In case you haven’t been following the latest New York Times plagiarism scandal, you can get a good summary from ombudsman Clark Hoyt’s March 6th Public Editor column:
ZACHERY KOUWE, a Times business reporter for a little over a year, resigned last month after he was accused of plagiarizing from The Wall Street Journal. An internal review of his work turned up more articles — he said he was shown four — containing copy clearly lifted from other news sources.
Mr Hoyt calls for a full accounting by the Times, listing all the instances they turned up where plagiarism was clear, and telling readers what’s being done to address the situation in general, beyond the dismissal of Mr Kouwe.
For Mr Kouwe’s part, according to Mr Hoyt he expressed his own surprise at being shown what he’d done. It’s an honest mistake, he says, editing copied material in without remembering that it had been copied, thinking that it was his own writing.
I find this completely puzzling.
I’ve never worked at a news desk, and have never had the pressure, stress, competitiveness, and tight deadlines for my writing that Mr Kouwe faced, and that his colleagues still do. Perhaps it’s the pressure and deadlines that explain it. Perhaps when one is under that kind of stress, one does forget. And yet....
- When I get source material, I keep it separate. And I never include it without attribution. Look around these pages: there’s nothing that shows up here written by someone else, unless it’s within quotation marks or in a <blockquote>. I can’t understand how a professional writer can carelessly mix up his own writing with copied material.
- I know my own writing. Perhaps more to the point, I know what’s not my own writing. Once in a while, there’ll probably be something that could go either way, but in general I can just look at something and say, “That’s not mine; I didn’t write that.”
I want to believe Mr Kouwe when he says that it was an accident. I just find it very hard to. And, anyway, I doubt he’ll be working for any reputable news organization again. But what am I to think when the next journalist makes a similar claim?
In any case, dear readers, be assured that every sentence, clause, or phrase in these pages is my own, unless it’s clearly identified otherwise.
[Thanks to Tom Lehrer for this post’s title.]
Let no one else’s work evade your eyes.
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes.
So don’t shade your eyes,
But plagiarize! Plagiarize! Plagiarize!
(Only be sure always to call it, please, “research”.)
— Tom Lehrer, “Lobachevsky”