Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
Burnett: Did you hold yourself to the same standards when you were critiquing the work of a public figure?
Barnicle: No. There were very many times, depending on the time of the day, when I would just bang a cheap shot at quarter of five. Boom. Many, many times.
Burnett: Regret any of those?
Barnicle: Oh, God. I can’t think of any one when it comes to elected officials. I can remember feeling little badly, this is years ago, writing something about Ken Harrelson, who was doing the commentary on Red Sox games [on Channel 38], and I wrote something particularly snarky about him. And you know, back to what I was just saying, I bumped into him at the ballpark a couple of days later, and he was pissed and said, “Why don’t you call me? Why don’t you ask me why I do this stuff, how I made that mistake? Jesus.” And he was right, and I am sure there other people who got lit up briefly by me or others who think the same thing.
Burnett: Is that as big a part of what you do now?
Barnicle: I might be delusional; I don’t think it was a big part of anything I ever did. I don’t think I was in it to light a lot of people up on a daily basis. I choose to think, and I’ve never done this, but if you go back and look at the body of work, a lot of it was about ordinary people you could go find today.
Burnett: I wasn’t suggesting it was the dominant theme. I was more getting at how you involved as a writer, with time, and how if you were doing it three times a week, or seven, How, if at all, it would it be different today?
Barnicle: It would be different today. Because of my age and what you accumulate during your life, your experiences, things you’ve witnessed, things that have happened to you, things that have happened to other people, I think today it would be a more personal column. I very rarely used the words “I” or “should.” I think I would inject myself more into the piece today than I ever did then.
Burnett: That’s something some of us have noticed in your TV commentary. A tonal shift that put you more in the—I don’t know how you feel about the term “elder statesman.” Is there a little bit of that in what you’re providing?
Barnicle: I think, as with some people, I’m probably more reflective today than what I used to be. I’m not as quick to jump the gun as I used to be. Hopefully because I’m older and I’ve had a few more experiences. I’ll throw that into the hopper and bring it to the table, hopefully, I don’t know whether that’s the case or not. I am more reflective than I used to be. I am certainly more aware of the shortcomings that everyone has.
Burnett: Aware and more forgiving?
Barnicle: Much more forgiving. Much more forgiving. I’m a Catholic. We’re in the forgiveness business. So, I think that’s probably been heightened over the past 10 or 15 years. Doesn’t make you anymore insightful. But it might give you the appearance of being more thoughtful.