Friday, October 1, 2010

"Mike Barnicle, Fraud and Plagiarist"

I want to thank Tom Scocca for reassuring me that I'm not the only one who remembers that Mike Barnicle got caught plagiarizing and fabricating in his Boston Globe column, and lied about it, and was supposed to have resigned from journalism in disgrace.

I was a kid when the most blatant instance of plagiarism happened, but this was a journalism scandal I could understand. I saw Barnicle's syndicated column in my hometown newspaper now and then, so I knew how dimwitted and phoned-in it was as a matter of course. The way I saw it, there were really two facets to the scandal: first, that he'd stolen a bunch of jokes from George Carlin without giving any sort of credit; and second, that his column was regularly so pointless that a collection of apparently original Carlinesque one-liners was an unobjectionable use of the space. (The Boston Phoenix put it this way, back in 1998: "It's not so much that he copied Carlin as that he writes a lazy, second-rate column, using it to reward his friends, punish his enemies, and bore the hell out of just about everyone else.") The sort of laziness that would make someone steal to fill a waste-of-space opinion column about nothing in particular was hard for me to fathom.

And that was just one example. Barnicle had a history of plagiarism -- which I guess is not so surprising; if you hold the standards of your profession in that much contempt, what's stopping you? And of course he wasn't the only opinion columnist to ever craft a "column" entirely out of other people's ideas. But there are ways of doing it that are professionally acceptable. (Remember when Maureen Dowd got caught stealing a joke* from Talking Points Memo? Her defense was that she got it from a friend and didn't realize the friend was quoting someone else. In other words, she basically announced that she canvasses her friends for cutesy political punchlines to copy and paste into her terrible column. And that's the permissible way to fill 700 words!)  Barnicle plainly did not know or care to learn how to properly credit sources. Yet even after he was exposed definitively, I kept seeing Mike Barnicle's name, or face, in major media outlets. People kept treating him like an important commentator with something to say. He's managed to edit his Wikipedia entry (I assume) so that there's no mention of plagiarism or scandal in the introduction. And now I guess he's all over this new Ken Burns documentary about baseball, which I don't plan to watch, but seriously: stop giving authority to noted liar Mike Barnicle! Or: what Tom Scocca said.

Scocca links to Salon's Joan Walsh, who points out that Barnicle's wife's connections may have something to do with his prominence in The Tenth Inning. But here's what has to say about his involvement:
Mark Feeney from the Boston Globe says, “Mike Barnicle, who toiled for many years at this newspaper, serves as representative of Red Sox Nation. One of his great strengths on both page and screen has always been what a potent and vivid presence he has.”
That's one way to put it. Red Sox Nation must be so proud.

* CORRECTION: Since I'm coming down hard on other people's errors, I ought to admit my own: it wasn't a joke Dowd lifted from TPM; it was a cogent political observation. So maybe that's what she customarily gets from her "friends."

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