- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 4, 2003

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Jan. 4 (UPI) — A Florida newspaper 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 to the Council on America-Islamic Relations, the Tallahassee Democrat's executive editor 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," said the editor, John W. Miller.

In a separate e-mail, Cotterell said he realized his mistake shortly after sending the hurtful message.

"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."

In his original comments, Cotterell noted that Arabs have "had 54 years to get over" the establishment of an Israeli state but "choose not to." He went on to say in disparaging terms that how Arabs dealt with the situation "was their business … And I don't give a damn if Israel kills a few in collateral damage while defending itself. So be it."

Cotterell said in his apology 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."

The editor described Cotterell as a valued and respected employee of the Democrat for almost 20 years. But said his actions — even though they were in a private communication — could not go unpunished. "As of Friday, he is being suspended without pay for a week," he said.

"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 dialogue with the newspaper's editorial board.

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