Free speech in America could cost you your job

By Andrew Gumbel
Wednesday 22 January 2014 05:08

A journalist on The San Francisco Chronicle has learnt the price of opposing the war in Iraq. A month ago, Henry Norr, a technology reporter, joined a mass civil disobedience campaign that paralysed downtown San Francisco for several hours on the opening day of hostilities. This week, he was fired.

The San Francisco Chronicle, owned by the powerful Hearst Newspapers chain, is saying his offence was to claim a sick day when he had been arrested and thrown briefly into jail. Mr Norr and his union are in no doubt that his anti-war activities were the real reason behind his dismissal – an extraordinarily harsh punishment for what would normally be a routine disciplinary offence.

"At the time of my arrest last month, Chronicle policies did not ban participation in demonstrations. In fact, the paper's ethics policy explicitly states that, 'The Chronicle does not forbid employees from engaging in political activities but needs to prevent any appearance of any conflict of interest'," Mr Norr said. "Since my job was writing about personal technology, not politics and war, I saw and see no conflict of interest."

Mr Norr is the latest in a long list of people to feel an angry backlash for opposing the war. Actors and musicians have taken much of the heat and the Texas singing trio the Dixie Chicks were singled out after their singer Natalie Maines told a London audience she was "ashamed" to come from the same state as the President. Radio stations organised protests that made the group fear for their safety.

President George Bush said: "They shouldn't feel hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out." But the Dixie Chicks are fighting back, appearing naked and plastered in political slogans on the front cover of the latest Entertainment Weekly.

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