by Ken Sanes
August 6 -- Mark Robinson was reading Mike Barnicle's column in the Sunday Boston Globe last Monday night on his back porch in Biddeford, Maine, when he suddenly noticed a line about cigarettes that looked familiar. He says he continued reading and then discovered another line, this one about the Pope, that he recognized was similar to a line in a George Carlin book he had inside, titled Braindroppings.
Robinson, who is in the marketing business, found six passages from Barnicle's column that were obviously lifted from Carlin's material. In response, he says he contacted the other main Boston daily, the Boston Herald, soon after to tell them what he found. He says a staff member there checked with an editor and then recommended that he call the ombudsman at the Boston Globe.
Instead, Robinson got in touch with a friend who has direct access to Doug Bailey, political editor at the Globe. Bailey called him back and took the information. What the Boston Globe did next is part of a pattern that could also be seen in its handling of questions about Patricia Smith and earlier questions about Barnicle -- it chose to conceal the existence of the stolen material.
The fact that it didn't reveal the existence of the problem the next morning, in the Tuesday newspaper, is understandable. But in Wednesday's newspaper, once again, there was nothing.
The existence of the lifted material was finally revealed only because Robinson tried the Herald again and the Associated Press, faxing them the information, Tuesday. This time, he got the response he should have gotten when he first contacted the Herald Monday night -- the Herald ran a story Wednesday morning. Finally, Thursday, only after the Herald had published the story, the Globe ran a story saying it had asked Barnicle to resign.
In the story, the Globe failed to explain why it didn't release the information in its Wednesday edition. Instead, it was reduced to telling readers that its competitor, the Herald, had revealed the information Wednesday: "The Boston Herald published a story yesterday alleging that at least 10 items in the Barnicle column resembled those in the book," the story said.
What was going on behind the scenes at the Globe? Robinson says he has been told there were a lot of meetings and consultations with attorneys. The Globe also reveals in its story that Barnicle responded to the allegation by claiming he had never read the Carlin book. Two friends gave him the material, he is said to have claimed, and he didn't know it was taken from elsewhere.
In response, Editor Matthew Storin decided only to suspend Barnicle for a month, despite previous allegations that Barnicle had both invented and lifted information for his columns. The Globe says it finally asked for Barnicle's resignation after a local television station showed a past clip of Barnicle recommending the Carlin book to viewers that he supposedly hadn't read. Barnicle's response to that was to claim that he recommended the book to viewers without actually having read it.
The Globe's actions in this case follow a pattern it has manifested over and over. As related on other pages on this site, Editor Matthew Storin and the Globe concealed the existence of fabrications in Patricia Smith's columns for a number of years. When the Globe learned of new fabrications, it then concealed them for up to a month before revealing their existence to the public. It then did a series of stories that smoothed over what the newspaper had done and made the management of the newspaper look like a victim of circumstances.
At the same time, it has been engaged in a holding action for years against numerous allegations that Mike Barnicle invents and steals information for his columns. Only recently, Storin, announced that Barnicle had been cleared by a review and had his support. "Globe completes review; backs columnist Barnicle," the Globe headline said.
As also detailed on other pages, the primary problem here isn't Mike Barnicle, just as it wasn't Patricia Smith. The problem is an editorial management that sees information as a tool of power and protection rather than an avenue to truth. That management has routinely concealed information about itself and just as routinely used its news pages to savage those it sees as its ideological and political opponents.
Unfortunately, it is being protected by much of the rest of the media which is failing to tell the full story to the public about the role of management in creating and concealing what has taken place.
The New York Times, which owns the Globe, now needs to take four actions to restore public confidence in the newspaper,.
1. The editorial management of the newspaper should be replaced without delay by editors who understand the responsibilities of the most powerful media institution in New England.
2. An independent journalist from outside the newspaper, with a reputation for integrity, needs to be asked to do a complete report on the events surroundings columns by Smith and Barnicle.
3. The Globe needs to hire a genuine ombudsman in place of the fake ombudsman it has now who shies away from revealing information to the public that might anger the editorial management of the newspaper.
4. The Globe needs to make a public statement that its letters section will be open to people who disagree with its policies and coverage, in place of the carefully controlled publication of letters that exists today.
As for much of the rest of the Boston media, one has to ask whether the people of Metro Boston will once again have to go to outside publications like Salon magazine to get complete information on what is going on? Or will the local media finally begin to do the job?