Should reporters' poetic licenses be revoked?

Universal Hub has a poll up asking if disgraced Globe columnist Mike Barnacle should return to the paper should it be sold. The first two answer choices are "Yes" and "For the love of all that's holy, no."

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I voted yes.

Don't get me wrong, I don't approve of what Barnacle did. And I haven't read or watched much of what he's done since he left the Globe. But I kind of miss him anyway. Why? Because his columns were entertaining and interesting. Because it felt like he understood Boston, its neighborhoods, and its people. Because I used to look forward to reading his columns. Used to talk about them with people. I sometimes cut them out of the paper and saved them. Granted, I was a young wannabe at the time. (I even wrote some really awful columns for my college newspaper that copied his "I was just wondering" style.) But seriously, when was the last time you read a Globe column that was so good you cut it out of the paper and posted it on the fridge?

It's the same with disgraced Globe columnist Patricia Smith. I hate what she did, but I love the way she did it. I distinctly remember reading one of her columns about a cancer patient named Claire. In the column, Smith was writing about cancer drugs that had been tested on mice with positive results. Smith quoted Claire as saying: "I'm not proud. Right away, I said, 'Rub it on my skin, pop it to me in a pill, shoot me up with it.' If I could find a way to steal it I would. Hell, if I could get my hands on it, I'd swallow the whole ... mouse." Even as I was reading it, I knew it was total bullshit. Particularly the line about swallowing the whole damn mouse. It was so obviously written in Smith's distinctive voice that it simply had to be a lie. That was, by the way, one of the columns that ultimately proved to be a work of fiction, one of the columns that led to her being forced to resign from the paper.

It was a lie. But it was a damn pretty lie.

I guess when it really comes down to it, despite how I voted in Universal Hub's poll, I have to admit that Barnacle and Smith should never be allowed to work at the Globe again. When you look at all of the things that they did, it becomes pretty clear they shouldn't write for any newspaper ever again. The truth is that the only place their names should be published is in J-school curriculums alongside a biography of Janet Cook and the only place they should be featured is in ethics classes along with other cautionary tales. The truth is that Barnacle and Smith have completely lost all credibility, and they could never be as good as they were when you believed what they were writing.

So it's not so much that I want them back ... It's that I want the idea of them back. I want to feel engaged with the Globe again, feel like I'm having a dialogue with their columnists. Of all of the paper's op-ed writers, the only one whose writing I really admire is Donald Murray. OK, maybe Ellen Goodman, too.

It's no coincidence that Murray, like Smith, is a poet in addition to being a journalist. And it's no coincidence that both Murray and Goodman are seasoned writers. Sometimes I think younger op-ed writers are afraid to take risks with their writing, afraid to add a little poetry to their prose, afraid to take any poetic license whatsoever, in fact, lest they be looked upon with suspicion, lest their licenses be revoked. Older writers like Goodman and Murray have earned our trust and the right to write however the hell they like.

I guess I just wish there were more of them.

[More information and link-y goodness here.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right. You never should have admitted that.