Jeff Jacoby Without Tears

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
July 11 2000 6:24 PM

Jeff Jacoby Without Tears

The conservative community feels that Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's punishment--a four-month suspension--was too severe. As Chatterbox reported earlier (click here and here), Jacoby's July 3 column borrowed material--some of it erroneous--from an anonymous e-mail about the fates of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Jacoby did not acknowledge the phantom e-mail as a source in the column (though he did so in an e-mail to about 100 people that he sent out prior to its publication). Neither did Jonah Goldberg, who also lifted erroneous material from the e-mail for a patriotic column in National Review Online. Neither, Chatterbox recently learned reading Jim Romenesko's MediaNews, did Oliver North, who wrote an MSNBC column that included some of the language and misinformation embedded in the phantom e-mail. None of these incidents quite rose to the level of plagiarism, but each one involved theft and inaccuracy.

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Jacoby's suspension has the right engaging in what, under different circumstances, it might characterize as victimology. David Horowitz writes: "It is self-evident that no one but a conservative would have been treated this way." James Taranto, deputy features editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, observes that "Mr. Jacoby happens to be the Globe's only conservative columnist, and some conservatives now accuse the paper of singling him out on ideological grounds." Taranto himself refrains from expressing an opinion, but Journal editorialist John Fund told the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "It's an open secret that Jacoby was viewed at best with sneering indifference and at worst with contempt and hostility in the newsroom." Goldberg, who mostly took his lumps for committing the same offense (though not before calling Chatterbox a "hall monitor"), writes that Jacoby works for "a liberal newspaper that seems to be gunning for him by blowing the situation out of all proportion."

A better topic for the right to brood about would be its apparent susceptibility to misinformation that comes wrapped up in flag-waving sentiment. As Chatterbox noted earlier, the e-mail is descended from a 1956 essay by Paul Harvey, the crotchety radio personality (for this information, Chatterbox is indebted to James Elbrecht's Signer's Index Web page) or possibly from a speech by the father of crotchety radio personality Rush Limbaugh III, Rush Limbaugh Jr. Although, as Chatterbox noted earlier, we don't know whether Harvey (or, if his version predates Harvey's, Daddy Rush) was the original source, either; Harvey hasn't yet returned Chatterbox's phone calls. What Chatterbox can say with bracing certainty is that each day unearths a new component of this urban legend that turns out to be untrue. Today, for instance, Chatterbox learned (from a July 9 column by Lou Gelfand in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) what happened to the home of signer Thomas Nelson. The presumptive ur-texts by Harvey and Daddy Rush state that it was knocked down by Gen. George Washington while it was occupied by British troops. So do the Jacoby column, the Goldberg column, and the e-mail that inspired them. (Gold star for Ollie: The North column left it out; though Ollie includes the erroneous assertion that signer Carter Braxton died in "rags." Although Braxton did suffer some financial setbacks, he died the owner of a Richmond, Va., townhouse.) The truth about Thomas Nelson's home is that, while it was fired upon, it was not destroyed; one may visit it today.

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