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The Barnicle Debacle

by Ken Sanes

Listening to Matthew Storin and assorted commentators explain why Mike Barnicle's infractions weren't so bad and weren't like those of Patricia Smith is embarrassing. I'm embarrassed for humanity that people are so dishonest and foolish that they act like something out of a Doonesbury cartoon.

Barnicle spent 20-plus years inventing lies, injuring people, engaging in invective and lowering the tone of many of the debates he was involved in. He made up a vicious lie about a gas station attendant and the Globe paid damages. He wrote an inappropriate column about Alan Dershowitz that may have contained a vicious lie and the Globe paid damages. He stole from Mike Royko and George Carlin. He referred to people in his columns that exhaustive searches by Boston Magazine have never turned up and that he has never produced.

After Barnicle was caught lifting one-liners from Carlin, he claimed he had never read Carlin's book. Two friends gave him the lines, he said, and he had no idea where the material came from. But since his column represented the material as his own, he was admitting he had engaged in misrepresentation. Then it turned out he had recommended the Carlin book on television that he claimed to have never read. In response, he claimed he recommended it without reading it, despite the fact that he had told viewers the book had a laugh on every page.

Now we are being asked by another dissembler, Globe editor Matthew Storin, to believe that what Barnicle did was merely sloppy, not dishonest. Storin called for Barnicle's resignation but after Barnicle appealed to the publisher, Storin had a miraculous revelation in which he suddenly recognized that "the punishment doesn't fit the crime." Storin now says he "believed from the beginning" that Barnicle "did not plagiarize." But if Storin never believed Barnicle was being dishonest, why did he earlier demand his resignation?

Storin would also have us believe there is no double standard in the Globe's decision to let Patricia Smith go for inventing characters, while it keeps Barnicle. "While Mike was sloppy, it enters into a much grayer area," he said.

But of course there is a double standard, whether it is based on revenues generated, number of vocal supporters, race and gender, willingness to fight, or some combination thereof. There was no double standard before because Barnicle's actions were old news and it made no sense to punish him now for actions then. But with these new revelations about Barnicle's borrowings, that is no longer the case.

The truth is Barnicle and Storin are two peas in a pod. Between the two of them they've got more self-contradictions than a book by Hegel.

So the Globe now has a columnist it cannot trust. Having pled guilty to the lesser crime (sloppiness rather than dishonesty) Barnicle will now go under the journalistic equivalent of house arrest. According to the story on the Globe's Internet site, first there will be a two-month suspension. In addition, "Barnicle has agreed to work more closely and stay in frequent contact with his editors throughout the day, as well as answer all questions that arise before the column is published."

In other words, the Globe will ask the public to trust Barnicle because from now on the editors will be his shadow. When he walks, they will follow. When he dials, they will push the buttons. As he writes, they will edit. Why not eliminate the middle man and let the editors write the column?

In place of even minimum standards of honesty, the management of the Globe now offers a set of standards that are a very bad joke. Unfortunately, the people of Boston have to live with the punch line.

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You can read the The Boston Herald Story and The Globe Story on the decision to retain Barnicle and then return to this site with your back arrow. (The Herald link is no longer active. The Globe link goes to the Boston Globe website,

This commentary is based on news reports on the Globe and Boston Herald sites, and on television news stories.