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Boston columnist resigns amid new plagiarism charges

In this story:

August 19, 1998
Web posted at: 8:38 p.m. EDT (0038 GMT)

BOSTON (CNN) -- Just a week after fending off demands that he resign amid charges of plagiarism, Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle quit Wednesday as questions were being raised about two more of his columns.

The pugnacious writer, who has become an institution in Boston over the course of a 25-year career at the Globe, told TV station WCVB that his resignation was "the best thing for the paper."

Globe editor Matthew Storin told the staff that he had asked for and received Barnicle's resignation, because of questions about whether the writer had fabricated characters in a 1995 column.

Also, in an issue that will hit newsstands Friday, The Boston Phoenix weekly newspaper will report that Barnicle lifted portions of a 1986 column from a 1961 book by journalist A.J. Liebling.

Earlier this month, Storin demanded Barnicle's resignation after discovering that he used jokes from a book by George Carlin without attribution in an August 2 column. But after an outcry from the public and some other journalists, Storin relented and announced last week that Barnicle would be suspended for two months without pay instead.

The contrite columnist admitted at a news conference that he had been "sloppy" and "lazy" in writing the column with the Carlin jokes but maintained that he was not guilty of plagiarism. He said he hadn't read the Carlin book, although he had recommended it to viewers during an appearance on a Boston TV station.

Previous case fueled controversy

Barnicle, 54, is the second Globe columnist to resign in the last two months. In June, Patricia Smith was forced to quit after admitting she had fabricated characters in four of her columns.

At the time, the Globe came under fire from black leaders and others for firing Smith, a black woman, while not taking any action against Barnicle, a white man, even though questions had been raised previously about some of his columns.

Then, when Storin subsequently asked for Barnicle's resignation after the Carlin column, Barnicle's defenders cried that he was being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness to appease those angry at the paper for firing Smith.

Last week's decision to reverse course and allow Barnicle to stay caused sharp divisions among the Globe's staff. On Wednesday, when Storin told the newsroom that Barnicle had resigned, his announcement drew cheers and laughter.

Reader's Digest found hospital tale untrue

The column that led to Wednesday's resignation told the story of two children -- one black, one white -- who became friends in the hospital. After the black child died, Barnicle wrote that the parents of the white child gave the parents of the black child $10,000.

Globe reporters were told Wednesday that when Reader's Digest decided to reprint the story, fact-checkers at the magazine concluded it was a fabrication. A former editor there contacted Storin this week to tell him about the incident.

Globe reporters were told that Barnicle claimed he got the story from a nurse on the ward but couldn't identify her. A check of hospital records showed no indication of a black child dying in the month Barnicle recounted.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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