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Former Fairfax columnist Mike Carlton says the decision to suspend him came from Fairfax business and metro publisher Sean Aylmer, who overruled Sydney Morning Herald editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir in deciding to suspend Carlton for four to six weeks after reports he had been abusive to readers in emails surfaced in The Australian.

Carlton says after he wrote a column two weeks ago criticising Israel’s actions in Gaza, he’s received endless abuse from offended readers.

“I’ve been called a bag of Nazi slime, a Jew-hating racist … endlessly,” he told Crikey this morning. “Much of it has been obscene. I suppose, half-a-dozen times, I hit back and told people to get fucked”.

One of these emails surfaced on Andrew Bolt’s blog on Monday, and in today’s edition of The Australian, several of Carlton’s abusive responses to readers are extracted.

This morning, Aylmer went on Fairfax-owned radio station 2UE and told Garry Linnell and John Stanley that Carlton and Fairfax had “parted ways”.

“Many readers wrote to Mike but what got him into trouble is the way [Carlton] responded to those readers, and it was totally inappropriate and using inappropriate language,” Aylmer said. “It’s important to stress it’s not the [original] article itself but the way he treated readers.

“Yesterday the editor-in-chief of the Herald Darren Goodsir rang him and said, ‘You need to apologise’. As the afternoon rolled on we spoke to him last night and as more of these emails emerged we spoke to him again and said we would suspend him, and he resigned on the spot.”

Carlton said he agreed to apologise to “a handful of readers”.

“That was all going to happen and it was fine. But as I understand it, Darren [Goodsir] was overruled higher up by a man called Sean Aylmer.”

In a statement this morning, Aylmer confirmed the decision to suspend Carlton was his.

“Last night I decided that an apology from Carlton was not sufficient and I suspended him. He subsequently resigned,” Aylmer said. “Such conduct will not be tolerated. Fairfax expects much higher standards from its staff, columnists and contributors.”

Carlton says there’s no doubt there was a co-ordinated campaign to oust him by the Israel lobby in Australia. “That was twinned by a campaign by News Corp — because they hate my guts, but also because it destroyed a rival columnist. And now, Fairfax has handed News Corp that present, gift-wrapped.”

“What cheers me up is that I’m getting tremendous support from Herald colleagues who I respect, and colleagues right throughout journalism.”

Several Fairfax senior reporters have shared their regret at the paper losing Carlton this morning. Gold Walkley-winning investigative journalist Kate McClymont tweeted that today was “a grim day for our profession”.

SMH and Age contributing editor Michael Pascoe described Carlton as one of Fairfax’s “best columnists”.

“To lose one of your best columnists may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness,” he tweeted, referring to the loss of legal writer Richard Ackland, who parted ways with the SMH in June after writing a column for The Saturday Paper.

Broadcaster Phillip Adams also tweeted his regret, saying it was a shame to lose Carlton. “Mutual hostility for many years but Mike writes a good column,” he said. “Will be missed.”

Last night Goodsir issued an apology to readers for Carlton’s abusive emails:

 “This behavior is completely unacceptable,” he wrote. “I have asked Mike to apologise for these actions. Mike regrets his behaviour and will be contacting affected readers to apologise.

“On behalf of the Herald, I too apologise for any offence caused.

“In dealing with our readers, it is a basic principle that our staff, columnists and contributors should always behave with respect and courtesy.”

It was the second apology issued by Goodsir in two days — on Monday, the SMH’s editorial apologised for the cartoon that had illustrated Carlton’s article two weeks ago.

Peter Fray

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