Boston columnist quits amid new allegations Barnicle had beaten earlier call to resign

August 20, 1998|By BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON -- Ending a tumultuous two-week period during which he was asked to resign from the Boston Globe and then successfully battled to retain his job, columnist Mike Barnicle resigned from the newspaper yesterday after new credibility questions arose.

The 25-year columnist, already serving a two-month suspension

for writing a column that used unattributed jokes by comedian George Carlin, agreed to quit after being unable to verify the facts contained in an Oct. 8, 1995, column about two children being treated for cancer at Children's Hospital, the paper said.

In remarks to the Globe newsroom yesterday afternoon, Editor Matthew V. Storin said, "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."

Last night, Barnicle, 54, said: "I'm sorry Matt thinks I'm duplicitous. I believe that story to be true. I was told it by a nurse. I've been trying all day to track down two people involved in that column."

He added that he agreed to resign because "of the weight of this thing. It was too much, it was absurd. The feeding frenzy that has disrupted this paper. Matt Storin doesn't deserve it, the Globe doesn't deserve it, and I don't deserve it."

The 1995 column told a poignant story of two families -- one black and poor, one white and affluent -- that bonded because they both had sons suffering from cancer. After the poor child died, the wealthy family sent a $10,000 check to his struggling family.

The newspaper began probing the latest charge against Barnicle on Tuesday when Storin received a letter from Kenneth Tomlinson, a former editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest who was writing an article on his experiences with Barnicle for the Weekly Standard magazine.

Tomlinson said that in 1995 he had wanted to reprint the Barnicle cancer column. But, he said, "Barnicle declined to help me" confirm the facts, and after "exhaustive efforts" to verify the story, "we concluded the column was fabricated." The magazine did not tell the Globe of its suspicions.

Starting Tuesday morning, Assistant Managing Editor Walter Robinson, who last week was appointed Barnicle's supervising editor, attempted unsuccessfully to verify key facts of the column.

According to Robinson's account of his conversations with the columnist, Barnicle said he heard the account from a nurse at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute but was unable to provide the nurse's name or further details.

When Robinson told Barnicle that he was troubled by his reliance on a third-hand source for the graphic details in the column, Robinson said the columnist told him, "That's the way I do it."

By yesterday afternoon, the Globe decided to ask for Barnicle's resignation and Barnicle agreed to quit. In addressing the staff, Storin said Barnicle "could offer no account of attempting to check out 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."

"The story may well prove to be true or essentially true," Storin added yesterday. "But the reporting procedures violated any basic journalistic standard."

While the Globe was investigating Barnicle's 1995 column, the Boston Phoenix released a story yesterday that it was preparing for print containing what it called "the most damning evidence of all that Barnicle has, indeed, plagiarized." The Jan. 20, 1986, column contained anecdotes about infamous Louisiana politician Earl Long that Barnicle attributed to Long's cousin Gillis Long.

The Phoenix story reported that the column had "lifted exact quotes, complete with idiosyncratic spellings," from author A. J. Liebling's 1961 biography of Long. The Phoenix piece pointed out that Gillis Long died a year before the column appeared.

Yesterday marked the second time in two weeks that the Globe asked for Barnicle's resignation. The prolonged episode began when an Aug. 2 Barnicle column was found to contain eight jokes similar to those in comedian Carlin's 1997 book "Brain Droppings." In the end, Barnicle was suspended without pay for two months.

One huge factor hanging over the episode was the requested resignation June 18 of Patricia Smith, a columnist who is black. She quit after acknowledging that she fabricated characters and quotes in several 1998 columns.

On Aug. 12, more than 50 Globe employees signed a petition presented to Storin and to Publisher Benjamin B. Taylor, stating that Barnicle's "reprieve gives the appearance of a double standard."

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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