A Sample of the National Response
to the Jeff Jacoby Purge

The Boston Globe

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Fax number:  (617) 929-2098
Letters to the Editor
Ombudsman Jack Thomas

SPEECH: "The BOSTON GLOBE has been suspended"... 

An Unfree Press: The Jeff Jacoby Affair
By David Horowitz

If anyone ever doubted the totalitarian mentality that lurks right below the surface of every "liberal" brain, the outrageous firing of Jeff Jacoby should put those doubts to rest. The excuse given for the firing of Jacoby is laughable. (Of course the Globe lefties didn't have the spine to do even this honestly, covering it up as a "suspension" without pay for four months). The reckless cruelty towards Jacoby, a talented young man who has no blemish on his career is inexcusable. It is self-evident that no one but a conservative would have been treated this way.

Jeff Jacoby was the only conservative columnist on the staff of The Globe. But that is one more conservative than, say, the leftists at the Los Angeles Times or National Public Radio can live with. Now The Globe joins them as a party paper without dissent. Token conservatives do pepper the pages of other major dailies like The New York Times and The Washington Post. But "pepper" is the word. Their main courses are dished up daily by legions of left-wing chefs.

Readers curious about the commissar-like mentality of the liberal media community could do worse than read Harry Stein's new book How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy and Found Inner Peace. Stein was a columnist for several of the liberal magazines (so-called) that shape our national tastes. Having fathered a child, Stein decided to take a look at the child-care "issue" about the time Dan Quayle was being pilloried for suggesting that two parents might help a youngster to get a good start in life. Without thinking too hard about the implications of what he was doing -- indeed without realizing that there were any -- Stein wrote a piece that raised some mild questions about whether institutional childcare was all that it was cracked up to be. The next thing he knew, an old friend was accosting him at a dinner party with "Since when did you become a fascist?" Bang, buddy, you're dead.

It is appropriate that Jeff Jacoby should be made an unperson by his leftwing bosses at The Globe over a column written as a tribute to the Americans who wrote the Constitution and paid a dear personal price for their gift to the rest of us of a nation conceived in liberty. Jeff Jacoby has now paid a price too. And for the same reason.

David Horowitz is editor-in-chief of FrontPage Magazine and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

Copyright 2000 by

The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 11, 2000

At the Boston Globe, a Question of Who's Right
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

The story line seems all too familiar: another Boston Globe columnist punished for borrowing someone else's work.

But this time the offender is an unabashed conservative on a famously liberal op-ed page, and the penalty so harsh -- for what many Globe staffers see as a minor infraction -- that some rushed yesterday to defend a man with whom they rarely agree.

"What is happening now is a nightmare," Jeff Jacoby wrote friends after being suspended for four months without pay, sidelining him until after the election. "In accusing me of 'serious journalistic misconduct,' the Globe is poisoning the good name I have spent many years building up. This suspension is a brutal overreaction to something that even the Globe will not call plagiarism and doesn't characterize as a willful violation."

In his July 3 column, Jacoby wrote about what became of the signers of the Declaration of Independence -- an old theme that has been explored by Paul Harvey, Rush Limbaugh and others, as Jacoby readily acknowledged when he e-mailed an advance copy of the column to some friends and fans. Jacoby says he checked books, encyclopedias and Web sites in researching his version, which bore some similarity to the earlier pieces.

But for a newspaper that was traumatized by the banishment of columnists Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith in 1998, this was over the line. In a statement and subsequent news story on the suspension, the Globe said it found the column was based on accounts that have appeared "in other publications and books and on Web sites for years" and "failed to alert readers to those other sources." Jacoby says his bosses told him there would have to be a "serious rethink" of his column if he returned after four months -- in other words, says Jacoby, he was "effectively invited to resign."

Renee Loth, who became editorial page editor two months ago, says that "this had absolutely nothing to do with ideology. I'd have been happy to have Jeff on my page as a courageous conservative voice. The fact that I'm more liberal than my predecessor is really not a factor here, even if that's true."

Loth also says the ouster of Barnicle and Smith had no effect on Jacoby's fate. "To the extent that it was possible, I looked at this in isolation.... We came up with a response that's proportionate and fair."

Many staffers strongly disagree. "It strikes me as a terrible overreaction," says Globe business columnist Charles Stein. "The guy made a mistake. He wasn't trying to put anything over on anybody. It's very different from the other incidents the Globe has been involved in, where people were making stuff up. Maybe a reprimand and a week's suspension would have been appropriate."

Steve Bailey, the Globe's "Downtown" columnist, calls the suspension "way over the top. The guy's opinions were never welcomed in this building from day one. One mistake and he's gone. It's hard to imagine there wasn't some connection [with his conservative views]. The guy has created a lot of enemies over the years. I didn't agree with his point of view all the time, but I admired his work."

Friday's suspension of the six-year veteran has quickly become a cause celebre. Conservative columnist Matt Drudge registered a protest by dropping all Globe links from his Web site. National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg (who had apologized for writing a similar Declaration column) urged people to call or fax the Globe to complain, as did Jewish World Review. Writer David Horowitz accused the Globe of "reckless cruelty" in, and the Wall Street Journal is planning a critical column.

Says John Fund, a Journal editorial board member who first published Jacoby's writing a dozen years ago: "It's an open secret that Jacoby was viewed at best with sneering indifference and at worst with contempt and hostility in the newsroom." He calls Jacoby's mistake a "misdemeanor."

Jacoby has been something of a lightning rod. In 1997, when he criticized Harvard activists who tried to block a discussion by a Christian group that believes homosexuality is sinful, two gay copy editors complained, and the Globe's ombudsman--who had castigated Jacoby for "homophobic" columns--called the piece "offensive."

The Globe was badly shaken by the departures of Smith, a prominent black columnist, and star columnist Barnicle, who is white. Smith acknowledged fabricating characters in several columns. Barnicle, who was initially suspended for recycling jokes without attribution, was fired for shoddy reporting after editors could not confirm the existence of two cancer-stricken boys he wrote about.

But while those episodes sparked a racially tinged debate, Jacoby's case has galvanized those who say the paper lacks political diversity.

"What Jacoby did was stupid, and he's admitted that," says Dan Kennedy, media critic for the Boston Phoenix. "But when you're going to destroy a man's career and reputation, you have to look at intent. Clearly, he didn't intend to deceive anyone. There are people over there who absolutely loathe him.... Jacoby is so far out of the mainstream there that it makes this easier to do."

Loth says incredulously there have even been whispers of antisemitism against a Jewish columnist, although she is Jewish herself. She says she weighed Jacoby's "intent" on the column, but that his unusual practice of e-mailing advance copies to 100 friends was also a factor.

"Four months is a long enough time that he may feel he wants to find another job," Loth says. "That's certainly his right. He can still come back."

The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, July 11, 2000


Recycling Shouldn't Be a Crime
By James Taranto, deputy features editor of the Journal's editorial page.

Journalists often preach about the need for high ethical standards. But punishing someone excessively for a trivial offense is no more ethical than looking the other way at serious wrongdoing. That's a lesson the Boston Globe's editors need to learn.

On July 3 the Globe published a column by Jeff Jacoby, in which he described the fate of some of the lesser-known signers of the Declaration of Independence. Mr. Jacoby later explained in an e-mail that he had based his column on three similar essays -- one by Paul Harvey, one by Rush Limbaugh and one that has been making the rounds on the Internet. He rewrote these essays, consulting reference works and Web sites to correct errors.

Three days later the Globe published an "editor's note" acknowledging that "aspects" of the column had "appeared in a widely circulated e-mail message and on the Internet" and criticizing Mr. Jacoby for failing to disclose this. Then, on Friday, the Globe suspended Mr. Jacoby for four months without pay and accused him of "serious journalistic misconduct."

The Globe's editors acknowledge that Mr. Jacoby didn't commit plagiarism, an offense that consists in appropriating someone else's words. So what exactly was his crime? The editor's note declared that "Jacoby should have alerted readers that the concept and structure for his column were not entirely original."

Indeed, he should have. It's always best to err on the side of disclosure, and the column would have been more interesting and timely if Mr. Jacoby had made clear that he was correcting errors in an e-mail posting that many of his readers had no doubt seen. (He did spell this out to his friends when he e-mailed them a prepublication copy of the column.)

But does such an error of judgment really amount to "serious journalistic misconduct"? Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post's well-respected media reporter, doesn't think so. "I considered this a minor matter and wasn't planning on writing a word about it until the Globe hit Jacoby with the four-month suspension," he told me yesterday.

Do the Globe's editors really expect their writers to "alert readers" every time they avail themselves of a "concept" that is "not entirely original"? If so, they are setting up an impossible standard. Very few concepts are entirely original. (Surely I'm not the first to point this out.) To take a random example, The New York Times, whose parent company owns the Globe, is publishing a long series of ponderous articles on "How Race Is Lived in America." Was this an original idea? No, but it wasn't until the 10th installment that the Times "alerted readers" that the Akron Beacon Journal ran a similar series that won it a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 -- and the Times did so only in the context of an article about race relations in the Beacon Journal newsroom.

Granted, the Times series doesn't rely directly on previously published work, as Mr. Jacoby's July 3 column did. But even rewriting the work of others is nothing out of the ordinary. My first journalistic experience was a 1986 summer internship at the Los Angeles bureau of United Press International. One of my duties was to walk down the street to the L.A. Times every night at 8:30 and pick up a few early copies of the next day's paper. I'd take the papers back to the bureau, where an editor would pick out an article or two for me to rewrite -- sometimes with attribution, sometimes without.

The following year I had an internship at KNX, a CBS-owned news radio station in Los Angeles, where I wrote scripts for anchors to read on the air. Sometimes I did original reporting, but mostly I rewrote wire copy, some of which the wire services doubtless had rewritten from newspapers. The anchors never alerted listeners that the stories they were reading weren't entirely original.

Journalists routinely recycle enough to make any environmentalist proud. So why is the Globe charging Mr. Jacoby with the journalistic equivalent of a felony?

The paper has an embarrassing recent history of ethical lapses. In June 1998 it forced columnist Patricia Smith to resign after she acknowledged fabricating characters and quotes in four columns. Two months later the Globe asked veteran columnist Mike Barnicle to resign after he used unattributed jokes from a book by comedian George Carlin. When Mr. Barnicle refused to quit, the paper instead suspended him for a month. Two weeks later he was forced to resign when he couldn't substantiate a story from a 1995 column. (Mr. Barnicle denied fabricating the story and said he had not read Mr. Carlin's books but was repeating jokes he had heard from friends.)

Because Ms. Smith is black and Mr. Barnicle is white, the Globe's hesitation to fire him prompted some readers and black leaders to charge the paper with racial bias. Even the Globe's ombudsman acknowledged a "double standard." It's hard to believe that race was the deciding factor; more likely, the Globe was comparatively lenient with Mr. Barnicle because he was more senior and more popular than Ms. Smith.

Mr. Jacoby happens to be the Globe's only conservative columnist, and some conservatives now accuse the paper of singling him out on ideological grounds. Whether or not this charge is true, the Globe's editors have failed to distinguish between an error and a crime.

It's reminiscent of the 1996 case in which an Ohio junior high school suspended a 13-year-old girl for possessing Midol, an over-the-counter medicine for menstrual cramps, in violation of the school's "zero tolerance" antidrug policy.

Kids who bring medicine to school don't deserve to be treated like crack users, and Mr. Jacoby doesn't deserve to be treated like a plagiarist or a fabricator.

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