Florida journalist suspended over biased comments

Florida journalist suspended over biased comments

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said tonight that a Florida journalist who made disparaging remarks about Arabs and Muslims in an e-mail message has been suspended without pay for one week. In a letter of apology CAIR, Tallahassee Democrat Executive Editor John W. Miller wrote:

“On behalf of the Tallahassee Democrat, I apologize to all of our readers, and most especially, to members of the Islamic faith everywhere, for the intemperate e-mail comments of political writer/columnist Bill Cotterell. They absolutely do not represent the views and sensitivities of this newspaper. Worse, they run counter to many of the values we hold dearest, among them tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.

“Bill spoke, via company e-mail, in anger and frustration to a reader. Shortly after he sent the message, he realized his mistake, and he has since apologized to all of his colleagues for the hurt and embarrassment he knows he caused.

“‘I was wrong and I am sorry,’ he said in an unsolicited statement to his editors. ‘My remarks were grossly inappropriate and do not reflect my views toward Muslim people.

“‘It would be bad enough if my comments reflected only on my own lack of judgment, but I realize that I have embarrassed the newspaper,’ Cotterell said.

“He said that he should have stopped to consider that people would believe he spoke for the Democrat ‘rather than just for myself in an emotional and ill-considered moment.’

“Bill has been a valued and respected employee of the Democrat for almost 20 years. But his actions – even though they were in a private communication – cannot go unpunished. As of Friday, he is being suspended without pay for a week.”

“We thank the Tallahassee Democrat for its swift action in response to this troubling issue. The newspaper’s forthright apology goes a long way toward re-establishing its journalistic credibility with the Muslim and Arab-American communities in Florida,” said CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad. Ahmad added that he hoped the Muslims in that state could now enter into a more constructive and reciprocal dialogue with the newspaper’s editorial board.

“We will continue our strong support for the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. But we also believe that with freedom, comes responsibility,” said CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad. Awad also thanked all those who contacted the newspaper to express their concerns about Cotterell’s remarks. “We encourage people of conscience to stand up for what is right and not to be discouraged by the rising tide of Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation,” said Awad.

In an e-mail to a concerned Muslim, Cotterell had written: “Except for Jordan and Egypt, no Arab nation has a peace treaty with Israel. They’ve had 54 years to get over it. They choose not to. OK, they can squat around the camel-dung fire and grumble about it, or they can put their bottoms in the air five times a day and pray for deliverance; that’s their business”¦And I don’t give a damn if Israel kills a few in collateral damage while defending itself. So be it.”


Mr. John W. Miller
Executive Editor
Tallahassee Democrat
277 N. Magnolia Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32301

E-MAIL: jwmiller@taldem.com, bcotterell@taldem.com