50 years ago: Fired editor trend began with MacRorie

Chet MacRorie had known for weeks that his days as editor of the Navajo Times were numbered but he said later that he was surprised that it was the Navajo Tribal Council and not the chairman of the tribe, Raymond Nakai, who gave him the pink slip.

MacRorie became the first editor of the paper to be fired but not the last. During the 14 years that Peter MacDonald served as chairman, he would fire five editors and in 1987, basically fire the entire staff at the paper, closing it down for over two months.

“Nakai hated the paper,” MacRorie said. “He refused to be interviewed and he said everything in the paper were lies.”

MacRorie’s fate was settled on April 20, 1967, when Wilson Halona stood up during a discussion of the paper’s budget for the next fiscal year and said there was no way he and other members of the Council would approve the budget as long as MacRorie stayed on as editor.
This was somewhat ironic since Nakai himself tried several times to fire MacRorie during his first term as chairman but the Council stood up for him and refused to approve the firing. Of course, during his first administration, the Council was controlled by the anti-Nakai faction, which wouldn’t let him do anything he wanted.
MacRorie would say later if Nakai really wanted him to be fired, he should have told the Council how much he liked the paper and this may have turned the Council against him.

The debate over MacRorie lasted more than three hours with Halona and several other Council members criticizing MacRorie for trying to be too independent. After all, they pointed out that MacRorie was editor and the chairman was the publisher so it should be the publisher who determined the kind of paper it would be.
Many of the Council delegates wanted MacRorie to be fired immediately but the tribe’s treasurer said it would happen when the new budget took effect on July 1.

There were some, however, who brought up the issue of freedom of the press.

Hubert Laughter said Nakai was demanding that all tribal employees think like him. “What is he trying to do? Stifle freedom of thought?” he said.

MacRorie had a turbulent relationship at the Times.

He came on in January, 1961, to help then-chairman Paul Jones develop the paper and then resigned in June, 1963, in a protest of efforts by Nakai and other tribal officials to censor the paper.

His resignation, however, forced the Council to take a hard look at the paper and in August they transferred the paper from under the chairman’s office and placed it under the Council with a provision that the paper would operate as a free press.

The Council then asked MacRorie to come back and he did in February, 1966. He said that since coming back, the paper’s circulation rose to 13,000, a gain of nearly 4,000 a week.

“I believes that indicates we were putting out a paper which people enjoyed and in which they had confidence,” he said.

On the other hand, he pointed out that he couldn’t really complain since the Council has the right to fire the editor. “I bear no grudge against those who supported the action,” he said.

He said it didn’t matter who was the editor as long as the Council agreed to run it as a free press with no control by the chairman.

As for the accusation from Nakai that the paper was full of lies, MacRorie said that had no basis in fact.

“No specific cases were cited,” he said. “If I had filled the paper with lies, I assume I would have been sued for libel.”
He said a lot of this came from a misunderstanding of the purpose of the paper.

“We do not make the news, we report it,” he said. “We confine opinions to the editorials and bylined articles which rely only on the opinion of the editor or writer.”

MacRorie said he attended the Council meeting and was there for the entire three hours of the debate.

“I must admit I felt like a pin cushion with people taking turns attacking me.”

He said the one time he was able to get the floor to answer a question, he was told by Nakai to sit down “before I had a chance to get started on my defense.”

When MacRorie finally stepped down as editor, he stayed in the area and eventually was appointed editor again in 1971 shorty after MacDonald was elected chairman.

This time, he stayed on as editor for more than four years and then left on his own decision to start up an advertising firm, which he operated in the Gallup-Window Rock area for several years.

In his later years, he was still a staunch supporter of the need to have the Navajo Times be free from political interference but he questioned how that could be possible when the paper had to come before the Council annually to ask for a subsidy.

How can you be critical of a government body that you depend on to have enough funds to keep operating? he would say.

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Categories: 50 Years Ago

About Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.