cartoons, and even called "irresponsible" the decision by major newspapers around the country not to publish the cartoons.
Gorton said yesterday that other editors were in the same room when the cartoons were laid out on the newspaper's pages and did not object.
"I'm very disappointed. I think this is nothing more than a cover-up," Gorton said.
The Chicago Tribune reported today that Gorton said he expected to be fired after the investigation.
The Tribune quoted Gorton as saying, "I pretty much have an idea how this is going to run, and this is a thinly veiled attempt to remove me from my position. I am feeling very betrayed, and I feel like the people who I thought were my friends and supporters didn't back me up."
The Daily Illini, which is independent of the university, ran six of the 12 cartoons first published in September in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten. In The Daily Illini's Feb. 9 edition, it led with the cartoon that has caused the greatest furor: a depiction of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb as part of his turban.
Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor said yesterday that a campus paper was justified in reprinting a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad, but he called upon the paper to address the indignation of Muslim students on campus concerning the matter.
The Badger Herald reprinted the image, which depicts Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse, on Feb. 13, saying the international reaction to the cartoon made it newsworthy.
Herald officials said the paper printed it as a commitment to freedom of expression and not to offend Muslim students.
But Mir Babar Basir, president of the school's Muslim Students' Association, called the decision to run the cartoons "pure racism" and his organization complained to university officials.
Basir called the decision "a strike against the Muslim students on campus" that "had nothing to do with free speech."
Chancellor John Wiley yesterday defended the newspaper's right to print the image but called in a statement for the paper's editorial board to "respond to the indignation and revulsion expressed by those most personally affected."
Members of the Muslim group and Badger Herald staff plan to discuss the issue at a forum next week, Basir said.