Borges-gate revisited

By ADAM REILLY  |  March 8, 2007

What gives? “I don't want to make too much of a comment here; his case is pending,” Guild president Dan Totten tells the Phoenix. “But in terms of the time frame of the suspension, it certainly seems far in excess [of] anything that’s been levied in similar cases.”

Totten wouldn’t cite any examples, so we’ll do it for him. In 1998, the Globe suspended columnist Mike Barnicle for a month without pay for recycling, un-credited, jokes from a book comedian George Carlin; then asked him to resign when it became clear he’d lied about never having read the book in question; then suspended him for two months without pay. (Barnicle ended up resigning anyway, after he was unable to confirm the facts behind a 1995 column on two young cancer-ward patients and after the Phoenix reported that a 1985 Barnicle column plagiarized A.J. Liebling's biography of Earl Long.)

And in 2000, op-ed columnist Jeff Jacoby was suspended for four months, without pay, after rewriting a well-worn column on the lives of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Based on these precedents, Totten may be overstating his case.

Also: might Borges’s punishment have been harsher if editor Marty Baron didn’t have to worry about the low morale that’s gripped the paper amid the latest round of cutbacks? In an e-mail to the Phoenix, Baron says the answer is no. “We follow our procedures and policies regardless of what else is happening at the time,” he writes. “No factors other than those directly relevant to this matter entered into our decision.”

Of course, if there was any gamesmanship involved here, Baron could hardly be expected to acknowledge it. With the union already up in arms about buyouts and outsourcing, Borges may well have gotten a better deal than he deserved.

Their man in Manhattan
On Monday, Tony Ortega was named the new editor-in-chief of the Village Voice — which, over the past year or so, has been the least-stable job in journalism. Prior to last year’s New Times–Village Voice Media merger, and not including founding editor Dan Wolf’s 19-year reign, the average tenure for a Voice editor was three and a half years; since the merger, it’s been three months. (Quick review: Don Forst resigned in December 2005, after the merger between Village Voice Media and New Times was announced but before it was completed. Acting editor Doug Simmons was canned in March ’06 amid a fabrication scandal involving staffer Nick Sylvester. Washington City Paper editor Eric Wemple accepted the editor’s job three months later, then quit before he even started. And David Blum, who’d edited the paper since September 2006, was fired last week for reasons that remain somewhat murky; more on that later.)

To be fair, the Voice has long shifted between periods of editorial stability (David Schneiderman from ’78 to ’85, Jonathan Larsen from ’88 to ’94, Forst from ’96 to ’05) and flux (Clay Felker, Thomas Morgan, Marianne Partridge, Robert Friedman, Martin Gottlieb, and Karen Durbin all had stints of one or two years). But this is far more extreme.

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