Distance from the Newsroom leading to Distance from the Truth

1 May

The life of a foreign correspondent in the world of journalism is a flurry of traveling, covering different stories on different cultures and spending time on the scene rather than in the newsroom. This distance, however, can sometimes lead to an abandonment of the truth. When the distance from the newsroom is lengthened, is the distance from ethical reporting lengthened as well? For Jack Kelley, former foreign correspondent for USA Today, the truth was all but present in his writing.

Jack Kelley was a celebrated reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist for USA Today, where he worked his way up on the reporting ladder starting as a news assistant in 1982. It was not until May, 2003 that Kelley’s work was questioned. A simple investigation to clear up that question is what snowballed into the demise of Kelley’s career in journalism.

An article published by American Journalism Review described Kelley as “the most prominent foreign correspondent for the nation’s largest newspaper. Kelley filed hundreds of stories from all over the globes, for about the last decade he had a hand in nearly every major international news event.”

In his personal life, Kelley was a religious man who frequently lectured at Evangelical Press Association. He was described by American Journalism Review as “polite and clean-cut. There’s no smoking and certainly no drinking.” How was it then, that such a smart, experienced and renowned journalist was caught for plagiarism and fabrication in his stories?

They were too good to be true.

Matthew Fisher, foreign correspondent for Postmedia News, a Canadian publication, stated that Kelley was “always seeming to finding an exact quote with vivid language that fit perfectly in his story. I was with him more than once when I did not hear a quote that he later had in his copy. But I had no way to prove him wrong. He would claim he heard it earlier or later. Still, it made me leery about the veracity of anything he wrote.”

While many may have held their suspicions about Kelley’s sources and how events actually played out, his stories mostly went unquestioned. In May 2003, however, an anonymous tip was sent to USA Today’s former executive editor, Brian Gallagher, alleging that Kelley was following in the footsteps of fabricator Jayson Blair.

“Jack also liked to play up the James Bond aspect of his life. I often could not reach him because he claimed he was on a secret mission,” Fisher commented. “Intelligence agencies from other countries were always after him, or so he said. He claimed, falsely I believe, that he was beaten up in the elevator of a five star hotel in Moscow.”

An investigation of Kelley’s articles commenced. According to a case study on Jack Kelley by Online NewsHour, after going through various articles, one stood out to the editors of USA Today. An article published in 1999 concerning Yugoslavia. In the article Kelley wrote that a small black notebook was found that contained orders given by the Yugoslav army to ethnically “cleanse” a small village near Kosovo. The existence of this notebook is what the editors focused on because it accused the Yugoslav army of ordering genocide, an offense not easily brushed aside.

Kelley was asked to provide proof. His source, whom he said he interviewed for the story, stated that she did not recall ever being interviewed by Kelley. Kelley then said that there was a translator there who could vouch for him and his credibility. The editors were provided contact information and spoke to a woman who Kelley claimed was a translator at the scene.

After further investigation into this translator, it was uncovered that this woman was a Russian translator who Kelley had asked to speak on his behalf, although she was never actually present at the scene Kelley described.

By December, 2003, Kelley confessed to purposely trying to deceive the editors at USA Today during their investigation into his work.

“My trust in his reporting slowly unraveled,” Fisher stated. “There was no “Eureka” moment until his wild tale in Kosovo. I knew that to be untrue because I had just spent a lot of time with him there and what he claimed to have done was news to our mutual ‘fixer’ who was a good one with dazzling contacts who told me straight away that what he claimed was nonsense.”

After discovering this fabrication, a review board was assembled for a more thorough investigation of Kelley’s work. Approximately 720 stories written by Kelley were reviewed. Over and over the board found that there were sources that could not be found, plagiarized quotes and phrases and story components that were fabricated altogether.

“It was a tragedy for Jack,” Fisher stated.  “I knew the guy well. I am quite sure I spent more time with him on the road than any American reporters had. He was immensely charming and could get people to open up like few other reporters could. This access helped him get colour for his stories. That should have been enough to make him an outstanding reporter. But it was clearly not enough for him.”

On Jan. 6, 2004 Kelley resigned from USA Today and the review board continued their examination as USA Today attempted to recover from the brutal blow to its reputation.

Don Kirk, a former foreign correspondent for USA Today, stated that being a foreign correspondent contributed to this deception.

“The USA Today editors who oversaw foreign news had no experience, no power of judgment, no skills,” Kirk stated. “They were extraordinarily arrogant, with no notion of their own ignorance and no humility.”

Although Kelley admitted to deceiving the paper during their investigation, he maintained that he did not fabricate or plagiarize any of his stories.

“Jack often talked to me about how others at USA Today had accused him of making things up because they were jealous, Fisher said.  “There were a few reporters at that paper whom he absolutely loathed. He claimed they were part of an organized conspiracy to get him.”

The scandal resulted in Kelley’s editor, Karen Jurgensen, retiring and the resignation of former managing editor, Hal Ritter. USA Today tried to rebuild its reputation through their investigation, revamping their policy on using unnamed sources and creating a standards and development editor position to handle ethics in reporting.

“I would say the work of the USA investigators was incomplete,” Fisher said. “I believe that the paper had an obligation to its readers to investigate everything Jack wrote or at least investigate all of the articles that others had specific doubts about. After their investigators contacted me and we had finished talking about what was on their list, and they certainly had a list, I tried several times to tell them of a few other stories that I was fairly sure that Jack cooked up. But they told me they weren’t interested.”

These efforts, however, did not change the fact that Kelley was able to fabricate stories a million miles away and pass them off as truth.

When asked if it was easier for some to fall into plagiarism or fabrication when reporting abroad, Don Kirk stated “My view is that seeing is believing, and there’s no substitute for being there. If you’re not actually on the scene, at least you can get your own material. Otherwise, there’s no point.”

He continued, saying that “The ultimate blame goes to the top editors who couldn’t see through his nonsense or realize the incompetence of their subordinate editors.”

It follows then that distance from the newsroom and the editors can be a factor in plagiarism and fabrication. The many miles between the correspondent and the publication can serve as a buffer that leads one to believe they will get away with their journalistic crime.

Fisher commented on this, saying that “it is absolutely that the further away you are from your desk the easier it is to get away with such unethical behavior.”

Jack Kelley’s story serves to show that whether near or far, the news can be manipulated, created and falsified and then fed to the public as fact. The other side of this story, however, is that you can be caught. The miles between a reporter and the newsroom may create a comfortable notion of protection from being found out, yet in the end, the news relies on fact and truth will prevail.


Jayson Blair: Too Good to be True

1 May

The New York Times is a publication built on its long-standing reputation, but it is not immune to becoming entangled in one reporter’s (mess). The New York Times came to describe reporter Jayson Blair’s plagiarism and fabrication of news as, at that time, “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

Blair started his career in journalism as an intern for the Boston Globe. He then interned at the New York Times, where he began his career of self-destruction.

Charles Strum, Blair’s editor at the Times while he worked at the metro desk, commented on Blair, saying that “his personal/professional life seemed to be a mess: a voice-mail that was filled to the brim; i.e., no one could leave him fresh messages. He took on assignments from other departments without clearing them with me or metro and then never completed them. And yet, he was always in the office, always the first to show up at the bar and the last to leave. At the time, though, no one could have imagined the kind of trouble he’d get into.”

In his four years at the Times, reporting from 1999 to 2003, Blair climbed the reporting ladder, finally landing himself in the national desk reporting on hot issues of that time.

In April, 2003, an article of Blair’s was called into question for bearing an uncanny similarity to an article published earlier by the The San Antonio Express-News by reporter Macarena Hernandez, a previous colleague of Blair’s while interning at the Times. When questioned, Blair maintained that he had done the reporting for the story himself in Texas and no crime of plagiarism had been committed.

An investigation into Blair’s reporting began and his crime was unearthed. Blair had not gone to Texas to report on that story, nor had he actually traveled to many of the sites from which he was said to reported from. Blair stayed in Brooklyn, N.Y. and relied on his cell phone and laptop.

Sridhar Pappu, reporter for the New York Observer and one of the first reporters to conduct an extended interview with Blair after the scandal erupted, commented on this.

“It’s one thing to not go to a site and try to make things up, but to take your former colleagues work and use it verbatim, that’s an act of pure self-destruction,” he said.

Blair resigned from the Times and a full-fledged investigation into his previous articles began. The Times reported in May 2003 that from the beginning of his time reporting for the national desk, at least 36 articles out of 73 were questionable.

On May 11, 2003 the New York Times printed an article titled “Correcting the record; Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” detailing Blair’s work, deception at the Times and how the paper planned to move forward in the wake of his plagiarism and lies.

The article stated that over 600 other articles Blair wrote contained fabrications or questionable material and asked readers to email the Times to report anything suspicious or false that they noticed in any of Blair’s articles.

Blair’s fabrications involved many stories that pulled at the emotions of people across the nation. He depicted marines recovering in medical centers from the war in Iraq, families anxiously watching the television to confirm the safety of their children and relatives fighting abroad, church services and memorials and inside information regarding the arrest of suspects involved in the 2002 Washington sniper attacks.

“The stories were too good, the anecdotes were too good. Those were warning signs,” Pappu stated.

The Times took responsibility in losing the public’s trust but also maintained that Blair was intentionally deceiving the paper and that was not something easily caught.

In an article by Pappu, “So Jayson Blair Could Live, The Journalist Had to Die,” Blair is cited as saying that he was a victim to drugs and alcohol, but it was the institution of the New York Times that deserved blame as well.

Pappu commented on Blair’s stance on the scandal, saying that “I think as an institution, they [The Times] knew about his problems. Jayson is totally at fault for what he did, but he was also symptom of major institutional problems at the paper.”

The editors that Blair conned were led to believe that they were working with a driven, trustworthy reporter who knew where to go to get his story.

When asked if he ever suspected Blair’s writing, Barry said “No, but I can’t say that I was making it my mission to fact-check or pay particular attention to his stories. I had no reason to doubt it any more than the average reader would have any reason to doubt it.”

Adam Liptak, a Times journalist who worked on the Blair story, said “In the newspaper world, at least, the blame rests almost entirely on the reporter.  Editors should try to be alert and, especially, to hire and promote carefully. But it’s very hard to detect such abuses before publication.”

The Times has regained its reputation as a credible source for the world’s news, but the Jayson Blair scandal is not easily forgotten.

“It’s a fundamentally different place,” Pappu said. “I doubt whether a scandal like this will ever happen at a place like The Times again.”



Read this article on The Circle website at http://www.maristcircle.com/features/jayson-blair-too-good-to-be-true-1.2730993?pagereq=1

Words are weapons: Jayson Blair Scandal at the New York Times

4 Dec

The article on Jayson Blair has been completed and submitted to The Circle. This article ended up being my favorite so far. I was able to find some great sources who were really helpful and insightful regarding journalism and what happened at The Times back in 2003.

Jayson Blair seems to me to be a bit unhinged. From the research I conducted and the interviews with various people, Blair was a ticking time bomb at The Times. He knowingly ruined his career and did not care about who he hurt along the way. Some have said that The Times as an institution was to blame, but I don’t really believe that. I think The Times may have been flawed, but Blair set himself up for disaster. He plagiarized and fabricated stories that impacted peoples lives. He set out to deceive people and The Times could not have created that monster on its own. Maybe some editors were not as careful as they should have been, but ultimately Blair has no one to blame but himself.

That’s just my opinion on the matter. My sources varied in opinion, which was a nice change. I was able to speak to a reporter at the New York Observer who actually interviewed Blair after the scandal broke. He had a lot to say, which was great and he’s quoted throughout my article. There are also quotes from interviews with reporters and editors at The Times who knew Blair and worked at The Times during that scandal. It all came together really well in the end and made for a lengthy, but interesting article.

I was also really impressed by the people I spoke to at The Times. For previous articles, I’ve had to email numerous people only to hear back from maybe one or two and I’d have to wait so long for a response. Everyone I emailed at The Times responded right away and were all very timely in answering my questions and contacting me. This really helped in my ability to get the article done on time so that worked out well.

This also means that my next article will be my last in the series. The next article will be on Jack Kelley who was a journalist for USA Today. Keep reading The Circle and check out its website at http://www.maristcircle.com to see my previous articles and upcoming ones!

The video below is Blair giving a speech at Washington and Lee University on the ethics of journalism – something I do not think he even has any right to speak about. I found it amusing though.

Throwing stones at Glass houses: News fabrication pitfalls

29 Nov

Everyone enjoys a good story, a creative novel spun together with compelling characters and an addictive plot. These stories are not meant for the newsroom, where the interest is delivering the facts free from fiction. This introduction of fiction into the newsroom is what resulted in one of the most well-known scandals in journalism history and it began with a man named Stephen Glass.

Glass was a reporter for The New Republic, a Washington D.C. publication, from 1995 to 1998. It was in May, 1998 that one of his stories was called into question and set in motion the downward spiral that led to his dismissal from the publication.

In the May 18, 1998 issue of The New Republic a story written by Glass, titled “Hack Heaven,” was published. This story chronicled how a 15-year-old computer hacker, Ian Restil, hacked into the database of Jukt Micronics, a supposedly large-scale computer software company based in California. The article then continued to detail how rather than pressing charges, the company tried to employ Restil to handle information security due to his computer skills.

This story did not sit so well with Adam Penenberg, a journalist for Forbes Digital Tool. Penenberg’s writing mainly concerned cybercrime and hacking. He began to investigate the sources and companies that Glass referred to in his article. What he uncovered was a fabrication so complete that it rivaled that of “Jimmy’s World” by Janet Cooke.

Penenberg said that “It wasn’t until my editor dissed me that I decided I’d better look into the story. Not because I suspected it was fabricated. I figured I’d better learn about it if I’m going to cover the same beat. Then I couldn’t find the company Glass based his story on, and that of course led me on a rather crazy journey.”

Jukt Micronics, a main component of Glass’s story, did not exist. Glass did, however, create a fake web page for the company. When Penenberg called the number for the company that Glass supplied, he spoke to a “Jukt executive.” This executive turned out to be Glass’s brother posing as an employee of the so-called company. Furthermore, Penenberg was unable to find anyone who had ever heard of Ian Restil.

Numerous other facts in the story did not check out either. The room where Glass was said to have sat in on a conference between Restil and Jukt Micronics was closed on the day Glass said the meeting took place. Glass had written in the article that Nevada’s law enforcement aired a radio announcement pleading with the public not to conduct business with hackers. Penenberg stated that he was unable to locate any law enforcement official in Nevada who had knowledge of these radio announcements.

Glass also referenced in his article The National Assembly of Hackers, Computer Security Center and the Center for Interstate Online Investigations. Penenberg, along with Forbes Digital Tool, was unable to confirm that any of these existed. Their research was thorough, checking for the existence of these assemblies and initiatives through police departments, the FBI, the U.S. Customs Department and the Justice Department.

Nothing was verifiable. The story was a complete fabrication of Glass’s mind.

Forbes contacted Charles Lane, editor at The New Republic, to notify him of the results of Penenberg’s investigation. Lane had been unaware that there were any questions regarding the credibility of Glass’s story.

Glass was dismissed from The New Republic two days later after Lane conducted his own check of Glass’s story. Forbes reported that Lane stated “Based on my own investigations, I have determined to a moral certainty that the entire article is made up.”

Upon further scrutiny, The New Republic found that at least 24 of the 41 stories Glass wrote for the publication contained either fabricated material, or information that could not be confirmed. Following this discovery Glass was also fired from his journalistic positions at Harper’s Magazine and at George’s Magazine, where it was revealed that he fabricated quotes in a profile he wrote about Vernon Jordan. He was also dismissed as a freelance reporter for the Washington Post.

In 2003 the film “Shattered Glass,” directed by Billy Ray, was released, depicting the scandal that took place at The New Republic with the serial fabricator.

Scandals such as this, where an entire fabricated story is published, call into question the editorial staff. Newsrooms may function on the assumption that the stories written are based on fact, yet cases like this or Janet Cooke or Jayson Blair place doubt on the reliability of not only the journalist, but the editors as well.

Lane acknowledged the editorial shortcomings in 1998, the Washington Post reported him saying”we should have done a better job. There’s no way around that.”

In a recent interview, Adam Penenberg commented on the ability of Glass to have his article published with no questions asked.

“You have to wonder how Glass was able to get away with it for so long,” he said. “At Forbes, where I worked at the time, I doubt he’d ever have gotten away with it. A fact-checker or editor would have wondered how come they had never heard of a ‘big time’ software firm in California. He’d be asked, is it public? Private? How many employees? Where’s it based? What are its revenues, etc. Why didn’t TNR editors do that?”

The New Republic editorial staff overlooked the possibility that the story was a sham in favor of publishing a fictitious story that would capture the attention of an audience. While Penenberg acknowledged the lack of fact checking in Glass’s story on part of The New Republic, he maintained that the blame still rests on the journalist.

Penenberg stated “Editors should be able to trust their reporters. It’s this violation of trust that is the most distressing aspect of plagiarism.”

Penenberg, a professor of journalism and director of the business and economic program at New York University and author of the NYU journalism handbook, offered advice to aspiring journalists and editors who find themselves in ethical dilemmas that walk the line between originality and plagiarism or fabrication.

“I find it’s good practice to imagine someone peering over your shoulder, reading every word you write” he said. “Are you putting forth your best effort or are you cutting corners? Are the words you’re writing and the ideas you’re expressing genuinely your own? Is there a possibility that someone might misconstrue something you’ve written? And if that doesn’t work, follow this simple rule: When in doubt, attribute your source. Works every time.”



This article can also be found on The Circle website at http://www.maristcircle.com/features/throwing-stones-at-glass-houses-news-fabrication-pitfalls-1.2717570?pagereq=1#.TtV-GvIf6Q4

Stephen Glass Scandal: Learn from the lies

28 Nov

The article concerning Stephen Glass and his fabrication in The New Republic has been submitted for publication in The Circle. This marks the approaching end of the series. There are only two articles that will remain after the Glass story has been published.

The article on Stephen Glass was a fun one to write because it was this case that began my interest in scandals in journalism back in high school. I remember watching Shattered Glass in class and discussing it and wondering how it was that he published so many stories that were false, fake people, fake situations, fiction altogether. My prior interest in this particular scandal made it one of the most exciting ones for me to write.

I found reading Glass’s fabricated stories and researching how he was finally caught to be both fascinating and disgraceful to journalism. This story was also one of the more successful ones as well. Although, as I had predicted initially, The New Republic did not respond to my emails or comment when called about the topic, I was able to find a source that was invaluable to my story.

Adam Penenberg, the man who discovered the fabrication in Glass’s story “Hack Heaven” responded to my email and I was able to conduct an interview with him on the topic. The interview with Penenberg was exactly what my story needed because it addressed the issue of whether editors are at fault as well when stories such as “Hack Heaven” make it to print. The analysis of this can be found in the article on Glass. However I would like to consider another aspect of the interview – why Glass fabricated these stories.

I asked Penenberg if he thought the pressures of the newsroom and pressing deadlines could have led to Glass’s storytelling.

He responded saying “I don’t think so. I just think it’s laziness. You don’t hear of many wire service reporters being busted for plagiarism. It’s authors, magazine writers, newspaper reporters and columnists. They have much more lenient deadlines.”

This laziness was something that I touched upon in a previous blog post concerning why journalists choose to fabricate or plagiarize the news. A study by Dominic Lasorsa and Jia Dai(2007) stated that “writing deceptive news is less cognitively challenging than writing accurate news” (Lasorsa and Dai, 2007). They attribute this to the disposition of the journalist, who is “not motivated to produce accurate and fair stories” (Lasorsa and Dai, 2007).

The work Glass produced, however, was more than a lack of fair or accurate reporting. He published lies and served them to the public as truth. His stories, however, were entertaining. “Hack Heaven” for example was shocking and humorous at the same time. Had this been a story I randomly read in the paper, I would never had thought to question it because I enjoyed reading it.

Mats Ekstrom (2000)  studied this, saying that “journalism sometimes attains legitimacy in the eyes of its audiences by providing pleasure, diversion and escapism” (Ekstrom, 2000).

Glass’s stories, in my opinion, were written to entertain. Rather than seeking out truly entertaining and captivating stories, Glass relied on his imagination to do the work for him. My beliefs on this were compiled into one quote I read in a study by Harvey Molotch and Merilyn Lester (1974) when they said “those with purposes produce propaganda; those whose only purpose is to reflect reality, produce news” (Molotch and Lester, 1974).

I find this quote to summarize what was the case, in my mind, concerning Glass. He had an agenda and the news around him did not fit that agenda. Therefore, he abandoned truth and reality and instead sought to provide the audience with what he thought they would prefer: entertaining fiction.

Fiction is why we buy novels, not why we read newspapers.

This story, all in all, was one of my favorite articles to write so far because I felt a certain inclination toward writing on Glass. The next two articles, reporting on scandals that have taken place in the 21st century, will be the final installments of the Scandalism series.

Keep reading, keep writing and keep seeking the truth!

Also, here’s a trailer for the film that first brought my attention to the Stephen Glass scandal, enjoy.

Penalties absent in 90s-era plagiarism cases

21 Nov

Journalists sometimes fall under the pressures of the newsroom. They may lie, plagiarize or fabricate a story entirely. In many cases, this results in dismissal from the publication. But many do not know that some journalists choose to fight back. One such journalist was Jonathan Kandell.

Kandell, author of “La Capital: The Biography of Mexico City” and “Passage through El Dorado” was a foreign correspondent and assistant foreign editor for the Wall Street Journal in 1990. He was fired from the Journal after an article was printed on March 30, 1990 for which he was accused of plagiarism. Kandell’s article concerned three Soviet managers who succeeded despite how communism was restraining them.

After publication, the Journal was contacted by the author of the book “Communist Entrepreneurs,” John W. Kiser III. Kiser stated that Kandell’s article was “obviously drawn almost entirely” from his book and provided lines from his book as proof of Kandell’s plagiarism.

Although Kandell denied that he used Kiser’s material, the Journal dismissed him from their staff on May 2, 1990 and printed a correction that stated the article should have included attribution to Kiser’s book.

After dismissal, Kandell fought back against the Journal. On May 22, 1990, Kandell filed a lawsuit in the Court for the Southern District of New York against Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Kandell filed his suit under the claim of libel because he was fired and his reputation was damaged due to the charge of plagiarism, which he said was a false charge. He demanded $12.64 million from Dow Jones & Company, $10 million of which was in punitive damages and $2.64 million as reparation for actual malice on part of the Journal.

Roger B. May, the spokesman for Dow Jones at the time, told the press that Kandell had been dismissed, but he declined to go into further detail about the conditions surrounding the dismissal. May also said the managing editor of that time, Norman Pearlstine, would not comment on the issue.

This case, however, was voluntarily dismissed on June 20, 1990. The attorney of Dow Jones & Company stated that the paper could not be accused of libel because Kandell was never formally accused of plagiarism by the publication. The paper, therefore, could not be held accountable or sued for libel based upon the public’s interpretation of Kandell’s dismissal from the Journal.

While this case did not result in a compelling battle in court of Kandell vs. Dow Jones, it shows a different side of journalism scandals. While there are those journalists who accept that they have done something wrong and try to move on with their lives, some choose to fight for their reputation.

Carol Pauli, professor of mass communication law at Marist College, commented on the decision to go to court, saying that “It’s a gamble because you can lose; most would prefer to settle outside of court” and that, in the case of Kandell vs. Dow Jones, it would be hard to prove that the Journal was grossly negligent, so Kandell would have had “a hard time prevailing.”

The Wall Street Journal was unavailable for comment on this issue.

While it may be hard for a journalist to prevail in court against a publication, Kandell was neither the first nor the last to attempt to do so. In December 1998, journalist Thomas Vincent was dismissed from the South China Morning Post after it was found out that an article he wrote was plagiarized almost entirely from an earlier article in London’s Sunday Times.

Vincent filed a lawsuit against the publication in court in Hong Kong. Vincent did not deny the plagiarism; however, he claimed that he was not dismissed with enough prior warning and that he deserved payment and pension from the South China Morning Post. He was awarded $21,978 initially. The publication brought the case to the Hong Kong Court of Appeals in 2003, which reversed the prior ruling.

The Post was awarded all court costs for the case; however, they were still required to pay Vincent the end of the year payments, as stated in his contract with the Post.

Kandell plagiarized and then continued his career in journalism, later working for The New York Times. Vincent plagiarized and was able to sue the publication and receive monetary compensation for his dismissal. Both reporters committed offenses against the field of journalism and were able to continue on with their lives. This raises the issue of how plagiarism is sometimes treated as a less than serious offense. Yet it is one that is now also more accessible than ever as news and information is constantly posted, uploaded and updated online.

Today, websites such as http://turnitin.com seek to eliminate plagiarism through the Internet. Using others words without attribution, however, still continues.

“There’s unfortunate confusion that when people Google something and see a phrase over and over again, they think that’s how it’s done,” Pauli said. “The dangerous part is the easy ability to cut and paste.”

The Washington Post addressed this danger when they printed their new “Digital Publishing Guidelines.” Patrick B. Pexton, current ombudsman for the Washington Post, stated that the Post recently published these new guidelines on their website. The guidelines address the issues of sourcing, attribution, self-publishing, taste and tone, social media, third-party content and corrections and clarifications in digital publication.

The guidelines state that “In a major news event, readers may soon forget who first broke a story, but they are less likely to forget a devastating inaccuracy.”

Plagiarism, as seen in both of the cases considered here, is an inaccuracy that is continually brought up in the news and that will resonate in the public’s mind long after they forget who originally got the story straight.



This article is available in The Circle in print and on the website at http://www.maristcircle.com/features/penalties-absent-in-90s-era-plagiarism-cases-1.2705450?pagereq=1#.TsruP2uur9E

Plagiarism strikes again

4 Nov

I am currently working on an article on Jonathan Kandell. He was a foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who also plagiarized a story by failing to attribute large portions of it. I was hoping to take this story in a different direction than the others, although this is currently proving to be difficult.

Kandell tried to sue to Wall Street Journal after dismissal. I wanted to focus this article on the lawsuit and look into the case proceedings and how everything turned out. The problem with that was, I did not have access to the files.

I made a PACER account. Problem solved? Nope. It turned out the case was voluntarily dismissed by Kandell, so basically the suit never amounted to anything. This sort of put a large wall in front of my story and where I had hoped it would lead.

I have emailed the Wall Street Journal, two WSJ editors and filled out a query form for The Dow Jones and Co. I am hoping that this leads to useful information that can give my story more of an up-to-date take on the issue. The skeleton of the story is written, there is just an element missing.

I have been able to speak to one source about plagiarism in the news and that will prove to be useful for this story, however it would make the entire story more newsworthy if I was able to speak to someone at WSJ or The Dow Jones. So that’s where I’m at now on the Kandell story. I will admit that this story has been more than disheartening to write, especially after the last one where I was able to get such useful information from my sources.

Despite these setbacks, the story on Kandell will provide a different look into plagiarism in journalism and what happens thereafter for both the journalist and the publication. Keep reading the blog for more updates!

Plagiarism extends into the newsroom

31 Oct

Do not take credit for work that is not your own. Always cite your sources and provide attribution where it is due. Plagiarism is an offense that students are warned about in every class as a crime against the institution.

This offense, however, extends beyond the classroom. Jonathan Broder, former journalist for “The Chicago Tribune,” exemplified how plagiarism remains a reality after school.

Broder had been a foreign correspondent for “The Chicago Tribune,” working in the Middle East since 1979. He had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Tribune for his accomplishments in reporting in the Middle East.

On Feb. 22, 1988, in an article titled “Where Violence Is a Way of Life: On West Bank, Chaos Is Normalcy,” Broder described the violence, chaos and state of life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Some of the writing in this article, however, was not Broder’s own work.

It was found that sentences and phrases published in Broder’s article were originally written in an article by Joel Greenberg, journalist for the Jerusalem Post. On Feb. 29, 1988, “The Chicago Tribune” issued a correction and clarification.

The Tribune wrote, “The facts in the Tribune story, which included substantial original material, were accurate. The language taken from “The Jerusalem Post” column constitutes only a fraction of the total story and contributed significantly only to organization and imagery. But the byline inaccurately implied that it was all Mr. Broder’s work.”

The Pulitzer Prize nomination for Broder was rescinded by former Tribune editor, James Squires. Broder resigned from the Tribune in March 1988. Squires commented on the plagiarism saying that Broder was “obsessed by the story, wouldn’t take any help. He was suffering from the physical fatigue and trauma of watching that story.”

This was not the first instance of plagiarism by Broder. Philip Terzian, literary editor of “The Weekly Standard,” noticed that an article written by Broder in 1981 about Muammar Qaddafi included fragments of sentences and phrases that had been previously published in an article by “Newsweek.” After notifying the Tribune about these similarities, a “kill advisory” was issued for Broder’s story.

Terzian commented on Broder’s plagiarism in 1988 saying, “What struck me at the time was the editor, Squires, said it was so shocking and out of the blue, which was funny because seven years earlier the same thing had happened.”

Despite these instances of plagiarism, Broder was able to continue a career in journalism. He went on to become the Washington correspondent for “Salon,” which describes itself as an online “progressive news site.” He is currently the senior editor at “Congressional Quarterly,” a publishing company owned by The Economist Group, which produces publications focused on the government.

Broder broke an ethical rule of journalism. He was dishonest and passed off someone else’s work as his own. Yet, despite these crimes against journalism, he is able to continue a career disseminating news to the public. Those who have fabricated the news carry Scarlet Letters for the rest of their lives; yet, when a journalist plagiarizes, is it considered less of an offense than for other types of writers?

Former editor for “Salon,” David Talbot, believes so. He commented on the matter in 1998, saying that Broder “really fought back, you know, and rehabilitated himself as a journalist. My feeling is that this is not a case like Stephen Glass, or Janet Cooke, or Patricia Smith, of someone chronically making up stories.”

Others do not harbor the same feelings on this issue. In an interview with Philip Terzian on Oct. 21, 2011, he stated that “plagiarism is a very serious matter and one of the worst things you can do in journalism.”

Terzian referred to plagiarism as “intellectual theft” and “a capital offense in our field of work.”

This problem continues to show up in the news. The integrity of journalism rests upon the truth.  Publishing someone else’s material, while it may deliver truthful facts, is still deceptive and calls into question the credibility of journalists and the field as a whole.

To avoid this, Terzian provided a simple solution. “My advice to you,” he said, “is be original.”



This article is also available in The Circle in print or online at http://www.maristcircle.com/features/plagiarism-extends-into-the-newsroom-1.2669877

Second in series has been completed!

23 Oct

The Jonathan Broder article was completed on Friday and has been submitted to The Circle for publication. Luckily for me, it will run in print this time rather than only on the website! I’m really pleased with how this piece ended up. I was nervous at the onset about being able to contact people and get actual information other than what I could dig up online and in old news articles. The article took a turn for the better though.

I was able to contact the Chicago Tribune and was referred to someone to speak to. This ended up being a dead end because that person did not answer my emails or phone messages, which was a slight annoyance. I would have really liked to include the Tribunes take on the matter and how it impacts them now. This did not end up being possible. I was, however, able to speak with someone else. Philip Terzian, who is an editor for The Weekly Standard and originally discovered Broder’s plagiarism in 1981, was more than willing to speak to me on the matter.

We ended up talking for a while over the phone about the article and he was happy to be included in the article I was writing. His input really added to the point I was trying to get across – plagiarism is deceptive and unacceptable, especially in the business of delivering truth.

The process of writing this story really lifted my spirits after the last article, which had put me a little on edge about my ability to contact news officials and get up-to-date information for the stories I am writing. Although, someone from the Washington Post did finally get back to me through an email on Friday, but it was too late because the Cooke story had already been published. Writing this article was also interesting because it allowed me to compare this article with the last – fabrication vs. plagiarism. I found that it seemed as if people are much more forgiving of plagiarism than they are of fabrication. In a way this makes sense, but in another way it doesn’t.

I understand that instances such as with Janet Cooke, a nation was moved to action and people were actually upset by the story she fabricated. This should be unforgivable in journalism, especially because she won an award for that deception. Broder delivered facts. He told the truth, he just did not attribute the truth to the person who actually wrote it. This sets off the moral radar in us all. Always attribute. Plagiarism is wrong. It does seem to be less of an offense than what Cooke did. On the other hand though, both journalists broke the rule of journalism. Journalism relies on the premise of telling the truth. Both journalists were deceptive and in this field, should it really matter to what extent it was? If, as a journalist, you are not going to tell the truth, then you do not belong in the news business.

In a study conducted by Marie Dunne White (1989) titled “Plagiarism and the News Media,” she writes “If we are caught in our lie, we not only embarrass ourselves, but we destroy the credibility of the newspaper for which we work. The public has no way of knowing which parts of the paper may be inaccurate and which parts are truth” (White, 1989).

Destroying the credibility of a newspaper and placing doubt in the mind of the public seems like a pretty big offense to me. This study also said, however, that many people defended Broder’s plagiarism.

White (1989) wrote “many foreign correspondents who covered the Middle East at the same time as Broder said that Broder simply followed a common practice of foreign correspondents – he rewrote the local media” (White, 1989).

I do not agree with this defense. If you are simple rewriting the local media, the attribute it to your source. It’s that easy. If you attribute then no one will say you’ve plagiarized. While that may be a defense that some are able to comfort themselves with, I don’t buy it. The next article I’m writing will focus on this as well. Another foreign correspondent who was found to have plagiarized – Jonathan Kandell, former journalist for the Wall Street Journal.

As I write this article, I’m hoping more light is shed on how people view plagiarism vs. fabrication. Stay tuned for more, and pick up your copy of The Circle this week to read the full article on Jonathan Broder!

Plagiarism or Geniune…Is it really that clear cut?

17 Oct

After a lot of snooping around and making various phone calls, I’m in the process of writing the second Scandalism story. The topic this time – Jonathan Broder. Broder was a foreign correspondent for The Chicago Tribune. He wrote a story on February 22nd, 1988 that included multiple lines that came from a story issued previously by the Jersusalem Post.

These are the basic facts of the Broder story. He was fired. Justice was served, or was it? Through my research it has appeared that the line with plagiarism is not as clear cut as the one that has been drawn for fabrication. This makes sense, fabrication requires creating something out of nothing and lying to the public. Plagiarism is more subtle, writing facts that may very well be completely accurate, yet they are not your own.

The line seems to be blurred for journalists who plagiarize. It’s a matter of attribution rather than fabrication of facts. This, however, does not make it any less of a scandal. While some people may be more willing to forgive a journalist that plagiarizes, it does not change the fact that the news was not provided to the public in its purest, most honest form.

Writing this article on Broder and the studies that I have encountered through doing so have made me consider plagiarism vs. fabrication. I find both of them offensive to the profession of journalism and a blatent disregard for the code of conduct that journalists acknowledge when they enter this field.

The article on Broder delves deeper into this topic and how someone like Janet Cooke may have had her career as a journalist shattered by her scandal, yet someone like Broder has been able to continue a career of providing news to the public.

Stay tuned for the final product of the Scandalism Series Issue No. 2. For those of you who are unsure of what plagiarism is, feel free to watch this informative and slightly amusing video below: