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: Wondering if there’s another word you might throw in there, more humble?
Barnicle: Well that’s an interesting adjective. Humble, humility. I think if you talk to people who know me, and who’ve known me all my life, I would like to think they would say I’ve always been humble. I’ve got a lot to be humble about. I’ve got a lot to be grateful about. But there’s this persona you can acquire by doing nothing, other than having people who dont know you, write about you or talk about you. I guess you could be given a coat of boastfulness, or seem a tough guy.
Burnett: With the Herald, it seems it didn’t play out exactly as promoted on their side?
Barnicle: That was a case of me having to many other things to do. If I didn’t have all the other stuff to do, that I still have, it probably would have been better for the Herald. I just couldn’t do it. I could do it. I could mail it in. But I didn’t want to do that. They were paying me an awful lot of money, and they don’t have an awful lot of money. I’m having dinner with [publisher] Pat Purcell tonight actually. It seemed to me after a while, it wasn’t a very good fit. Largely because of me, not them.
Burnett: In making the choice that you made then, you had a lot of other things going on, and chose to stay with those, rather than drop those. Why did you go that way?
Barnicle: Because I knew most of the people I was working with at NBC, and I’m like a pack animal. I am comfortable with the familiar. I didn’t want to give up that comfort. I didn’t want to drop the things I was doing, and start doing things with a whole new group of people—many of whom I did not know. I didn’t want to end up screwing my two employers, the Herald and NBC, so I said, “See you later.” And I still enjoy the option of writing when I want to write. The main reason I went the other way is because I knew everybody, in Washington and New York.
Burnett: I guess the reason for my own fascination—the perception was that you were back as a Boston columnist. It would be such a priority, and pack animal or not…
Barnicle: The business is not what it used to be, for all the reasons we discussed previously. It just isn’t. So 15 years ago, I probably would have invested much more energy into it than I did, but it’s the change in the business was such that, we talked just a few minutes ago about impact, influence. You would want to feel you have a little impact, and if that’s not there, then, you know, Why am I doing this?
Burnett: You’re not a romantic about, you know, for print’s sake, which I might have walked in here thinking you might have been for some reason.
Barnicle: No. Maybe once was, but not anymore.
Burnett: The WBUR thing. [There were rumors] you might have some kind of recurring role there. What was that all about?
Barnicle: I have no idea.
Burnett: Serious job talks?
Barnicle: No. Apparently, apparently, there are huge numbers of people in the Boston media establishment who are so insecure in their own positions that they fear me coming in to see Paul La Camera for lunch, which I guess is sort of flattering, in a sense. But other than that…It is what it is.