Works, Unethical People
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
The column: “I don’t get it when guys over
forty think they’re cool because they wear an earring.”(Barnicle;Jurkowitz
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.
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
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.