50 years ago

Times editor resigns due to flaps with Nakai's staff

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

May 29, 2014

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By June of 1964, after more than two years as editor of the fast-growing Navajo Times, Chet MacRorie saw the handwriting on the wall and decided he had no choice but to resign as editor. 

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Throughout June, he had a number of confrontations with officials from the chairman's office -- Navajo Tribal Chairman Raymond Nakai kept out of any direct involvement -- over a number of issues dealing with articles in the paper.

Supporters of Nakai were saying that the paper was giving too much play to the old guard (people who supported former chairman Paul Jones) and were demanding his firing, something Nakai wished he could do but couldn't because the paper was under the Council which was still controlled by the old guard.

MacRorie was even coming under attack from the Nakai people for the letters he was putting the paper. If any praised the work that the Council was doing or said something positive toward Nakai himself, he had to wonder where this was all coming from.

By mid-June, he decided he couldn't take it any longer and penned a long letter critical of Nakai and his attempts to control the Times.

"I don't think that anyone can really know if the information given (in the Navajo Times) is factual or slanted," he said.

In those days, the Times was a tribal department and as such, MacRorie had a number of people, including technically Nakai, he had to cater to. It would take more than 25 years before the newspaper would be removed from under the tribe and become independent, reporting only to a board.

In the resignation letter he wrote to Nakai, MacRorie said he was "somewhat concerned that I have been instrumental in developing a potentially dangerous opinion maker in the Times."

He added that it was important for a tribal newspaper to operate in "the best interest of all the people it may serve and not just one faction."

"It is my considered opinion that this newspaper should be sold with no strings attached," he said, adding that only this would create an editorial policy that would be free of any interference from Nakai or his supporters.

MacRorie said he had seen no overt attempts by any supporters of Nakai to control what got in the papers. He added he couldn't say the same for others who worked under him.

"I must admit," MacRorie added, "that others under the chairman have attempted to control the news. More importantly, if we on the Navajo Times are self-critical, we must admit that we have been a great deal less objective than we would have been if we had not been under department supervision and operating independently of tribal funds."

The good news for Nakai was that he would finally get what he wanted most to do -- select an editor of the paper who would be under his thumb. For the old guard members of the Council, it was a fiasco because they knew that anyone Nakai appointed would be beholden to him and would slant all of the news his way.

But if Nakai thought that MacRorie's leaving would solve once and for all the role that the Navajo Times played in shaping the opinion of young Navajo voices, he was badly mistaken.

Within hours of the memo being leaked to the press, Nakai came under severe criticism from the old guard on the Council and in the coming weeks, he had to respond to criticism from many chapters on the reservation who passed resolutions supporting the Navajo Times and urging that Nakai appoint someone who would put out a newspaper that covered all factions on the reservation.

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