Charging popular columnist Jeff Jacoby with “serious journalistic
misconduct,” the Boston Globe suspended the writer over his Independence Day
56 great risk-takers on the fates of America’s founding fathers.
Jacoby says he never imagined the article would result in his suspension for using facts published in other columns on the same subject.
Critics of the Globe’s action are characterizing it as blatantly politically motivated.
After reading articles by media moguls Rush Limbaugh and Paul Harvey, as well as a widely circulated anonymous e-mail, describing the harsh consequences faced by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Jacoby decided to research the matter for himself. As a result, he found some factual errors in the publications, which he corrected in his own column.
Because Jacoby did not indicate to readers that his column was based on other, similarly themed writings containing many of the same facts, the Boston Globe suspended him without pay for four months.
Renee Loth, the Globe’s editorial page editor, was not available for comment Monday but was quoted by the Associated Press regarding the severity of Jacoby’s punishment.
“We considered mitigating factors as well as the blow this is to the Globe’s credibility, and we came up with a balanced response that’s proportionate,” Loth said.
One of those mitigating factors in Jacoby’s favor, according to the Globe, was an e-mail he circulated on July 2, stating the column was an attempt to correct errors in a similar piece on the Internet.
Loth and Globe publisher Richard Gilman stopped short of calling Jacoby’s column plagiarism.
Fred Fiske, vice president of the
National Conference of Editorial
Writers, told WorldNetDaily, “Certainly, if you’re not quoting verbatim from a published source, in my knowledge that removes any taint of plagiarism.”
Although the Globe did not accuse Jacoby of plagiarism, Jacoby’s actions may have been a violation “of company policy or newspaper practices, and I imagine some are stricter than others,” Fiske said.
The suspension, effectively rendering the columnist unemployed, was handed down Friday afternoon, according to Jacoby, who posted an
letter on the Internet addressing the incident.
He said he was “put on notice that if I do choose to return in four months, there would have to be a ‘serious rethink’ of the kind of column I write.”
“Since I was relating lore that has been related over and over, and since all of the sources I relied on had relied in turn on even earlier recitations, I assumed that all the material in my column was in the public domain,” Jacoby wrote. “It never occurred to me to include a line pointing out that I was far from the first to write about the fates of the Declaration’s signers. Had I added such a line, Globe officials tell me, none of this would be happening.”
On July 3, one day after his column was printed, Jacoby offered to add a correction to his next column in order to allay the concerns of his superiors, but his offer was rejected. Instead, an editor’s note was printed in the paper on Thursday, announcing that “the structure and concept for [the] column were not entirely original.” The next day, Jacoby was suspended.
“I joined the Globe as an op-ed columnist in February 1994. (The first line of my first column was: “So what’s a nice conservative like me doing in a newspaper like this?”) In the six and a half years since, I have produced close to 600 columns. I invite anyone to judge my integrity and my journalistic ethics on the basis of the work that I have done for the Globe. To my knowledge, the paper has never had any reason to question my work, or to doubt that I hold myself to the highest standards when writing for publication. Six years’ worth of superlative evaluations of me are on file in the Globe’s personnel records. I think it is fair to say that I have been a credit to The Boston Globe and have improved the paper’s reputation,” he continued.
“No one deserves to lose his income for a third of a year because a column lacked a sentence that might have underscored how common the column’s theme was,” Jacoby added. “I am deeply concerned about my family’s future, of course. And I am deeply concerned about my reputation.”
The open letter was first posted on
JewishWorldReview.com, whose editor-in-chief, Binyamin L. Jolkovsky, came to Jacoby’s defense.
“In essence, Jeff is being punished for not stating that others have written, spoken and told the story of America’s birth,” Jolkovsky said in a statement. “Were some turns-of-phrase Jeff used similar to other writers? Maybe. But there are only so many variations of words that can be used to describe factual events.”
Jolkovsky believes the columnist’s suspension is politically motivated.
“In the past, Jeff had the audacity to question frequently, and with eloquence, what is more and more becoming the accepted norm in this era of moral revisionism. His views are conservative and based upon his value-system as a Sabbath-observant Jew. It is no secret that some of his coworkers — “colleagues” is hardly the apt word — at the Globe wanted him purged, as documented by several media accounts,” he continued, although he recognizes the paper’s past disciplinary actions on other writers.
Jacoby is the third Globe columnist to face major sanctions for alleged ethical violations in the past two years. Patricia Smith resigned in June 1998 after admitting she fabricated some characters and quotations. Mike Barnicle resigned in August 1998 after being unable to verify facts in a 1995 column.
Said Jolkovsky, “Perhaps the Globe, which already dealt with this issue in an Editor’s Note earlier in the week, is overreacting because of its experience with Mike Barnicle and another former columnist, who committed major journalistic felonies. But there is not the remotest comparison between their serious ethical sins and the fact that Jeff’s column did not include a line stating the obvious.”
Jolkovsky noted his organization has received well over 2,000 messages from concerned readers regarding Jacoby’s suspension.
Read Joseph Farah’s column,
Diversity, Boston Globe-style