Barnicle exits Boston Globe

Plagiarism, fabrication cloud columnist's resignation

There’s no longer a Barnicle at the Boston Globe.

Editor Matthew V. Storin announced Wednesday that he had asked for and received a resignation from longtime — and recently embattled –columnist Mike Barnicle.

Earlier this month, the Globe had asked for — then rescinded its request for — Barnicle’s resignation after discovering that Barnicle had lifted jokes from George Carlin’s book “Brain Droppings” in his Aug. 2 column. Barnicle was given a two-month suspension instead, and Storin noted in an editorial that Barnicle was “under perhaps the greatest scrutiny a newspaper writer has ever had to endure.”

Such scrutiny apparently toppled Barnicle this second time. In a written statement, Storin said that this new and actually implemented resignation was prompted by a call on Tuesday from Kenneth Tomlinson, retired editor-in-chief at Reader’s Digest, who told Storin that Reader’s Digest fact checkers had been unable to confirm details in a Oct. 8, 1995, Barnicle column to be reprinted in the magazine.

The column was about two young patients, one white, one black, who became friends while at Children’s Hospital; the affluent parents of the white child donated $10,000 to the black family after the black child’s death.

“Neither the Globe nor officials at Children’s Hospital nor Mike Barnicle have been able to confirm the story’s authenticity,” said Storin in his statement. “Barnicle told his editor, Walter V. Robinson, that he heard the story from a nurse from another hospital. He was unable to name the nurse. He could offer no account of attempting to check out the details of the story by calling Children’s Hospital or either set of parents.

“In fact, he said he did not know the parents’ names. Yet he quoted the black parents in the story and quoted from the letter the white parents had purportedly sent with the check.

“In light of his failure to follow the most basic reporting requirements as well as the duplicitous way in which the story was written, it is clear that Mike Barnicle can no longer write for the Boston Globe,” said Storin.

Barnicle leaves the newspaper less than two months after the Globe asked for and received the resignation of columnist Patricia Smith after she admitted to fabricating a number of columns. That Smith, a black journalist, was forced to resign while white columnist Barnicle was not had drawn criticism from some quarters.

Al Larkin, the Globe’s vice president and assistant to the publisher, told Daily Variety that over the last few days Globe editors have been meeting with local black community groups to discuss their concerns.

Besides the Reader’s Digest incident that the Globe formally acknowledged, the paper also received at 9 a.m. Wednesday a faxed copy of an article to run in the Boston Phoenix by media journalist Dan Kennedy. He reports that in a column that ran 12-1/2 years ago, Barnicle lifted whole sections from A.J. Liebling’s 1961 biography of political legend Earl Long of Louisiana. As Kennedy notes in his article, Northeastern University journalism professor Bill Kirtz spotted that lifting and reportedly alerted the Globe at the time. Kirtz also alludes to it briefly in the current issue of Quill, the journal of the Society of Professional Journalists in his discussion of the recent fabrications by Smith and the New Republic’s Stephen Glass.

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