Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post Apologizes for Plagiarism

In this morning's Washington Post the Ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, dealt with the issue of the recent flagrant example of plagiarism by Post reporter Sari Horwitz.  Horwritz lifted whole paragraphs of material on the Arizona shootings from the Arizona Republic:
Sari Horwitz, a 27-year veteran, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Post, a woman almost universally liked and respected here, violated that standard twice within a week, copying and pasting material from the Arizona Republic on March 4 and March 10 in online stories (published in print on March 5 and 11) about Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January. As a result, she was suspended from The Post for three months without pay.
See the indented text with the  blue background above?  That is text quoted from Pexton's article, which is attributed to Pexton with a link to his column at the Post.  See, it's not that hard.  The Fair Use Doctrine allows you to use portions of other peoples copyrighted work in your own, provided you cite it correctly. All you have to do is to be willing to admit that the golden prose you are using is not your own.  Sari apparently was not willing to go to the trouble of rephrasing others peoples work so that she could claim it as her own.

Paxton expresses his own frustrations that as a reporter at smaller publications:
Reporters at those larger publications regularly “stole” from us, sometimes arrogantly so. In the early years it made me angry, but pretty soon it happened so often, I viewed it with a mix of anger and triumph. Our stories were driving the news and the local debate, forcing our bigger competitors to follow, imitate and occasionally credit us.

But not once did any reporter ever cut and paste whole sentences and paragraphs from something I or my colleagues wrote, as Horwitz did. It’s as audacious as it is lazy. And it is foolish in an age when most journalism is obtainable in seconds with a few mouse clicks.
 My fingers are bleeding here, man, have some sympathy!
So my sympathies are with the Arizona Republic and Dennis Wagner, the reporter who did the initial work on the story that was most plagiarized. He made the phone calls, did the legwork and picked out the most compelling parts of the court documents released about Loughner. “It’s not so unusual that you see your stuff paraphrased,” Wagner said. “But then I got the feeling as I read it that it was almost identical, in structure and in wording. I was floored.”
So why did such a well respected (and presumably well paid) reporter stoop to the easy solution, and risk her career with such an obvious and easily proved shortcut?
In an interview, Horwitz asked not to be quoted except for what she wrote in her apology. She was contrite and did not make excuses. A Tucson native, she cares about her home town and the Giffords story, and she volunteered to leave the investigative unit to be the lone Post reporter doing follow-up stories there.

According to Post colleagues, Horwitz was under deadline pressure to file for The Post’s Web site, rushing to write between two other scheduled interviews for a longer story. And she had been helping her mother, who still lives in Tucson, with some difficult health issues.
So, while she might not be willing to provide excuses, the Post will.

I know I've plagiarized this before, but I think in this case it falls under fair use.  I hope Tom Lehrer would approve:

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