Monday, November 20, 2006

Plagiarism in an editorial by the Minneapolis Star Tribune?

Puzzling text at powerlineblog: In her weekly column as the Star Tribune's reader's representative, Kate Parry reflects on the the partial plagiarism committed by a recent Star Tribune editorial: "Can a writer unintentionally plagiarize?" To be clear, IPBiz notes it is the Kate Parry column on November 18 which is entitled --Can a writer unintentionally plagiarize?--, not the editorial on November 10.

Among other things, Kate Parry wrote about a Star Tribune editorial on Nov. 10 which apparently had borrowed from text by Hendrik Hertzberg in the Nov. 6 issue of the New Yorker magazine:

Editorial page editor Susan Albright began investigating what had happened. The results of her probe were described in an editor's note published on the editorial page Wednesday, which read in part: "The writer ... took notes on the Hertzberg piece, intending either to directly quote him or otherwise include some of his views. ... 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. ... "

Albright detailed phrases in the Hertzberg piece reproduced almost word-for-word in the editorial. Those phrases were "festival of bribery" and "the subcontracting of environmental, energy, labor, and health-care policymaking to corporate interests; ... efforts to suppress scientific truth." Hertzberg's phrase "a set of fiscal policies that have slowed growth, spurred inequality, replenished the ranks of the poor and uninsured, and exacerbated the insecurities of the middle class" had been paraphrased in the editorial to "economic policies that exacerbate inequality, heighten middle-class anxiety and expand the ranks of the poor and uninsured."

As to Parry's headlined question, one presumes Parry's answer is "yes":

But this case is exceptional, cutting to the core of the newspaper's credibility. There are really only two reasons plagiarism occurs, one far worse than the other, but neither is good. Intentional plagiarism is a theft. Unintentional plagiarism reveals sloppiness. Neither inspires reader confidence.

Nevertheless, in some circles, plagiarism, like patent infringement, is a strict liability offense. Ask the students at Ohio University.


IPBiz found text by Jonathan Kealing at the Kansan which gives a direct, distinct viewpoint to that of Kate Parry:

Plagiarism is taken seriously by The Kansan and the School of Journalism. It’s emphasized from the minute students begin taking classes and it’s something no one will tolerate. While I wish we could stop every instance of it, I know that, for some reason, students at this University try it and think they can get away with it.

Whether Breitenstein deliberately took the material or not can’t be proven. The fact is, however, words appeared under her byline that were not her original idea and were not attributed. The fact is, her work did not comply with the standards of journalism we expect all of our writers to adhere to.

IPBiz notes that time and again, students are held to a higher standard than their professors, or other professionals. The Harvard Crimson hammered away at this during the Laurence Tribe matter, but the Tribe matter evaporated.


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