By: Wayne Robins

Was Former ‘Globe’ Columnist Victim Of Political Correctness?

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by Wayne Robins

There was something in Mike Barnicle’s fate that was unsettling to
Eugene Kennedy. The author, former priest, and professor emeritus
of clinical psychology at Loyola University in Chicago met the
defrocked Boston Globe columnist when his wife, Dr. Sara C. Charles,
a former nun, interviewed Barnicle for a book she was writing about
the impact of litigation and similar events on people.

‘As a writer, it’s something you’re drawn to – a moral exchange has
taken place,’ Kennedy said of the events that led to Barnicle’s
forced resignation for alleged plagiarism two years ago after 25
years as the Globe’s most popular columnist.

Now Kennedy’s investigation of that episode – a 12,000-plus-word
manuscript, ‘Mike Barnicle and American Twilight,’ finally published
on Jim Romenesko’s Media News Web site – has set off a Web tempest.

Kennedy, author of numerous books including a 1989 biography, ‘Cardinal
Bernardin,’ spent six months working on his piece about the scandal
that included access to Barnicle’s letters as well as memos to and
from Globe executives. Kennedy told E&P his agent submitted the article
to the Columbia Journalism Review, Brill’s Content, and the American
Journalism Review, all three of which passed.

‘This is the first time I’ve put up ‘original content’ of this length,’
Romenesko said in an e-mail interview. He had discussed the piece with
his colleagues at the Poynter Institute, the journalism think tank
whose sanctioning authority helps give weight to Romenesko’s
aggregation of news, gossip, and debate.

But because this was a submission from a writer with a substantial
reputation, Romenesko said the discussion was brief. ‘My Poynter
bosses got the manuscript first, looked at it, and e-mailed it to
me. I knew Kennedy’s work from my college days when I worked in a
Catholic bookstore, so his credibility didn’t have to be checked,’
Romenesko said.

The posting on Romenesko’s site in early August drew quick reaction.
On one side were aligned Barnicle’s celebrity supporters. Norman
Mailer, Peter Maas, and Richard Goodwin all chimed in, supporting
Kennedy’s conclusion that Barnicle was the victim of political
correctness. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote, ‘This thoughtful and
well-documented piece convincingly demonstrates that, in the name of
political correctness, The Boston Globe savagely and without cause
seriously damaged the career of its honored and veteran columnist,
Mike Barnicle.’

The strongest assertion in Kennedy’s article is that Barnicle was
victimized by an ’empowered network’ of editors close to Editor in
Chief Matt Storin. ‘Storin was proud of the diversified group of
editors he had recruited,’ Kennedy writes. ‘They included two women
… as well as an African American. … They were referred to in the
newsroom as ‘The Gang of Four.”

Kennedy concludes that not only did the Gang of Four want Barnicle
gone but that they were so potent a force in office politics that
they ran roughshod over Barnicle’s newsroom supporters. ‘Although
Barnicle’s integrity as a journalist was defended by all the editors
who supervised him over the years,’ Kennedy concluded, ‘these older
white men did not constitute … a cohort influential enough to protect
Barnicle.’ The Globe had no comment.

But online, many others weren’t buying the P.C. line. Dan Kennedy, the
respected Boston Phoenix media critic who claims he nabbed Barnicle
cribbing A.J. Liebling years ago, in an interview politely described
the article as ‘a different look at what happened to Barnicle, and
not very well done, I would say.’

Former Boston Magazine Editor Craig Unger was aghast in the online
discussion. ‘Mike Barnicle a victim of political correctness?’ he
wondered. ‘Nothing could be more absurd. What is striking about this
debate is that it largely ignores more than 20 years of fabrications
and plagiarism by Barnicle during which time he was caught again and
again by powers that be within the Globe and outsiders such as Alan
Dershowitz, the Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, and Boston Magazine.’


Wayne Robins ( is an associate editor for E&P. Additional reporting by Erin Whalen.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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