- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

On July 7, the Boston Globe suspended its lone conservative columnist, Jeff Jacoby, 41, for four months without pay. He was charged with not naming all his sources in a July 3 column, "56 great risk-takers," about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Globe called his lack of attribution "serious journalistic misconduct."

Since then, the paper has been flooded with negative responses by thousands of readers, many charging the Globe with discrimination. Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas retorted in a column yesterday that Mr. Jacoby's transgression "was comparable to manslaughter." Conceding the suspension was a "public relations disaster" for the newspaper, Mr. Thomas blamed conservatives and the "radical right" for generating much of the e-mails and letters.

Mr. Jacoby still insists he did not commit plagiarism. Here are excerpts from an interview conducted yesterday by Culture Page Editor Julia Duin.

Q: Is there a hostile work environment at the Globe?
A: By and large, I feel perfectly comfortable at the Globe. But I've been aware from the outset there's always been a small amount of people who found me intolerable because of my politics.
I remember being told, on the day it was announced in 1994 that I was going from the Boston Herald to the Boston Globe, getting a phone call from an editor at the Globe who said, "My name is so and so, I'm thrilled you're coming here, but I just want to warn you there are some people who are really upset that somebody like you has been hired."
Staff columnists Ellen Goodman, Tom Oliphant, Derrick Z. Jackson, Joan Vennochi and David Nyhan are all clearly identified as politically liberal. I was the guy on the other side of the seesaw. I was hired by David Greenway, the editorial-page editor who certainly made it possible for me to do my job.
When on occasion there was a politically correct uproar about a column I had written, David Greenway was very good about explaining to the complainers that I was hired to write an opinion column and he was going to make sure I got to write an opinion column. Greenway retired a few weeks ago and Renee Loth became the editorial-page editor. Renee is very sharply left.
Q: Have there been liberal columnists who've been accused of the same thing as you and gotten slapped on the wrist for it?
A: Well, there was [cartoonist] Paul Szep, who twice won a Pulitzer Prize, who was caught blatantly ripping off a cartoon from Mother Jones magazine. He was given a two-week suspension and it was kept secret. The Globe's City Hall bureau chief, Anthony Flint, applied for a fellowship somewhere and got the mayor to write a letter of recommendation for him. Talk about a conflict of interest. I think he got a scolding and was transferred out of the bureau. He sure didn't have his pay docked for four months.
These are people who've done clearly wrong things.
Q: How are you going to ride out this suspension?
A: I've got a house and a [3-year-old] child and two mortgages to pay. When we bought this place, it was a dump and we had to take out a second mortgage. We'll start dipping into savings, but going without pay for four months is not an option.
Q: What's been the reaction in the newsroom?
I'm shocked by the ferocity of Jack's attack in the ombudsman's column today. [Syndicated columnist] John Leo notes this is my second encounter with this ombudsman.
In 1997, there was the group of Christians at Harvard who put up a notice on campus about former gays who had embraced Christianity. Overnight, their posters were ripped out and those were replaced by posters comparing them with Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members. It was very ugly. I wrote a column saying tolerance goes in both directions. That triggered two gay copy editors who tried to get the column killed. Then they prevailed on Jack Thomas to do a column about it. He wrote a column that was really savage.
I've probably heard from 10 to 12 writers and editors with support and sympathy. Several of them have been willing to go on the record. Hiawatha Bray, a tech columnist, had a petition going around asking the publisher to reconsider.
Q: What happened when you called back into the office that Friday?
A: My column ran Monday. The first questions were raised Monday afternoon. I realized what was missing and I offered to cure it by tacking a note onto my next column, which would have been on Thursday. Wednesday evening, I was notified an editor's note would appear in the paper the next day on the op-ed page. At the end of Thursday, I was told: Don't think the editor's note was the final word. There's more coming.
Friday morning, I was called into a room with my editor and a couple of officials with the paper. I was invited to tell them my side. They told me I would be dealt with by the time the day was out. I made it clear what had taken place was inadvertent; there was no intent to fool the readers or omit relevant information. In writing a column for the Fourth of July, I thought I was writing an inspirational holiday piece, using material from American lore and legend. History in the public domain.
I guess they didn't see it that way. At 4:15 Friday afternoon, I was told I would be suspended without pay for four months and it was made clear to me that if I wanted to resign, my resignation would be accepted.
It was a drastic overreaction. I hope the Globe, upon reflection, will decide I don't need to have my professional reputation muddied like this regarding something that for something that, at worst, was an unintentional oversight. I think there's a difference between serious misconduct and inadvertent oversight.
I'm a law-and-order guy; three strikes and you're out. But you don't send someone away for 25 [years] to life if they forgot to put a quarter in the parking meter.
Q: Will you get your column back?
A: I hope so. I miss writing and I've been hearing from readers all over the country. My column brings a lot of readers to the Globe. I can't tell you how many people have said over the past six years I'm the only reason they get the Globe.
I believe in crossing ethical t's and dotting ethical i's. But I don't believe I should be held to an impossibly high standard. Even the most conscientious journalist can occasionally slip up. When the slip-up occurs, the reaction should not be to come off a paycheck for four months.
Q: Didn't your piece contain some errors, plus some wording similar to a Paul Harvey piece?
A: All of those pieces sound alike. If you put down the Paul Harvey piece next to the Rush Limbaugh [father of the radio talk-show host] piece [on the signers], they all tell the same story using basically the same words. If you go earlier into biographies of the signers of the Declaration, you find the same words.
Thus, it never occurred to me this was material that needed to be attributed. I have almost 600 columns behind me at the Globe. There's a track record I've established. That column was a good one.
Although I had done my level best to eliminate anything resembling mythology, some errors crept in. I wrote about a signer named Thomas Nelson and how his home was occupied by Gen. Cornwallis and he urged the Americans to fire on it. But then I found out it was the house of his uncle, also called Thomas Nelson.
Every one of the [previous] versions said nine of the signers fought in the Revolution and died of their wounds. I knew that was not true. I wrote nine of them died in the war. It was things like that I found were inaccurate were things that I cleaned up.

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