Male. Education: George Washington University (with honors), degree (with honors), 1979; Boston University, law degree, 1983.
Office—Boston Globe, 135 William T. Morrissey Blvd., Boston, MA 02120. E-mail—[email protected]
Journalist and attorney. Baker & Hostetler (law firm), Washington, DC, attorney, 1983-84; campaign manager for Ray Shamie's U.S. Senate campaign, 1984; Boston University, Boston, MA, assistant to president John Silber, 1985-87. Boston Herald, Boston, chief editorial writer, 1987-94; Boston Globe, Boston, op-ed columnist, 1994—. Political commentator for National Public Radio affiliate WBUR, Boston; WCVB-TV, host of Talk of New England and panelist on Five on Five. Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, overseer.
Breindel Award for Excellence, 1999, for opinion journalism.
Writer of editorials for Boston Herald, Boston, MA, 1987-94; writer of op-ed columns for Boston Globe, 1994—, and for Boston Globe Online. Board member, Concord Review.
Jeff Jacoby is a conservative journalist who, after earning a law degree and having a politically active career, became an editorial writer for the Boston Herald. In 1994 the very liberal Boston Globe, tired of being accused of employing writers who all wrote the same thing, hired Jacoby, who then became the only right-leaning member of the staff. But writing conservative opinions is not always the right thing to do, as Jacoby soon learned. Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas called two of Jacoby's 1994 columns homophobic and said that a 1997 column on gays was so offensive that it seemed "a high price to pay for freedom of the press." Jacoby had written about the incidents that result when Harvard Law School's Society for Law, Life, and Religion designated a "National Coming out of Homosexuality Day" in response to the "National Coming out Day" being held by Harvard gays. John Leo noted in Insight on the News that Jacoby maintains that "disagreeing with gay activists is not the same as expressing hate." Leo noted that in one of his 1994 columns, Jacoby expressed his view that what gay-pride marchers have most in common are their physical needs, but he also addressed gay unity and the aftermath of AIDS. Jacoby told the ombudsman that many gay activists feel that opposing opinions are not only wrong, but should not even be considered. "Yes," wrote Leo, "and maybe those different opinions are so out of step with proper newsroom opinion that they ought to be suppressed. The headline on the ombudsman's article was very revealing: 'Should a column that targets homosexuals have been published?' So the real issue being raised isn't accuracy or fairness. It's censorship."
Jacoby had been writing columns for the Boston Globe for more than six years when he was suspended for four months without pay for what was called serious journalistic misconduct, but which many considered a mere error in judgment. For his Independence Day column, which was published on July 3, 2000, Jacoby wrote of the trials and travails of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, familiar stories that have been circulating since that event and which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web. As the legend goes, fifty-six of the signers died during the Revolutionary War, five were captured by the British, the homes of eighteen were burned and looted, and so on. While Jacoby was accused of lifting portions of his editorial from these previously published works, the punishment did not seem to fit the crime. According to the journalist, he had merely failed to acknowledge that he had used other sources and that his words were not entirely original. He did go so far as to check some of the facts, and noted this in e-mailing the copy to friends. He failed to do so in print, however. Others who used this same set of alleged facts did not suffer Jacoby's fate; information was used the same year in columns by Ann Landers and Oliver North and, earlier, by Paul Harvey and Rush Limbaugh.
Leo reported on this incident, writing, "Did this omission deserve a nuclear attack? Not really. The normal newsroom would issue a warning, a correction, or a private reprimand. It would take into account Jacoby's reputation for honesty and careful research, as well as his semipublic e-mail, which shows he had no intent to deceive." Jacoby was defended in print by media critic Dan Kennedy of the very progressive Boston Phoenix. But the Boston Globe may have used overkill in Jacoby's case because two of their other high-profile columnists, Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle, had left two years earlier over charges of fabrication and plagiarism. Smith was found to have created characters and dialogue, and Barnicle reprinted jokes from George Carlin's Brain Droppings without attribution.
While some incidents of plagiarism are punished by firing, many of the guilty are merely reprimanded or shamed, and well-known journalists who learned from their mistakes have gone on to have spotless careers. As unacceptable as plagiarism can be, fabricated facts and passing them off as truth is far worse. As Meredith O'Brien pointed out in the Quill, "Paul McMasters, the ombudsman for the Arlington, Virginia-based Freedom Forum and former president of the Society of Professional Journalists, said Jacoby was 'a victim of time and circumstance.'" Whatever the underlying causes, Jacoby has since returned to the Boston Globe to continue to write for the print edition and the Web site.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Columbia Journalism Review, September, 2000, Gil Cranberg, "The Plagiarism Puzzle," p. 10.
Editor & Publisher, July 17, 2000, Dave Astor, "At the Boston Globe," p. 27, Cal Thomas, "Shoptalk," p. 34; August 7, 2000, Nat Hentoff, "Getting It Right," p. 42; August 21, 2000, Joe Strupp, "Jacoby Takes Legal Action," p. 8; November 6, 2000, Joe Strupp, "Jacoby Back on the Beat," p. 10.
Insight on the News, December 15, 1997, John Leo, "Conservative Balance Upsets Boston Globe's Spin," p. 29; August 14, 2000, L. Brent Brozell, III, "Is Boston Globe Purging Its Sole Un-PC Columnist?," p. 46.
Nation, October 2, 2000, Eric Alterman, "The Right Whines," p. 12.
Quill, September, 2000, "Boston Globe Suspends Editorial Page Columnist," p. 73; October, 2000, Meredith O'Brien, "When the Words Aren't Our Own," p. 24.
Report Newsmagazine, October 23, 2000, Kevin Michael Grace, "For Want of a Footnote: A Suspended Journalist Learns That Reliance on the Internet Is a Risky Business," p. 54.
U.S. News & World Report, July 24, 2000, John Leo, "Banned in Boston," p. 14.*