He resigned last night after being told by Fairfax’s director of news and business media, Sean Aylmer, that he would be suspended because of inappropriate comments he made to critics of the column.
Carlton told 702 ABC Sydney the comments were “probably foolish” and said he was prepared to apologise after discussing the issue with editor-in-chief Darren Goodsir.
“I thought I’d come to an arrangement whereby I would apologise to offended readers and I would continue to write for the paper,” he said.
“And then I got a call later at night from someone higher up the Fairfax food chain just stating quite blandly ‘we are going to suspend you for four to six weeks to consider’, [and] at that point I interrupted and said ‘don’t go to any trouble, I’ve resigned’ and hung up.”
Carlton said he believed the paper “buckled” to pressure from News Corporation newspapers and pro-Israel campaigners.
“There’s the organised what I call Likud lobby which stands up for Israel right or wrong come hell or high water and is crushing in its campaigns to get people they don’t agree with,” he said.
“The other one of course was the News Limited thing. They hate me at News Limited for all the usual reasons and they wanted a scalp and I think the sad thing about this is the Herald just gave them mine on a plate.”
But Carlton conceded he was “probably foolish” to respond to the criticisms in the manner he had.
“What hasn’t come out in all of this is the torrent of filth I was exposed to myself,” Carlton said.
“I got a fortnight of abuse, of threats of violence. ‘You filthy piece of Jew-hating Nazi slime’, ‘people like you started World War II’, ‘Catholic Jew-baiter’ and so on.
“And once or twice I snapped and hit back.”
Mr Aylmer said the issue was not with the column itself but the way Carlton responded to readers in emails and on social media.
“[The column] attracted a lot of criticism. Many readers wrote to Mike – what got him into trouble was the way he responded to those readers,” he said.
“It was totally inappropriate, using inappropriate language.”
Mr Goodsir echoed those comments, saying: “This is an issue, not about the substance of Mike Carlton’s columns, or the editorial independence of The Sydney Morning Herald, but in terms of the dealing of Mike Carlton over what I see as an HR issue, in his inappropriate dealings with some of the readers.”
One of the tweets sent by Carlton read: “After a fortnight of being called Nazi, Jew-hating slime, I told a few people to f*** off. We do that in this country occasionally.”
Mr Aylmer said Mr Goodsir rang Carlton yesterday and urged him to apologise.
“As the afternoon rolled on, and more of these emails emerged, we spoke to him last night,” he said.
“In effect, we said we would suspend him and he resigned on the spot.”
Zeddy Lawrence, the editor of Jewish News, is pleased Carlton has resigned.
“I am pleased as I think many readers of the SMH and The Age are, that somebody who is abusive, and uses vile language when readers try to engage with him in dialogue, has left his position,” she said.
“I certainly think that his initial column was offensive and inappropriate, and bereft of certain facts. I thought it was unbalanced.
“Columnists, of course, are entitled to their opinions, and we’re not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions.
“But I think opinions have to be based on fact and should, and columns have to reflect a certain balance, they shouldn’t be inflammatory.”