Letter to the Editor: Cartoon apology unnecessary

By Chuck Prochaska

A decade later history repeats itself. This is because the Daily Illini still hasn’t learned. I am so disappointed that your paper has chosen to apologize for the “illegal immigrant” cartoon and has gone so far as to suspend the editor that chose to run it. 

In your apology, you write that the cartoon does not represent your “ideals as an organization, company or the individuals who work for ‘The Daily Illini.” No kidding! That’s called sarcasm, and the cartoon you ran is what’s called “satire.” It’s not supposed to represent your ideals. In fact, it accomplishes the opposite, and effectively criticized those who would think that dressing as an “illegal immigrant” would be an appropriate or funny Halloween costume. 

But this message was lost upon you, Illini Media, and those whose knee-jerk reaction is to condemn, rather than think about and understand the political message in the cartoon.

In 2006, when I was the Opinions Editor at the Daily Illini, the Editor in Chief and I chose to run satirical cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, but only because the cartoons had ignited a firestorm of riots overseas. We did so alongside a letter from the editor explaining that, despite the cartoons’ offensive nature, we felt that our readership deserved to see the root of the international news and was mature enough to handle it.

Like your editor today, we too were suspended and chastised by leadership at Illini Media. However, we were roundly applauded by journalists and free speech advocates outside the politically correct Champaign-Urbana bubble. It is a decision that I do not regret and would repeat again today.

What your paper has done in this most recent act of backtracking and second-guessing is worse than the fate suffered by myself and the editor nearly 10 years ago. You have rejected pure satire under pressure from academics who neither understand the nature of the political commentary nor respect the institution of a student newspaper. 

It’s a shame to see that the lessons learned by all a decade ago could not have been applied in the aftermath of the publication of the “immigrant” cartoon. A student newspaper is absolutely the forum to publish satire, test boundaries, and invite intellectual diversity — both liberal and conservative. 

To paraphrase Justice Brandeis, the remedy for bad speech is not enforced silence, it is more speech. Publish letters to the editor. Give your detractors the forum they deserve. Just do not apologize for your actions, and do not punish your brave and witty colleague. 

We’ve been down this road before, and the University of Illinois deserves better.

Chuck Prochaska is a 2007 University graduate.