The U.S. media has long been known for its left-leaning bias. That bias seems to be coming through at the Boston Globe in its treatment of columnist Jeff Jacoby, who is now serving what looks to be a politically inspired suspension over a column that he wrote commemorating America’s Independence Day.
In 1994, Globe editorial-page editor David Greenway recruited Jacoby to add a little diversity to a page dominated by liberals. For six years he has offered conservative views with grace and wit. I haven’t always agreed with him, but he has always forced me to think.
On July 3, Jacoby wrote a column about the fate of the signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Several other versions have circulated, but Jacoby actually checked the facts and corrected previous errors.
Jacoby acknowledged the other versions in an e-mail to friends, but neglected to add the disclaimer to his column. His editors suspended him without pay for four months, essentially a prison term for jay walking.
Editorial-page editor Renee Loth told Howard Kurtz, the Washington Post’s media critic that “this had absolutely nothing to do with ideology,” but the timing is highly suspicious.
A few weeks before Jacoby’s suspension, David Greenway retired. He was liberal, but Loth is, in Jacoby’s words, “very sharply left.”
True, the Globe had reason to be vigilant: In 1998, it had to fire two columnists for plagiarism and fabrication.
Yet Jacoby’s offense is not in the same league. As the Globe put it, he “should have alerted readers that the concept and structure for his column were not entirely original.” That’s very different from copying, however. It would have been almost impossible to write the account without following the others’ general approach.
Yes, he made a mistake, but one that warranted a private trip to the woodshed with the injunction to sin no more. And an apology in his own column. At most, the Globe should have imposed a week or two suspension.
It isn’t just Jacoby’s conservative admirers who think he got a raw deal. Several Globe editors and reporters came to his defense. Howard Kurtz termed the offense “minor” and Boston Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy also took the paper to task.
In short, the affair smells like a journalistic purge. As Dan Kennedy argued to the Washington Post, “Jacoby is so far out of the mainstream [at the Globe] that it makes this easier to do.”
Indeed, Loth apparently told Jacoby that, if he returned, his column needed a “serious rethink.” Presumably Loth doesn’t believe his political opinion column should be turned into, say, a personal advice column.
She also invited him to resign. Although she told Kurtz that Jacoby was welcome to return, she opined: “Four months is a long enough time that he may feel he wants to find another job. That’s certainly his right.”
Even more blunt was Jack Thomas, the paper’s liberal ombudsman. Thomas’ ideological agenda was evident in his column on Jacoby’s suspension. Thomas railed against the “radical right.” Of course, in Boston moderates appear conservative and conservatives are off the scale.
Thomas goes on to argue that on his return Jacoby should be temporarily assigned as a reporter to meet welfare mothers, the homeless, alcoholics, gay teens, and “assorted scalawags.” Doing so would make him a better columnist argued Thomas, and it might — diverse experiences probably make anyone a better columnist.
But Thomas goes on to argue that such a beat would teach Jacoby “something about life.” Thomas exhibits the worst liberal hubris: Any person who knows anything about life ends up a liberal.
The Globe is under no obligation to include a conservative voice on its editorial page. But it does have an obligation to treat fairly anyone who it does include. Including Jacoby.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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