Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Free Speech. But...

"This newspaper prides itself on being a member of the professional journalistic community. We value freedom of the press, speech and expression. But we acknowledge that in certain instances, such as the publishing of these offensive cartoons, there are issues that must be considered."

Sometimes it's important to know not only where ya going, but where ya been.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) sent me an email today, and I followed their link to find the free speech rating at my school. I'm curious! I mean, just this Sunday the women passing out free -- shall we say, unproductive materials -- at Quad Day were shouting out all sorts of stuff. Evidently they were enjoying their exercise of free speech.

The rating for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a red light. I looked through the news articles associated with UIUC. At first I was surprised at our rating, given the lack of recent stories from our campus. But then I found what's happened here in the past, that in 2006 two students editors were dismissed from the Daily Illini for running one of the Danish Mohammed cartoons and an accompanying editorial. (You can read more here). The two students were Opinions editor Chuck Prochaska and editor-in-chief Acton Gorton. Both were involved in the decision to publish the content. (This article is archived here).

Woah! I knew this was an institute of higher leaning (spelling intended), but I didn't THAT had happened!

WOW! Where's the memory of this? I have never heard any mention of this incident. I had no idea that it happened until reading about it today.

In an Orwellian strategy, within days of publishing the articles, the editor-in-chief Acton Gorton was sacked, the Daily Illini swabbed their website of the cartoons and their accompanying editorial, and they requested that Google clear information about the article. Acton had blogged about his experiences, but the newspaper rapidly enacted a no-blogging procedure for Daily Illini employees and wanted him to stop writing about anything done at work.

By the following Sunday, Steven Shoemaker, the executive director of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA, emphasis added), was weighing in on the situation. He cried shame at Chuck and Aston, characterized their words as an attack on the country that gave them free speech, and expressed his dhimmitude, referring to The Prophet with the words "peace be upon him." Mary Cory, the publisher and general manager of the Illini Media Co. announced Chuck and Aston's suspension within a week of the publication of the cartoon and editorial. Both comments were published on the misnomer-bearing Council on American-Islamic Relations website, along with a long, rambling, ten-point piece of work by the then-president of the Muslim Students Association. His statements range from denial ("there is no conceivable way a cartoon could prompt riots...") to further denial ("In fact, this is not an issue of free speech... to delusion ("Critical thinking is best aided by a proper education and is highly encouraged by Islam and Prophet Muhammad's example.") He even attempts to claim victimhood, instead of manfully acknowledging the crimes perpetrated by Muslims using the cartoons as an excuse. ("The key here is that journalists know that there is widespread misunderstanding about Islam, which leads to hate crimes and unfair policies directed towards Muslims.")

The cartoons and editorial were run on February 9, 2006. Acton was fired from his position at the Daily Illini on March 14. Despite the efforts of the Daily Illini board, some students did understand the seriousness of the actions against Acton Gorton, and the deep-seated injustice those actions were a symptom of. The day after Acton was fired, Josh Rohrscreib, another journalist at the paper and at the time the president of the Illinois Student Senate, handed in his resignation letter to the Daily Illini. In April 2006 the Illini Conservative Union held a funeral for free speech, protesting the treatment of Acton.

Closer to the actual incident, on February 20, 2006 Fox News interviewed both student editors, to get their account of what happened. At that point, they were suspended, but expressed hope that they'd get their jobs back. (Chuck was offered his job back, but decided to move on).

There is a golden lining in this story, however. Sure, the world is absurd, but at least FIRE recognized a free thinker when they saw him. Acton Gorton, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, and the editor-in-chief of the Daily Illini up until the cartoon scandal, later became a FIRE intern. He tells his story here. Wow! Way to go, Acton!

The quote leading this blog is from the Daily Illini, February 13, 2006. I will call your attention to a single word: "But." It's short. It's convenient. But it's a prime example of doublespeak.

1) Quotes from Chuck and Acton are posted at thinkexist.com. You can also search the Daily Illini for articles by both editors.

2) Strangely, even now, when I google Acton Gorton's name, gortreport.com, a website that's presumably his, shows up, but when I load the page it's blank. What gives?

3) And in case you were under the delusion that this kind of irrational fear of offending Muslims only happened in the past, Yale University Press has decided to censor images of Mohammed in their upcoming publication The Cartoons that Shook the World. Message: we are your dhimmis: come and claim us. For anyone convinced that our dhimmitude will cause lasting peace, I have this to say. Remember Neville Chamberlain. The amount and distribution of our opponents' facial hair may have changed between then and now, but many elements of Nazi/Socialist and Islamic thought are indistinguishable. For one thing, both know the meaning of a white flag.

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