Of the many reasons why Ann Coulter should be dipped in black ink and covered in bits of shredded newsprint and sent riding out of the town of Good Journalism on the back of a pissed off pinto, one stands out more than others — she’s a plagiarist.
However, these are sad times when the best journalists lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate asshattery. And as a result, Coulter remains within our ranks. A pariah of sorts, yes, but she’s still got a membership card.
Which brings us to a blog post I had intended to make about a report in Sunday’s Post and Courier. What stopped me? Was it a particularly brutal hangover, the kind that reduces a grown man to a heaping mass of head-swelling tears in the tub? No. Was it the realization that by criticizing the P&C I was opening up the City Paper to similar attacks? Certainly not. Was I afraid that one day someone would read what I had written and say, “What a douche. He’s just as much of an asshat as Ann Coulter”? Never. What stopped me was that the particular point I intended to highlight was no longer there.
Let me explain.
Like many of you, I was surprised by the size of Barack Obama’s victory in the primary. But that wasn’t the only shocker. Despite losing in South Carolina, John Edwards decided to remain in the race, a perplexing move for sure; after all, if the primary truly decided anything, it was that this was now a two-candidate race.
So why would Edwards stay? Well, I had a theory, and not a particularly novel one: The former North Carolina senator had decided that if he wanted to remain relevant for another four years, Obama was the candidate to buddy up to. If not, it was back to chasing down ambulances like a dog with a penchant for chewing on E.R. scrubs. The problem was, I needed something to indicate that Obama would benefit from Edwards’ presence in the race beyond mere speculation. And I found it on page 4A in the Sunday P&C:
“Edwards siphoned off a considerable portion of the white vote on Saturday. Exit polls by the National Election Pool showed Edwards and Clinton each winning about four in 10 white voters, with Obama gaining the rest.”
Ah ha. By staying in the race, Edwards will cut into Hillary’s votes, thereby giving Obama a behind-the-back assist. I was ready to post.
However, when I pulled up the article online, the paragraph in question was gone. How odd. I turned to Google to see if there was an earlier version of the report floating around.
And then a funny thing happened. I found the paragraph, but it wasn’t where I expected. Even stranger, I found it in several places —the Detroit News, the St. Augustine Record, and the Indianapolis Star — each one running the same Washington Post wire service report. Did I just catch a reporter plagiarizing another news article? I didn’t think so, at least not intentionally. In fact, I had an idea what happened, but I needed to confirm it. So I sent P&C Executive Editor Williams Hawkins an e-mail. He got back to me, explaining the situation:
“A copy editor handling [the] story inserted The Washington Post contribution, which we got as part of our subscription to the Post wire service. That editor should also have added a line crediting the Post as contributing to the article, as we do with the AP and other services when we meld their copy and ours. Somehow, that ball got dropped. A different editor who was charged with feeding the Web moved [the] story to Charleston.net. Accordingly, that version did not have the Post information that was inserted into the print version. That’s why the two pieces differed.”
I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a more than satisfactory explanation. In fact, I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts, this sort of thing happens all the time. That said, it’s also one of those mistakes that make a conscientious reporter feel about as low as Mike Gravel’s polling numbers, and they probably vow never to repeat it, so help them L. Ron.
As for journalists that play fast and easy with the truth, the perils of cutting and pasting are probably the least of their concerns. And for them, I say bring on the India ink and the paper shredder.