Orthodoxy And The Boston Globe
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Orthodoxy And The Boston Globe

Associate Editor

The New York Times ran a front-page story in its Metro section on Monday questioning the intrusiveness of The New York Postís right-wing ideology upon its news coverage. But the media story of the month centers not on the Post but on an identical challenge to The Boston Globe, which is owned by The Times: How much did left-wing ideology, or anti-Orthodoxy, have to do with the four-month suspension of conservative columnist, and Orthodox Jew, Jeff Jacoby?The Globe doesnít accuse Jacoby of plagiarism but ìserious journalistic misconductî for not admitting that his Independence Day column (July 3) was based on an unoriginal concept.Jacoby rewrote an old patriotic legend about the sufferings of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This had been the subject of Paul Harveyís ìThe Rest of the Storyî radio feature as far back as the 1950s; a signed piece several years ago by Rush Limbaugh Jr., father of radioís more famous Rush; and even a speech in the House of Representatives. Jacoby thought the subject was in the public domain.Howard Kurtz, media critic of The Washington Post, writes that Jacobyís problems may go beyond the column at hand (July 11), with Jacobyís editor saying, ìThere have even been whispers of anti-Semitism.î The issue, better phrased, is anti-Orthodoxy, as liberal Jews at the liberal Globe havenít had problems.ìThere was one shomer Shabbos Jew on the staff of the Boston Globe and heís the one who got this draconian sentence,î Jacoby told The Jewish Week. ìI think it was probably easier to do this to someone like me, since I tend to be different from the norm at the Globe.îJacoby said he based several controversial columns, such as those criticizing unwed mothers and gay activists, on his Orthodox beliefs. The Globe ombudsman, Jack Thomas, wrote as far back as 1997 that Jacobyís columns, particularly about gays, were a ìhigh price to pay for freedom of the press.î After the July 7 suspension, the ombudsman advocated that Jacoby be stripped of his column altogether and sent out to cover unwed mothers and gay teenagers so he might ìlearn something about lifeî (July 17).Kurtz writes that Jacobyís penalty was ìso harsh ó for what many Globe staffers see as a minor infraction ó that some rushed yesterday to defend a man with whom they rarely agree.îKurtz quotes Globe columnist Steve Bailey: ìThe guyís opinions were never welcomed in this building from day one.îDan Kennedy, media critic for the left-wing Boston Phoenix, writes that Jacobyís columnís have been ìwell researched and well written … and never mind that I rarely agree with himî (July 13-20). Yet, Jacobyís reward, ìhas been to be treated like a pariah by those who oppose his politics.îKennedy quotes Globe Living/Arts columnist Alex Beam: ìIíve always been saddened by the fact that heís ostracized at the paper. I just feel that the Globe has always held Jeff at a big distance and treated him differently, certainly as compared with our more socially acceptable columnists.îWhatís fascinating in this Internet era is that Jacoby didnít crib from a signed article on the fate of the signers but from what Slate calls ìphantom e-mails,î those often kitschy and unverified anecdotes that get forwarded from friend to friend across cyberspace without anyone actually knowing the original source. Jacoby acknowledged that his July 3 column was inspired by this phantom source, and he said so in an e-mail of his own that he forwarded, along with his controversial column, to nearly 100 friends and journalists prior to the column running in the Globe. However, he didnít acknowledge the phantom e-mail in the published column itself.The Washington Times editorial (July 24) noted, regarding Jacoby: ìWhy, just last Friday, The New York Times, flagship paper of the company that owns the Globe, ran a typical assortment of corrections,î including an editorís note about an obituary (June 27) of a British woman named Vera Atkins. The Times admitted, ìIt seems that the newspaperís obituary included unattributed materialî from a previously published obituary of Atkins that ran in the Times of London.The New York Times thought an editorís note sufficed, while Jacoby told The Jewish Week that the Globe denied his request for an after-the-fact admission of his own.Lance Morrow, writing on Timeís Web site (July 20), and picked up by CNN.com, said: ìOrthodoxy tends to make people lazy, stale, and stupid.î No, not Jewish Orthodoxy but the orthodoxy of ìsmug, unexamined left-wing assumption, which is just as unhealthy as smug, unexamined right-wing assumption.î Morrow called Jacoby ìa thoughtful man whose own orthodoxy at least went against the drearily predictable grain of the paper.îJacobyís material about the founders, writes Morrow, ìwas all in the public domain. … I once wrote an essay for Time in which, without attribution, I referred to ëthe hobgoblin of little minds.í I had at least a dozen people write to me and say, ëYou plagiarist! Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ëconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.í I wrote back and said, ëGee, I assumed the reader would know the Emerson line. Suppose Iíd written ëTo be or not to be.í Would I need the attribution to Shakespeare?í Jacobyís offense is a little like that.îKennedy of the Boston Phoenix explains that the Globe has a new publisher, Richard Gilman, ìa New York Times Company veteran brought in last summer to replace Ben Taylor [who was] unceremoniously dumped amid whispers that New York was furious over his indecisive handlingî of two Globe columnists who were caught fabricating and plagiarizing in 1998.Kennedy says that the new Globe bosses ìmay well have figured ó given the Globeís recent past ó that overwhelming retribution was both prudent and necessary. But youíve got to wonder about what sort of precedent theyíve established, and who might be the next to run afoul of it.î

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