Letter: Still doing damage control

By The Daily Illini

I’m writing in response to today’s article in the Chicago Sun-Times about the DI and the issue of antisemitism. The article didn’t fully acknowledge something I think is important: because the DI is a student paper, its editorial policies can change drastically from year to year.

I think the current editorial staff of the DI is working hard to address the issue of antisemitism. But this hasn’t always been the case.

The real start of the problem goes back to January 2003 and the DI’s inexplicable decision to print a horrific letter from some goose-stepper in Seattle – a letter that said, for example, that no Jews should work for the U.S. Government, because they can’t be trusted.

The editorial board’s rationale for printing it was that “one person’s free speech was another person’s hate speech,” and, therefore, they weren’t going to be judgmental. That was terrible reasoning – after all, it’s the job of the editorial board to use its professional judgement.

They then compounded their dysfunctional decision with one far more destructive: they got defensive. Long after the resulting outcry – from Jews and non-Jews alike – had made it clear that they were damaging the paper’s reputation, the editors stonewalled, refusing to issue an apology and proclaiming themselves martyrs in the name of the First Amendment.

I don’t think the editors were antisemitic; I think they were just blind to the moral implications of printing an overtly, unambiguously racist letter. That should have been a no-brainer.

Although the controversy continued for a good part of the Spring 2003 semester, including more than one deeply frustrated article by the paper’s ombudsman, no apology or retraction ever appeared. The message sent: antisemitism is OK at the DI. And that well-publicized editorial display of moral blindness was, I think, the main reason why the DI finds itself under the microscope today.

As far as I’m concerned, when the columnist last year found she’d used a bogus quote, she apologized, end of story. When the DI found out that Joe Danavi had used the same bogus quote, they apologized, end of story. (An apology from Danavi himself might be nice). A slip in the editorial process didn’t catch Vroom’s problematic comic, but the DI apologized and penalized the line editor and Vroom, end of story. The only story that hasn’t ended is the one about the Seattle “Jews Manipulate America” letter and that unresolved state is what makes these otherwise separate incidents look like a pattern.

It’s too bad that the current editorial staff is still having to do damage control for the mistakes of previous years. As I’ve said several times, I think they’re trying hard to do the right thing, and they’ve made some tough decisions this semester. I hope readers will not continue to hold this year’s staff responsible for the mistakes of previous years.

David Gehrig

University Employee