November 15, 2006

Call it what it is

This is kind of funny.

See if you can spot the word that's scrupulously being avoided here:

It has come to our attention that the Nov. 10 editorial "Americans need their Congress back" contained phrases that should have been attributed to Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker. We owe readers an explanation of how this happened.

I'm thinking of a word here. It's a word that came up more than just a couple of times during my journalism classes. In fact, it was hammered into my skull in countless college classes that required me to write ANYTHING. Can you guess what that word is?

The writer, who properly attributed other views included in the editorial, took notes on the Hertzberg piece, intending either to directly quote him or otherwise include some of his views, which coincided with the editorial staff's opinions on problems in Washington. Later, in consulting these notes, the writer inadvertently failed to distinguish which parts were direct quotes and which were paraphrased ideas, resulting in the writing of phrases that included an unattributed, improper mix of the two plus other points about Congress.

Huh, still no mention of the word I'm thinking of. I'll give you a hint: it starts with a "P," and ends with a "lagiarism." I'm also thinking of the term "inability to think for oneself." Strangely, there's no mention of either of those yet. Instead, we've been given a pretty lengthy excuse for why plagiarism was kind of okay, because it was sort of a mistake, you know, in this case. Granted, if I had made that mistake even once in college, I would have been facing expulsion. I wouldn't have even been given the chance to plead my case that it wasn't plagiarism; that it was, in fact, an "improper mix." Plus, it would have been on my academic record, hounding me and keeping me out of pretty much most any university that didn't offer a free steak to enrolling students.

To correct the record, the following should have been attributed to Hertzberg: the phrases "festival of bribery" and "the subcontracting of environmental, energy, labor, and health-care policymaking to corporate interests; ... efforts to suppress scientific truth," as well as a phrase that was paraphrased, "a set of economic and fiscal policies that have slowed growth, spurred inequality, replenished the ranks of the poor and uninsured, and exacerbated the insecurities of the middle class."

Great googily moogily. If that's not plagiarism, then plagiarism doesn't exist. But, they still won't call it that.

We take issues of journalistic ethics and practice very seriously.

All current glaring evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

We have addressed this issue with the writer and sincerely regret that it occurred.

And, since it was an ANONYMOUS editorial, we're not privy to even know who that writer IS. Wow, I don't know about you, but I'm just floored by the journalistic ethics on display here.

Say it with me now. What was on display here, but never actually mentioned, and was attempted to be explained away by a lengthy bunch of nonsense?



Posted by Ryan at November 15, 2006 12:52 PM | TrackBack

Boy, good thing the Fairness Doctrine has been removed from the canon of "journalistic ethics," 'cause I can't help noticing you only whip out this particular canard when the person you're swinging it at at is leaning in on your left. Like, for example, remember that time FOX declared that over 500 WMDs had been found in Iraq? I don't recall you considering that an ethical question per se.

I guess maybe your moral high horse is monocular?

(see, the image you're supposed to get here is Ryan riding a moral high horse-- preferably a horse wearing an eye patch --and smacking people with a duck.)

Posted by: Joshua at November 15, 2006 01:20 PM

You know, Joshua, I didn't really take into account the left leaning nature of the original editorial. In fact, you know what? I wasn't thinking about WMDs, either.

You know what I was thinking about? I was thinking about how I would have been expelled from college if I had even ACCIDENTALLY done something like this, and would probably today be flipping burgers at Wendy's instead of working as a managing editor. So, after spending over the last ten years being told how egregiously wrong plagiarism is supposed to be, and taking great pains to avoid even the possible taint of plagiarism, it's a little bit surprising to see a NEWSPAPER basically saying: "whoops, our bad, but it's not really that bad, and it's not even plagiarism if we don't admit it." It was that part I was kind of hung up on, so you can take your Fairness Doctrine twaddle and do the butt shoving thing with it.

Posted by: Ryan at November 15, 2006 01:29 PM

Whatever, dude. You and I have discussed the tendency of journalists to cut and paste press releases into headlines at length. That behavior is a given. The distinction between, "stealing copyrighted material" and "stealing uncopyrighted material," is a legal one, not an ethical one. So I find your "oh I'm so shocked" attitude about this a little hard to take seriously.

Posted by: Joshua at November 15, 2006 03:31 PM

The difference between press releases and editorial OPINION pieces is night and day, and you know that.

But, I'm sure if I lifted a few choice lines from SMfW and ran them unattributed in my weekly column, you'd be just fine with that, right?

Posted by: Ryan at November 15, 2006 03:36 PM

I'm not "just fine" with promulgating press releases as "news." I'm just saying that plagiarism is the industry standard in journalism.

Posted by: Joshua at November 15, 2006 04:25 PM

Wait, so I CAN lift from SMfW for my weekly column? Sweet.

Posted by: Ryan at November 15, 2006 04:50 PM

I will not stand idly by while you denigrate the quality education I received at Sizzler U. Although that steak they gave me for enrolling was a little tough. But hey, baked potato bar!

Posted by: flamingbanjo at November 15, 2006 04:58 PM
StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!