Editor to sue Daily Illini board over firing
CHAMPAIGN – A fired Daily Illini editor intends to sue the newspaper's board for defamation and unlawful dismissal.
Former editor in chief Acton H. Gorton was fired Tuesday night, more than a month after he and the opinions page editor, Chuck Prochaska, were suspended with pay for publishing Danish cartoons ridiculing the prophet Mohammed on Feb. 9.
Publisher Mary Cory explained in a letter to alumni at the time that the two were suspended not for publishing the cartoons, but for the way they did it, not telling other staffers of their plans. She was unavailable for comment this morning.
Prochaska was not fired, but decided not to seek reinstatement.
The cartoons have been removed from the newspaper's Web site, www.dailyillini.com.
Gorton, 25, said today he would make an announcement Friday about his lawsuit.
He said the college newspaper set a bad precedent by terminating him for what he saw as a freedom of speech issue.
The journalism major said he was given 30 minutes Tuesday to explain his actions to the board of Illini Media Co., but used only 10 and was not asked any questions. Illini Media, the publisher of the paper, is independent from the university.
"They just sat and stared at me," he said.
Gorton also complained that he never was allowed to meet with a task force created to study the issue. In February, the Daily Illini said that the task force would issue a report, which has yet to be published.
The cartoons first appeared in the Danish right-wing newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
The Illini Media Co. board of directors, which comprises students and faculty, voted unanimously to fire the editor after a review "found that Gorton violated Daily Illini policies about thoughtful discussion of and preparation for the publication of inflammatory material," according to a Tuesday statement.
In its statement, the board said it regretted having to fire Gorton less than three months into his one-year term.
"But the board believes this conclusion is in the best interests of The Daily Illini newsroom and will allow the student journalists to carry on with the newspaper's 135-year-old tradition of a vibrant, independent student press," it said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.