Barnicle Meets His Punchline

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Here's an original joke. What do you do with a famous columnist who lifts gags from someone else's book, then lies about having read it? Answer: Suspend him for two months without pay, then hope everyone's forgotten about it when he comes back. The Boston Globe told this rib-tickler Tuesday when it announced that top humorist Mike Barnicle, who reprinted loosely-disguised George Carlin quips from the bestselling book "Brain Droppings," would not be fired after all. Declaring that "the punishment did not fit the crime," editor Matthew Storin has withdrawn his demand for Barnicle's resignation, and replaced it with this two-month wrist-slap. Curiously, Storin's change of heart came after he met with Globe publisher Benjamin B. Taylor.

That won't be much comfort to Patricia Smith, another popular Globe columnist who was fired last month for a similar, if more serious charge of fabricating characters. Smith is a black woman; Barnicle a white male. Inevitably, the disparity of punishment will leave the Globe open to charges of racism. That was one of the reasons Storin and Taylor dithered for so long, which in turn caused the rival Boston Herald great glee: "What a bunch of idiots," they quoted one Globe staffer saying about his management's indecision.

And Barnicle? Considering the distinct lack of humor in the columnist's August 2 column, perhaps his two-month hiatus could be spent looking for better jokes to steal.