The opinion page editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press has been fired over a headline of an editorial that was highly critical of President Barack Obama’s new “jobs plan.”
“Take your jobs plan and shove it, Mr. President: Your policies have harmed Chattanooga enough,” the headline reads.
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Drew Johnson, the now-former opinion page editor at the Free Press, announced his firing on Twitter Thursday and later explained the situation in an exclusive interview with TheBlaze.
“I just became the first person in the history of newspapers to be fired for writing a paper’s most-read article,” Johnson wrote.
The Free Press claims it fired Johnson for “placing a headline on an editorial outside of normal editing procedures.” They are claiming he changed the headline at the last second.
“The headline was inappropriate for this newspaper. It was not the original headline approved for publication, and Johnson violated the normal editing process when he changed the headline,” the paper said in a statement posted on its website. “The newspaper’s decision to terminate Johnson had nothing to do with the content of the editorial, which criticized the president’s job creation ideas and Chattanooga’s Smart Grid. The Free Press page has often printed editorials critical of the president and his policies.”
However, Johnson told TheBlaze in a Thursday phone interview that he has never been made aware of a headline approval “procedure” during his time as the opinion page editor.
“Their claim is that the headline was changed at the last minute, which it was and happens almost every day,” he said. “A lot of times we’ll use filler headlines to hold it until we come up with something better and it has been very common to either change a headline myself or have a copy editor change a headline.”
If the headline truly was the only issue, Johnson explained, the newspaper could have changed it and/or issued a retraction at any time. “That’s what’s so strange to me,” he added.
Johnson told TheBlaze he thinks the editorial, which ran in the paper on Tuesday and remained online, became a big deal at least partly because it was involved President Obama. The president’s visit to Chattanooga also coincided with the editorial’s publication.
“There were definitely some Obama supporters upset that I would dare criticize great leader,” he said. “But the majority of calls I got were overwhelmingly supportive…Most of Chattanooga is conservative.”
He admitted that he is still “shocked” that he was fired for his opinion, which incorporated a “funny take” on the classic 1977 country song. Johnson also said his editorial, he believes, is now the most-read article in the paper’s history.
“Not only what I wrote represented the viewpoint of most of the people that read my page, but it also brought more eyes to the paper and more opportunity for revenue,” he concluded. “It’s really surprising.”
Here are some excerpts from the hot-button editorial:
Forgive us if you are not greeted with the same level of Southern hospitality that our area usually bestows on its distinguished guests. You see, we understand you are in town to share your umpteenth different job creation plan during your time in office. If it works as well as your other job creation programs, then thanks, but no thanks. We’d prefer you keep it to yourself.
You claimed that the Smart Grid would create jobs for Chattanooga. But in reality, all it did was push America deeper in debt and lure a local government agency into making a terrible financial decision that will weigh on Chattanoogans like a millstone for decades to come.
So excuse us, Mr. President, for our lack of enthusiasm for your new jobs program. Here in Chattanooga we’re still reeling from your old one.
Johnson also appeared on TheBlaze TV’s “Real News” on Thursday:
UPDATE: Alison Gerber, the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, responded to TheBlaze’s request for comment via email. The newspaper is standing by its decision and maintains that Johnson did not follow “editing and operating policies.”
Here’s Gerber’s response to TheBlaze in full:
Drew Johnson has been told on numerous occasions that he cannot make material changes to the Free Press page without the consent of the editor who is responsible for editing and proofing Drew’s work and that page.
On Monday, he waited until that editor had left for the day and changed the headline on the Obama editorial.
I want to be very clear on one point: Mr. Johnson was not fired for writing an editorial ripping Obama’s jobs plan.
We have allowed Mr. Johnson to write his opinion freely and without censorship during the time he worked here. In fact, the Free Press page has printed many editorial critical of Obama.
Mr. Johnson was terminated for violating our editing and operating policies. He did so in order to use a headline that we consider inappropriate. There are many ways to express disagreement about the president’s policies without being crude.
The Times Free Press has two opinion pages – the conservative Free Press page and the liberal Times page. We do not take one political side but try to offer both views.
We will continue to publish a wide range of political viewpoints