Tuesday, March 09, 2004

THE AGELESS DANIEL DAMON. Last October 31, Boston Herald reporter Tom Farmer wrote about Peter Damon, an Army sergeant from Brockton who lost both hands in Iraq when a helicopter tire he was working on accidentally blew up. Farmer reported that Damon and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Jennifer Maunus, had two children - "Allura, 6, and Daniel, 18 months."

On November 27, the Herald's Jessica Heslam did a follow-up, reporting again that the couple's children were "Allura, 6, and Daniel, 18 months." Scientists are not sure why Daniel Damon did not get a month older in a month's time.

Then, today, on the front page of the Herald, brand-spankin'-new columnist Mike Barnicle wrote (sub. req.) in his debut that the now-married Damons are the parents of "a daughter 6 and a boy, 19 months."

Obviously someone is wrong, and it's not necessarily Barnicle - although, for obvious reasons, he is the one who's being watched the most carefully. The Herald needs to run a correction. And I'm curious, to say the least, as to whose reporting gets corrected.

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY. To read the coverage of Barnicle's return to the Boston newspaper wars, you'd think the only things he'd ever done wrong were to rip off a few lines from George Carlin and to write a column about kids with cancer without checking his sources all that carefully.

Barnicle has been writing a column for the New York Daily News for five years now with no apparent incident, and it's unfair to bear the guy ceaselessly back into the past (that's, ahem, a semi-literate reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald). But let's not gloss over the past. Barnicle had been credibly accused of plagiarism on several occasions during his quarter-century career at the Boston Globe - including by the late, great Mike Royko. Barnicle attributed a racial slur to Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz (no witnesses, naturally) after Dershowitz dared to criticize Barnicle's buddy Bill Bulger. (The Globe ended up paying a settlement.) And, in the early 1990s, Boston magazine turned up a number of columns that appeared to be partly or wholly fabricated. You can read all about it here.

After Globe columnist Patricia Smith was forced out for fabricating characters and quotes in June 1998, the end came quickly for Barnicle. In July, my friend Bill Kirtz, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, reported in the Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, that Barnicle had once plagiarized from A.J. Liebling. Then the Herald reported the Carlin incident, which led to a suspension and a nationwide campaign among Barnicle's media buddies to save his job.

Finally, I reported on Kirtz's allegations, digging up evidence showing that, in a 1986 column, Barnicle had apparently lifted direct quotes, complete with idiosyncratic spelling, from Liebling's 1961 biography of Louisiana politico Earl Long, The Earl of Louisiana. An advance copy of that story was released to the local and national media early in the afternoon on August 19. Within a few hours, Barnicle was gone, with the Globe announcing that it had uncovered yet another instance of journalistic malfeasance: a column about kids with cancer that appeared to be partly or wholly fabricated.

Barnicle deserves to be judged on his current work, not what he did six or 18 years ago. But let's get the record straight, shall we?

By the way, here is a worthwhile piece by Kirtz on his own 15 minutes of fame as the man who discovered the Barnicle-Liebling connection.

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