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Chronology of a Cover-Up

by Ken Sanes

The following chronology (and accompanying commentaries), taken mostly from Globe stories and also from writings by Alan Dershowitz, are intended to bring some order to the chaos of information that has appeared on columnists Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle. As you will see, the chronology reveals a longstanding Globe cover-up of fabrications by columnist Smith, and a decision to reveal the fabrications to the public at just the time her columns might have come under scrutiny by others in a climate of increased media criticism. Whether there is a connection there is unclear. But given the longstanding cover-up that occurred before the fabrications were revealed, it is worth pondering. The chronology and accompanying commentaries also reveal an inappropriate debate carried out by many parties involved, consisting of defenses, unclear and vague descriptions, attacks against critics and counter-attacks. This chronology is incomplete and very imperfect and may be amended in the light of new information and additional research.

  Early 1980s - A merchant wins $40,000 in a lawsuit after Globe columnist Mike Barnicle attributes a racial slur to him that the merchant says he never uttered.
1986 - Questions are raised about whether Patricia Smith, an editorial assistant for the Chicago Sun-Times, actually attended an Elton John concert she wrote about since she never picked up her press tickets and her review contained significant errors. The newspaper publishes a correction and Smith is barred from writing for a number of months. Matthew V. Storin, who becomes editor of the Sun-Times after this incident, is aware of the allegation that Smith never attended the concert.
1990 -
Patricia Smith begins work at the Globe
1990 - Globe Columnist Mike Barnicle alleges in a column titled "Open Mouth, Get in Paper" that Attorney Alan Dershowitz made a racist remark about Asian women to him eight years before during a chance meeting in Harvard Square. Barnicle alleges Dershowitz said: "I love Asian women, don't you? They're... they're so submissive."
Dec. 24, 1990 - In a Boston Herald column, Dershowitz accuses Barnicle of making up the quote; recounts the existence of the $40,000 lawsuit, which he has learned about, and says that in that case the record showed that Barnicle " 'interlineated' his notes in an effort to lend credibility to his made-up story."
1991
- The Globe's ombudsman of the time expresses skepticism about Barnicle's ability to recall the quote.
1991 - Boston Magazine raises questions about Barnicle's veracity in a story. It then briefly runs a feature titled "Barnicle Watch."
1992 - Barnicle appears on the David Brudnoy radio show where, according to Dershowitz, he apologizes to Dershowitz and reveals the existence of an apology-column that never ran. Barnicle says he only expressed regret on the show that he had not been able to reach Dershowitz. Dershowitz has a transcript but no one has produced a tape of the program.
Sept. 27, 1992 - In a Boston Sunday Herald column, Dershowitz again goes over the Asian women reference, the Brudnoy program appearance, and the $40,000 lawsuit from the merchant, and calls on Barnicle to publish the apology-column he is said to have referred to on the radio program.
1993 - Matthew Storin becomes editor of the Globe, after leaving in 1985 and returning in 1992.
1994 - Smith begins writing a Metro column twice a week for the Globe. Her cause is said to have been championed by, among others, Walter V. Robinson, who is in charge of local news.
1995
-- Smith writes columns that will later arouse suspicions in Assistant Managing Editor Robinson, who fears they contain fabrications.
Late 1995-early 1996 - "Low level chatter in the newsroom" and a call from a reader cause Robinson to review 1995 work by Smith. He submits "a large number of columns" he fears contain false information to Globe Editor Storin and another editor.
January 1996 -- Storin, having been told there may be fabrications in Smith's columns, puts three Metro columnists on notice that they have to provide information verifying the existence of significant figures referred to in their work. Over time the oversight ceases. He conveys the suspicions to Smith about her work but never asks her if the people in her columns are invented, although he was aware of the earlier incident at the Sun-Times. He never reveals the existence of the fabrications to readers.
Early 1998 - The Globe gives Smith a raise to fend off another newspaper, which is interested in her.
1998 - Smith wins the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award for commentary and column writing. Her work is submitted despite the fact that she has a history of fabricating information.
April 1998 - Smith is named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
April-May, 1998 -- Smith writes four columns that subsequently arouse suspicion, including a May 11 column about a fictitious cancer patient she refers to as Claire.
May-June -- The journalism world is beset by anxieties over ethics. In May, New Republic Associate Editor Stephen Glass is fired from that publication for fabricating information. Publicity about the case increases concerns throughout the world of journalism. There is also a good deal of talk about the June 17 publication of Brill's Content, a new magazine of media criticism. And in the May 21-28 edition of the Boston Phoenix, media critic Dan Kennedy writes of Smith: "Much in demand for speaking engagements and poetry readings, she sometimes seems to leave herself barely any time to report, so she must try to write her way out of a deadline jam."
Mid-May - Robinson is said to have had "a chance encounter with other members of the staff," who are concerned that a May 11 column by Smith about a cancer patient referred to as Claire may be fabricated. Robinson examines other columns and finds evidence of fabrications -- incomplete identifications of people coupled in some instances with quotes that seem too good to be true.
Mid-May-June 17 - At some point during this period, Robinson checks official lists of names, such as voter registration records, and can't find some of the people referred to. During this time, apparently no effort is made to speak to Smith or take action.
June 17, 1:30 p.m. -  Managing Editor Gregory L. Moore meets with Smith. She admits that four people referred to in her columns are invented.
June 17, later in the afternoon - At a meeting of Storin, Moore and others a decision is made to ask Smith to resign and publish a story.
June 18 - Storin reveals the existence of the fabrications to the Globe staff. Later in the day, Smith agrees to resign.
June 19 -- An article in the Globe by staff writer Mark Jurkowitz, headlined "Admitting fabrications, Globe columnist resigns," runs on the front page. Despite the numerous fabrications, Smith is allowed to have a farewell column on the jump page. In it, she admits inventing some of the people she referred to and says: "I wanted the pieces to jolt...So I tweaked them to make sure they did. It didn't happen often, but it did happen."
June 20 - The Globe runs a story on the front of the Metro section headlined "Dershowitz hits Barnicle columns - Sees a 'double standard' " after Attorney Alan Dershowitz faxes a letter to the Globe with copies to other media, and makes a television appearance claiming the newspaper may be involved in racism or sexism because it has fired Smith, who is black, but not columnist Mike Barnicle, who is white, although Barnicle is also said to have fabricated information. In the story, the Globe says it had already begun a review of Barnicle's work from January 1996 to the present before Dershowitz made his criticism.
June 21 -- A long, front page piece by Jurkowitz, headlined "The Globe, columnists, and the search for truth," recounts the questions surrounding Smith and Barnicle, and depicts Matthew Storin as giving Smith a second chance in 1996 to be fair, since the newspaper had never addressed questions about Barnicle. In a boxed-in announcement headlined "Globe completes review; backs columnist Barnicle," signed by Storin, the Globe says it has verified the identities of people in Barnicle columns since January 1996.
June 22 - A column by Jack Thomas, who carries the title of Globe ombudsman, criticizes Smith, expresses staff anger and says "the Globe acted swiftly and prudently in announcing that Barnicle's columns would be scrutinized once again." Thomas appears to have no role in the unfolding events.
June 23 - In a column of defense and response from Dublin, Barnicle says he has been cleared of a crime he didn't commit, and attacks critics in the press, the Globe management and Dershowitz. "In order to balance its uncomfortable decision, the Globe chose to put me on the rack to appear even-handed within the politically correct, agenda-driven journalism of the age. No double standards here!" he writes. Of Dershowitz, he says: "The self-promoting professor thinks O. J. Simpson is innocent, Louise Woodward is a terrific baby sitter, and that I am a bad guy. I can live with his contempt."
June 23 - In a brief editorial, headlined "An apology" the Globe apologizes.
Late June - In a syndicated column, Dershowitz again accuses the Globe of a double standard "possibly based on race, gender, and ethnicity" for firing Smith but not Barnicle. But the bulk of the column is devoted to again going over the $40,000 lawsuit, the Brudnoy radio program, and the never-published apology-column. Dershowitz points out the Globe has limited its review of Barnicle to determining whether he made up people in a brief span of time, when in fact what Barnicle has been accused of is making up quotes about real people. The column also says "Barnicle made up false evidence against a young black man and falsely attributed quotes to his mother. The Globe ran a partial correction."
June 25
- The Globe reports that it has asked the American Society of Newspaper Editors to rescind its 1998 award to Smith. The next day it reports the award has been rescinded.
June 27 - In a column headlined "A matter of integrity" Globe Metro columnist Eileen McNamara severely criticizes "Patricia Smith and her enablers at this newspaper" an apparent reference to some of the top management of the Globe. "It was the worst sort of racism that kept us from confronting the fraud we long suspected," she writes. Her column makes clear that responsibility lies with Globe management.
June 28 - In a letter published in the Globe, Dershowitz alleges Barnicle has now made something else up about him in the column from Dublin because Barnicle said Dershowitz believes Louise Woodward is a terrific baby sitter. Dershowitz says he has said the opposite.
June 28 - In a column on the front of the business section, Globe business columnist David Warsh heaps praise on his colleague Barnicle, saying he has "the hardest job on the paper," and makes a speculative reference to the private life of the young Dershowitz. He also attacks the Harvard law School, where Dershowitz is a professor, resurrecting questions about a murder case that involved the law school. In the column, Warsh also notes that, early in his career, Barnicle "was accused of ventriloquism, borrowing (by Mike Royko regularly), and even fabrication. He denied it all...."
June 30 -- In a boxed-in announcement, Storin reveals that 20 more columns have been found by Patricia Smith that refer to people whose existence can't be verified. Smith's claim in her final apology column that "it didn't happen often," now seems to have been her farewell falsehood to the public.(Added later)  Aug. 3 -- Maine resident Mark Robinson discovers material in a Barnicle column that has obviously been lifted from a George Carlin book. He notifies the Globe and the Boston Herald.
Aug 5. -- After receiving a fax from Robinson the day before, the Herald does a story. Nothing appears in the Globe.
Aug. 6 -- The Globe finally does a story, revealing that Barnicle has been asked to resign.
Aug 11. -- With Barnicle still at the Globe, the Boston Herald does a critical story on the Globe's continuing failure to come to a resolution over the issue.
  Go to the next article: Mike Barnicle Does It Again or to the main page: Cover-Up at the Boston Globe or to the Homepage for the Transparency website.