Columnist parts ways with paper over editing changes

The word "censorship" raised its ugly head last week when the Reno Gazette-Journal's leading international affairs columnist, Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb, informed his editors that he would stop writing for them for multiple reasons including "column frequency, decreasing space, some editorial interference" and personal insults from a fellow columnist. Cobb's last column, a tribute to the late President Ronald Reagan, appears in today's RGJ.

Dr. Cobb's father, the late Ty Cobb, widely known and loved as "The Kid on the Comstock," was a local newspaper legend as editor of the old Nevada State Journal before it merged with the Reno Evening Gazette. The elder Cobb must be turning over in his grave, given the way his newspaper has treated his son. Here's the story:

Last August columnist Ty Cobb, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, wrote a brilliant article on militant Islam and terrorism headlined, "We Are Witnessing a Clash of Civilizations." As it turns out, however, Cobb's editors took a red pencil to his opinion piece before it was published.

After pointing out that as many as 20 percent of the world's Muslims may adhere to "radical positions," Cobb went on to assert that "some 200 million fanatics are committed to the struggle against us. Further, the disappointment is that the remaining 80 percent have been largely silent or acquiescent in the militarization of the Muslim religion Ð there simply is no organized opposition to the hijacking of the faith.

"There is no shortage of official religious documents summoning the faithful to wage a global jihad (struggle)," he continued. "While the Koran is largely silent on killing apostates, two other authoritative sources of Islamic law and practice ... make it clear that jihad is the true calling for Muslims ... The 'Islamofascist' movement is led by Iranian-sponsored Shiite groups such as Hezbollah, but mainly by al-Qaeda, the Sunni Arab terrorist organization." Even though all of that is true, Cobb's editors censored his copy, removing the line about "no organized opposition to the hijacking of the faith" and eliminating the paragraph about Islamofascism, which was one of his key points.

Needless to say, my friend Ty complained to his editors about the omissions and asked why they had encouraged liberal columnist Vito de la Cruz to write a rebuttal that contained personal attacks against Cobb. De la Cruz, a federal public defender with no known expertise in international affairs, was given 20 percent more space than Cobb for his intemperate rebuttal.

When we look at the RGJ's lineup of local columnists, it's clear that most of them lean to the left. In addition to de la Cruz, they include the inimitable Cory Farley, Emma Sepulveda and Grant Seals. The only other local columnist who could be classified as moderately conservative is Ellie Lopez-Bowlan, who occasionally counters Prof. Sepulveda on illegal immigration and other Hispanic issues.

By contrast, the Nevada Appeal welcomes dissent and gives its columnists free reign - and sufficient space - to express their opinions, even when they oppose the paper's editorial line. I've disagreed with Appeal editorials many times and have never been called upon to defend myself. For example, several of my 2004 election endorsements differed from those of this newspaper, and I never heard a word about it.

For those reasons I'm grateful to my editors and publishers for defending our cherished First Amendment freedom of the press guarantees. Appeal Publisher John DiMambro and Editor Barry Ginter have supported me every step of the way, even when I've clashed with them on policy and/or political issues. Not long ago, DiMambro praised Max Baer, Jr.'s hillbilly hotel-casino project while I trashed it, but we're still friends.

I also extend my thanks to previous editors and publishers Ð Jeff Ackerman, Peter Starren and Barry Smith Ð during my 11-year run with the Appeal. All of them recognized that a vigorous discussion of controversial issues is good for the editorial health of this newspaper. That's why I enjoy sharing the Sunday editorial page with liberal friends and colleagues like Sam Bauman and Kirk Caraway, who criticize me when they think I'm wrong on the issues. More power to them.

RGJ editors should be ashamed of themselves for creating the conditions that led to Ty Cobb's departure from their newspaper. Such actions tend to confirm what critics say about the Gannett Corporation, the RGJ's parent company - that it encourages the bland mediocrity and political correctness that lead to the publication of "McPapers," the newspaper equivalent of McDonald's mass-produced hamburgers.

• Guy W. Farmer has been involved with Nevada journalism since he came to Carson as Associated Press capital correspondent in 1962.


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