Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, already under suspension for lifting material from a book, resigned under pressure Wednesday amid suspicions that he fabricated a 1995 tear-jerker about two children hospitalized with cancer.
Globe Editor Matthew V. Storin's announcement that he asked for and received Barnicle's resignation drew cheers and laughter in the newsroom, which was sharply divided over his punishment for the earlier infraction.
In a statement to WCVB-TV, the newspaper's marquee columnist said his resignation was "the best thing for the paper."
Barnicle, 54, is the second Globe columnist to resign recently. In June, Patricia Smith was forced out after admitting that she had fabricated characters in four of her columns.
Earlier this month, the Globe came under fire for only suspending Barnicle, with black leaders and others accusing the newspaper of a double standard in essentially firing a black woman while protecting a middle-age white man.
The 25-year columnist known for his two-fisted, workingman's prose had been suspended for two months without pay for lifting jokes from a book by George Carlin.
The latest Barnicle column to be questioned was a tale about two children--one white, one black--who became friends while hospitalized. After the black child died, Barnicle wrote, the parents of the white child gave the black child's parents $10,000.
Reader's Digest attempted to reprint the story, but fact-checkers at the magazine determined that it was a fabrication, Globe reporters said they were told. This week, a former Reader's Digest editor contacted Storin, the reporters said.
Barnicle claimed that he got the story from a nurse from another hospital but that he did not know her name, the Globe reporters said. They said a check of state cancer death records showed no indication of any black child of the boy's age dying in the year Barnicle recounted.
Barnicle's resignation came as the Boston Phoenix, a weekly newspaper, was getting ready to publish a story saying that Barnicle had lifted material without attribution from writer A.J. Liebling for a 1986 column.
The resignation came a week after Barnicle fended off demands from Storin that he resign for using Carlin's wisecracks without attribution in an Aug. 2 column.
Barnicle claimed that he hadn't even read the Carlin book, even though he had recommended it on TV, and he refused to offer his resignation, saying his transgression was lazy and stupid but not akin to Smith's offenses.
After an outpouring of public support for Barnicle, Storin relented. He said he had concluded that the punishment of resignation "did not fit the crime."
Questions about the credibility of Barnicle's newspaper work have been raised for years. Boston Magazine began a "Barnicle Watch" in the early 1990s to try to track down what it suspected were some dubious Barnicle sources.
"It's obviously a sad day for the Globe in that we have to go through this again," said Assistant Metro Editor Joe Williams, one of several staffers who last week drafted a statement opposing the paper's decision to suspend Barnicle instead of firing him.