In the world of media today, an ethics code is one of the most important things to follow. Unfortunately, Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith did not feel the same way. Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith, both former workers for The Boston Globe, plagiarized and falsified information in order to bring forth newsworthy stories. Throughout this paper I will discuss the unethical acts of both Barnicle and Smith, the problems they caused for themselves, and the problems they caused for The Boston Globe.
“The following is what happens when a company lacks consistent response to, and enforcement of, its core values and standards”(Hoffman 1). The summer of 1998 became one of the worst summers The Boston Globe has ever seen. For thirty years The Boston Globe had built itself a great reputation and had won twelve Pulitzer prizes. “The Globe even outshone its cross-town rival, the Boston Herald” (Hoffman 1). In 1973 the Globe hired a writer by the name of Mike Barnicle. Mike wrote about the Boston’s working class. Including cops, single mothers, gas station owners, elderly immigrants and young veterans. Problems with Barnicle started to surface early in his Boston Globe career. The Globe settled two lawsuits stating that Barnicle plagiarized quotes of famous people. Also, a man by the name of Mike Royoko complained that Barnicle was copying his work. Many workers at the Globe then came to resent him and complained that he was arrogant.
Just when it seemed that Mike Barnicle’s problems were beginning to subside, on August 1, 1998, Barnicle wrote a column titled, “I was just thinking…..”. A reader called the Globe and alerted the Boston Herald that many of the excerpts in Barnicles column actually came from George Carlins book, Brain Droppings. The column Barnicle had written was not his own work..
This was the worst case scenario for the Boston Globe because their competitor released the story first and at the same time revealing the earlier problems the Globe had had with Mike Barnicle. “The thirty eight, one-liners in the column included eight items similar to George Carlin’s book, without citing Carlin as the source”(Jurkowitz 1). Here is an excerpt from the actual article that Barnicle wrote compared to the writings of George Carlin.
The book: “If cockpit voice recorders are so indestructible, why don’t they just build an airplane that’s just one big cockpit voice recorder?”(Carlin;Jurkowitz 3).
The column: “How come planes aren’t made with the same indestructible material used to assemble those black boxes that always survive crashes?”(Barnicle;Jurkowitz 3).
The book: “People who should be phased out: Guys who wear suits all day and think an earring makes them cool all night.”(Carlin;Jurkowitz 3).
The column: “I don’t get it when guys over forty think they’re cool because they wear an earring.”(Barnicle;Jurkowitz 3).
As you can see through this small excerpt, Mike Barnicle obviously took his column from George Carlin’s book, even though Barnicle claims to have never read Carlin’s book. This wasn’t the end to Barnicle’s unethical ways. In1995 Barnicle wrote a piece about two families with a child at Children’s Hospital. The story had been told to Barnicle, but was never meant for news and the story was embellished and flawed in the retelling. Barnicle wrote that one family lost a child and the other family generously gave them a personal gift of ten thousand dollars, when in actuality a gift of five thousand dollars was given and it was given to go toward a scholarship, not a personal gift. Also the race of the child was not accurate.
When The Boston Globe became aware of what Barnicle was doing they were outraged. The Globe immediately asked for Barnicle’s resignation accusing him of plagarism and falsification. Barnicle states, “Plagiarism is not the word to use here. Laziness or stupidity might be.”(Jurkowitz 2). Barnicle asked the Globe to run a final column so that he could argue his case. Barnicle’s request was denied, but he was allowed to write a column announcing his resignation.
So at the age of fifty-four in August of 1998, Barnicle resigned. In his resignation column he states, “My employment ended in forced resignation and personal disbelief this August when I could not immediately provide sources for a 1995 column that included the reconstruction of dialogue I had not actually heard directly.”(Barnicle 5). Barnicle had worked at the Globe for twenty-five years and said that they were wonderful, but now it was time for him to do something different.
Unfortunately the problems at the Globe did not stop with Mike Barnicle. Patricia Smith was also working at the Globe. Patricia was a fairly new employee, but she was well renowned. She had been a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize. During her work at the Globe, indications that she was making up material had surfaced, but the paper decided not to confront her about the issue. Readers said that her words sang to them, they were heartfelt and they were proud to read her columns. (O’Brien 1).
In 1998 The Boston Globe for the second time fell apart. Patricia Smith was found out. Walter Robinson, then the Globe’s assistant manager, then editor for the local news was told that someone on the copy desk had raised questions about the level of truth in Smith’s work.(O’Brien 3). During this same time period Walter received a phone call from a reader who had doubt about the existence of a character in a recent column. The column in question was about a man named Ernie Keane from Somerville, Massachusetts who supposedly phoned Smith in the newsroom to talk about President Clinton’s upcoming visit to Boston. Keane allegedly wanted Smith to relay a message to the President which read like this in her column: “I ain’t real smart and I don’t have no fancy words to make folks sit up and take notice. I’m just ordinary, but there are a lot of ordinary folks here getting sick of screaming and no one hearing. Our country’s supposed to take care of us when we get old, that’s our reward for working all these years and living here in this so-called democratic place. Just tell him that.”(O’Brien 3).
After reading this article the Globe decided to conduct an investigation themselves. They attempted to contact the people that Smith had used in her articles, but to no avail. The Globe then found out that in 1986, while Smith was working for The Chicago Sun-Times, she covered an Elton John concert. She wrote negatively about the concert saying that he wore something that he had not and played songs he had not played. She also said that the audience wasn’t pleased although the promoters said that he was well received. The concert representatives also said that Smith never even picked up her tickets. Smith denied this allegation. After finding this out and revealing other stories the Globe was once again in a tight spot. They set up a meeting with Smith letting her know that they were going to try to contact all of the people she had written about in her stories. Smith was “shaken”(Storin;O’brien 5) by the meeting, and from then on the quality of her work went down.
The Globe conducted their investigation and was able to confirm fifty-two suspicious columns since 1995. After viewing the evidence the Globe decided to give her a second chance. In turn she had to bring in names and phone numbers so the characters in her stories could be contacted. From the beginning this didn’t work. On May 11th they came across another suspicious story. This story focused on a cancer patient named Claire who was excited about what may be a cure. She discussed new treatments that had been tested on mice and worked. This time the Globe was able to prove that her story was bogus. Smith cited people with occupations that required licensing and therefore they should have been able to be tracked down. “When they couldn’t be located, the game was over.”(O’Brien 7). The Globe asked Smith to verify the existence of six of the characters, and it was then that she admitted that they were fictitious.
Smith was then forced to resign. Before she left she wrote an apology to the people who read her columns. It read like this: “It’s not to late to apologize to you. From time to time in my Metro column, to create the desired impact or to slam home a salient point, I attributed quotes to people who didn’t exist. I could give then names, I could give them occupations, but I couldn’t give then what they needed most—a heartbeat. Anyone knows that this is one of the cardinal sins of journalism. Yet there are always excuses. It didn’t happen often, but It did happen and that was one time to many.”(O’Brien 11).
That may have been the end of it all for Patricia and Mike, but it surely wasn’t the end for The Boston Globe. When this ethical scandal erupted it threatened the integrity and core of the Globe. Many people felt that it was the Globe’s fault, not Mike and Patricas. Alan Dershowitz, one of the papers critics stated “It’s time to focus on Globe higher-ups. They really are to blame.”(Kalb 1). Many of the workers at the Globe were angry because the Globe did not make their decision fast enough. In turn it caused tension in the workplace. On the other side many felt that it was the fault of Patricia and Mike because they violated readers trust and the trust the newspaper had in them; and that the paper handled the crisis well.
In conclusion, having consistent ethical standards and enforcing those standards is the key to running an ethical business. Having no clear standards is what causes an ethical crisis such as the one at the Globe. The biggest problem with plagiarism is that the readers begin to doubt the truth of anything that they read in the Globe. Maybe Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith either forgot the rules, if they were ever explained, or convinced themselves that what they were writing was acceptable. “It is up to management to remind employees of the rules and the values for which the company stands.”(Hoffman 5). By failing to state or enforce clear standards, The Globe’s management failed Barnicle, Smith, its readers and itself.
Hoffman, Michael. “The Boston Globe Ethics Crisis: Muddied Standards, Muddied Management.” Business and Society Review Summer 1999: 119
Jurkowitz, Mark. “Globe Asks Barnicle Fir His Resignation.” Boston Globe 6 Aug. 1998, third ed.: A1
Barnicle, Mike. “I Was Just Thinking.” Boston Globe 2 Aug. 1998, third ed.: B1
O’Brien, Sinead. “Secrets and Lies.” American Journalism Review Sept. 1998:40
Barnicle, Mike “My Way” Boston Globe 29 Oct. 1998, A27
Kalb, Claudia. “The Globe Scrapes Off Barnicle Mess.” Newsweek 31 Aug. 1998: 56
“Boston Globe Columnist resigns after admitting to fabricating people and quotes.” Jet 6 Jul. 1998: 6.