Reeducating Jeff Jacoby

Article excerpt

The ultraextremist Boston Globe proves its bona fides.

New Hampshire

More columnar trouble at the Boston Globe. A couple of years back, you may recall, Patricia Smith, an African-American columnist, wrote a heartwarming vignette of a young girl going to the neighborhood hair-braider to have her hair braided as a traditional African-American rite of passage. Unfortunately, the girl, the braider, the braids, none of'em actually existed. So Ms. Smith was sacked. Hair today, gone tomorrow. Next to be upbraided was Mike Barnicle, who wrote a heartwarming vignette of a young black child and a young white child, both sick with cancer yet lying side by side in the same hospital ward. Unfortunately, the black kid, the white kid, none of'em actually existed. So Barnicle was sacked. He'd never bothered going and checking whether in fact within the Greater Boston area any such ailing infants were to be found. You know how difficult it is to get a columnist to do house calls.

Enter Jeff Jacoby. Or rather exit Jeff Jacoby-the token conservative among the sappy hair-braiders at the Globe. For the Fourth of July, Jacoby wrote a piece about the fate of certain Signers of the Declaration of Independence, a timely rumination on an important comer of history. Next thing you know, Jeff's history. Suspended by the Globe for four months without pay. He's a young guy with a wife and family to support and he's just been told his income this year will be reduced by a third. He could, of course, do what any self respecting columnist in London or Dublin or Sydney would: Tell the Globe to shove it and take his act to the rival broadsheet across the street. Except there isn't one, Boston being all too typical of major U.S. cities in that its one soporific broadsheet and one mildly more readable tabloid have the town to themselves. For a Boston columnist to fall out with the Globe is about as smart a career move as a Soviet columnist falling out with Pravda. (By comparison, Montreal, with a smaller population, has four local dailies-one conservative federalist, one moderately nationalist, one austerely separatist, and one sensationally tabloid-plus one provincial and two national newspapers.)

Now I assumed automatically that Jacoby must be guilty of the same offense as Mike and Patricia: All these heroic dead white male "Signers" were fictitious, right? But no, apparently the Signers of the Declaration of Independence did really exist-- though, to judge from current editorial philosophy, the Globe would rather they hadn't. But Jacoby's crime was that his column bore certain thematic and structural similarities to a favorite Paul Harvey radio commentary on the subject and various versions thereof circulating on the Internet. So, according to the Globe, he had to go.

Mulling over this latest crisis in American journalism, whom should we blame? I point the finger all round:

First, those Signers. If only they'd been willing to put up with George III a while longer, the American colonies would have remained under the Crown and the U.S. might today have a lively, competitive, readable, diverse press such as Britain, Canada, Australia, India, and other Commonwealth countries enjoy, instead of the butt-numbing snoozefest that is the Boston Globe.

Secondly, Jeff Jacoby. Unlike my conservative chums at National Review and the Weekly Standard, I'm disinclined to make Jeff the li'l Elian of the summer months. Whoever cooked up the column originally-Paul Harvey in 1956 or Rush Limbaugh, Jr. (father of the present Rush), who may have beaten him to it-had a neat theme: that the Signers showed great courage and paid a high price. But those versions and the one on the Internet are full of guff "Five Signers were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died." Really? I'm no historian, but by my count the number of Signers tortured to death is zero. This kind of Mel Gibsonization of the Revolutionary War reduces it to an idiot cartoon. …