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Jeff Jacoby


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Dear friends,

AS YOU MAY KNOW, I am undergoing some difficulty.

At 4:15 last Friday, I was suspended without pay for four months from my job at The Boston Globe, and effectively invited to resign. I was put on notice that if I do choose to return in four months, there would have to be a "serious rethink" of the kind of column I write.

The Globe is accusing me of "serious journalistic misconduct" in connection with my July 3 column on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. That theme -- the lives of the signers, and what happened to them after July 4, 1776 -- has been explored many times. One bibliography lists works on the subject dating back to 1820. When I sat down to write the column, I had before me a version written by Paul Harvey, another published by Rush Limbaugh, and a third sent to me a year ago by a reader. Using those versions -- which all told much the same story, in much the same words -- as a starting point, I did my best to verify the information. I checked encyclopedias of American history, consulted books I own on the Revolutionary War, and visited web sites that provide biographical material on the founders. I made a special point of checking sites that debunk "urban legends" and other Internet myths, since I knew that at least some of what is said about the signers is not historically accurate.

I knew, too, that an anonymous e-mail on the signers of the Declaration had been making the rounds. In fact, when I e-mailed my column to a group of friends, fans, and family members on the evening of July 2, I noted that what I was sending was NOT a rewrite of that e-mail, which I knew to contain errors. Of course, it too told approximately the same story, using approximately the same language, as all the other versions.

Since I was relating lore that has been related over and over, and since all of the sources I relied on had relied in turn on even earlier recitations, I assumed that all the material in my column was in the public domain. It never occurred to me to include a line pointing out that I was far from the first to write about the fates of the Declaration's signers. Had I added such a line, Globe officials tell me, none of this would be happening.

On Monday, July 3, I asked if I could repair the oversight by adding a correction to my next column. Permission to do so was denied. Instead, an Editor's Note pointing out that "the structure and concept for [my] column were not entirely original" appeared on the op-ed page on Thursday, July 6. The next morning, I was given an opportunity to explain how the column had been written. A few hours later, I was suspended.

I joined the Globe as an op-ed columnist in February 1994. (The first line of my first column was: "So what's a nice conservative like me doing in a newspaper like this?") In the six and a half years since, I have produced close to 600 columns. I invite anyone to judge my integrity and my journalistic ethics on the basis of the work that I have done for the Globe. To my knowledge, the paper has never had any reason to question my work, or to doubt that I hold myself to the highest standards when writing for publication. Six years' worth of superlative evaluations of me are on file in the Globe's personnel records. I think it is fair to say that I have been a credit to The Boston Globe and have improved the paper's reputation.

What is happening now is a nightmare.

In accusing me of "serious journalistic misconduct," the Globe is poisoning the good name I have spent years building up. This suspension is a brutal overreaction to something that even the Globe will not call plagiarism and doesn't characterize as a willful violation.

No one deserves to lose his income for a third of a year because a column lacked a sentence that might have underscored how common the column's theme was. I am deeply concerned about my family's future, of course. And I am deeply concerned about my reputation.

It is a great privilege to write a column for a prominent daily newspaper. Over the past six years I often expressed my gratitude to The Boston Globe -- both publicly and privately -- for giving me such a wonderful pulpit. And I endeavored, twice each week, to make good on that gratitude by writing a column of which the Globe could be proud.

I thought my future at the paper was limitless. It has been shocking and traumatic to discover how wrong I was.

Sincerely,

Jeff Jacoby