After stirring up a hornet’s nest of tension with the Jewish community, editors, and executives at his parent company Fairfax Media, the Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton quit over a string of foul-mouthed replies to readers.
First the background.
It began when Carlton wrote Israel’s Rank and Rotten Fruit is Being Called Fascism, a scurrilous screed accusing Israel of “waging a war of terror” on Gaza.
Call it genocide, call it ethnic cleansing: the aim is to kill Arabs.
(See a guest post on HonestReporting responding to Carlton by Emily Gian, the Zionist Federation of Australia’s director of media advocacy.)
Carlton’s column was illustrated by the SMH’s cartoonist, Glen Le Lievre, with an image featuring an Israeli watching airstrikes on Gaza from the comfort of a couch. The paper apologized for the illustration, after the Jewish community protested the cartoon’s anti-Semitic imagery.
So why did Carlton resign?
Unfortunately for Carlton, his rude, crude and lewd replies became The Story. Andrew Bolt, one of Australia’s most widely-read columnists, called out Carlton, and the The Australian picked up on the controversy, creating a graphic of Carlton’s worst invective to readers (pdf format). Both The Australian and Bolt’s paper, the Melbourne Herald Sun, are owned by Fairfax rival, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. According to The Australian, dissatisfaction with Carlton reached Fairfax’s board of directors and apparently advertisers too.
The Australian understands business leaders have complained directly to Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood and at least one board director, who was planning to discuss the issue with chairman Roger Corbett.
SMH editor in chief Darren Goodstir issued a statement apologizing on behalf of the paper.
In dealing with our readers, it is a basic principle that our staff, columnists and contributors should always behave with respect and courtesy.
But then the higher-ups realized that Carlton’s potty-mouthed replies were more extensive than first realized, and decided that an apology wasn’t enough.
Carlton described to the Daily Mail Australia how things finally came to a head:
Asked what he replied when the company told him of his suspension, Carlton told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Nothing very much. I hung up on them.’
‘They said they want to suspend me for four to six weeks to “consider”… but I said “don’t bother I’m resigning”.’
As a postscript, cartoonist Le Lievre tweeted farewell to Carlton, and so the debacle ends.
To be clear, Fairfax executive Sean Aylmer, told the SMH:
Aylmer said it was not the column that led to Carlton’s resignation, but Carlton’s response to readers who contacted him following its publication . . .
“Being a broad church, you’re allowed to write what you want; he’s a commentator. But you can’t treat readers that way.
“It’s the fact that people made the effort to write to him, put their viewpoint across, and he uses expletives to get rid of them. It’s just not appropriate for anyone who works at the Herald to do that.”
Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting, flickr/Alisha Vargas