Controversy seems to follow Grantland, like the scores of pop-culture icons they obsess about. This week, they published a contribution from Mike Barnicle. Who is Mike Barnicle? Well, the site tells you “Mike Barnicle is an award-winning journalist.” This summation is concise, because anything else would require an expansive clarification about how a reputable journalistic outlet, even a navel-gazing one, could possibly pay him to write something.
Mike Barnicle was a prominent columnist for the Boston Globe from 1974 to 1998. He was a distinctive, trusted voice throughout New England until multiple scandals forced his resignation. Journalism has two cardinal rules: don’t make shit up and don’t plagiarize. Mike Barnicle did both.
On October 8, 1995, Barnicle wrote the column “Through pain, a common bond.” It was a heart-warming story about- two children, one rich and white and the other poor and black – and their families bonding in Boston’s Children’s Hospital while their children received cancer treatments. The black kid died and the white family wrote a check to help them pay for the medical expenses. The trouble? It never happened.
Barnicle fabricated the column. Readers Digest wanted to reprint it, had it fact-checked and could not find facts corroborating it. The Globe could not find the individuals involved. Barnicle claimed he was told the story by a nurse (neither mentioned in the story nor ever identified by Barnicle). Hospital records contained no black child who died of cancer in the time specified by the column.
On August 2, 1998, Barnicle wrote a column of jokes. He stole two of them form a George Carlin book without attribution. He claimed he had not read the book, which was curious, since he had praised the book on a previous TV appearance. He was suspended for two months.
On August 20, 1998, Dan Kennedy published an article showing that Barnicle had lifted multiple quotes and significant details for a January, 20 1986 column about Gillis Long from an A.J. Liebling book without attribution. The Boston Globe asked for and received Barnicle’s resignation.
The issue is credibility. Barnicle blatantly and deliberately misled readers multiple times. How many more unfortunate incidents went unchecked? Everything he wrote previously has a question mark. Everything he has written subsequently has, at the very least, a stain.
Was Simmons aware of Barnicle’s past? Well, to my knowledge, it has not been referenced in 90210 or The Wire and the Internet was really slow back then. Though, the Sports Guy was still Boston-based in 1998, the Barnicle thing was kind of a big deal and he wrote for two other Boston papers. Presumably, this pierced his storied pot haze.
This, rather than writing critiques, is probably something the Poynter institute should examine.