- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

The Boston Globe has almost half a million subscribers and only one conservative columnist. That is, it had only one conservative columnist until the newspaper suspended Jeff Jacoby for four months without salary, telling him that when and if he returns, his twice-weekly column would have to undergo a "serious rethink."

Mr. Jacoby's offense? In his July 3 column on the cruel fates of many of the lesser-known signers of the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jacoby failed to acknowledge that in the 224 years since the document was signed, he was far from the first writer to treat the topic. Indeed, according to Mr. Jacoby, Globe officials told him that had he included a single line in his column attesting to the fact that his immediate inspiration for the column was an anonymous, long-circulating e-mail and two fairly well-known essays by radio commentator Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh Jr. (father of the radio personality), he would not have faced any penalty. (It so happens that in a pre-publication copy of his column Mr. Jacoby e-mailed to friends and family, he prefaced it by noting that it was "not a mere rewrite" of the familiar Internet story, which contained many inaccuracies.)

But when Mr. Jacoby asked to publish a disclaimer in a subsequent column, the Globe brass said no. Instead, the newspaper ran an Editor's Note saying "the structure and concept for his column were not entirely original." Of course, as the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto has pointed out, "Very few concepts are entirely original." Nonetheless, Mr. Jacoby was summarily suspended without pay for four months just long enough, it must be said, to deprive Globe readers of a conservative voice until after the presidential election.

If this is justice, then jaywalkers should do time on Devil's Island. Mr. Jacoby's crime, at worst, was the most minor infraction. Worth noting is that even the Globe hasn't gone so far as to call the Independence Day column a work of fabrication or plagiarism, grievous journalistic offenses over which former Boston Globe columnists Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle resigned a couple of years ago. Instead, the newspaper labels it "serious journalistic misconduct." But is it? Consider Mr. Jacoby's defense: "Since I was relating lore that has been related over and over, and since all of the sources I had relied on had relied on even earlier recitations, I assumed that all the material in my column was in the public domain."

Sounds pretty reasonable. Then why the unreasonable punishment? Consider the setup: an avowedly left-wing newspaper vs. its sole right-wing columnist. Given the history of that setup Mr. Jacoby has long been vilified in the Globe newsroom and even chastised on one occasion by the paper's ombudsman for his conservative views it is difficult to believe that politics played no role in the matter. After all, over what has been described as the equivalent of a misdemeanor offense by liberal and conservative journalists alike, the Globe has deprived Mr. Jacoby of a substantial chunk of income and his journalistic voice. But it has also done something worse. In the name of ethics, the Boston Globe has punished what appears to be an unintentional lapse with a penalty so severe as to do immeasurable harm to a man's professional reputation and honor. And there is nothing ethical about that.

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