The Breakfast Table

Bombs, Barnicle, and Monica

Dear David,

Two American embassies in Africa were hit by bombs this morning, in Tanzania and Kenya. CNN reports that the blast blew off the Kenyan embassy’s “bomb-proof” doors, which were used as stretchers to take injured people away. As I write, officials are still refusing to speculate on the source of the bombs or the message they were intended to convey. Security is being increased at other embassies, officials are being notified, and casualties are still being counted.  Now, all we can feel is shock and grief. Maybe later we can think about the U.S. response to the bomb tests in India and Iraq’s recalcitrance on arms inspection, before we allow the world to be divided into crackpots and victims.

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Mike Barnicle was on the Today show this morning, making the best case possible for himself. The Boston Globe, where he has been a columnist for 25 years, has asked for his resignation, following the discovery that a series of jokes in his column were lifted from the book Brain Droppings by George Carlin. Barnicle has refused to resign. Basically, he said that he didn’t mean to do anything wrong; there’s no way to source a joke; okay, he appeared on a television show to recommend the book that contains the jokes, but he never actually read the book; and the editors are over-reacting because of allegations that they applied a double standard in keeping him on when they fired Patricia Smith, a black woman, for making up quotes in her columns. About that recommendation of a book he hadn’t read, his comment was reminiscent of the unforgettable Peter Arnett line: “I didn’t contribute a comma.” He said he would recommend Shakespeare, too, even though he hasn’t read all of what he wrote–“Whatever gets people reading.”

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Katie Couric was sympathetic but very direct, letting him tell his story, but asking him about past concerns about his work as well. Barnicle spoke about being on the other side of the media glare, about having a television crew knock on his door at 5:30 in the morning, and about having “the story” or a chance for a joke become more important than the boring complexity of truth and perspective. I buy all of that, though perhaps he should have noticed that thing about the media a while ago. I even buy the bad timing argument, that there would not be such a fuss if Smith had not just been fired. But I predict he will also get fired when he meets with the publisher this afternoon and I think it is the right thing for the Globe to do. The use of those jokes and the recommendation of a book he says he never opened show a level of carelessness and irresponsibility that is unacceptable. The Globe needs to make that clear to its staff and to its readers.

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And, the Monicathon continues. I’m glad I do not have to go to the office today, because it is a zoo in downtown D.C. I heard on the radio last night a photographer threatening to kill a guy who was blocking the photographer’s shot. He just wanted Monica to see his sign wishing her well. The press is reduced to taking pictures of each other. Both last night’s news and this morning’s Post showed one enterprising photographer up in a cherry picker parked outside the courthouse. Any news yet? I haven’t found any. If all of this is designed to make an obstruction of justice case, they have a long way to go, and I have not yet seen any indication that they’re getting closer.

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