A New York Times story helps itself to two lines from a Miami Herald piece.

Media criticism.
Feb. 27 2008 12:14 PM

The Times Plagiarizes the Miami Herald

A Page One story lifts two lines about an illicit drug.

New York Times story.

The hell wrought on Argentina by the illicit drug "paco" has already become a journalistic staple. The Christian Science Monitor visited the topic on April 5, 2006; the Miami Herald on Aug. 12, 2006; the Los Angeles Times on May 25, 2007; and BBC News on Aug. 29, 2007.

The New York Times' contribution arrived on Feb. 23 and was published on Page One of the paper. But not only does the Times piece fail to advance the paco story, it plagiarizes two lines from the Herald.

Advertisement

Here's the relevant section from the Herald story, published 18 months ago, with the portions purloined by the Times italicized:

Paco is highly addictive because its effect is so short—a couple of minutes—and so intense that many users resort to smoking 20 to 50 cigarettes a day to try to make its effects linger. ...

Paco is even more toxic than crack cocaine because it is made mostly of solvents and chemicals, with just a dab of cocaine, said Jim Hall, executive director of Up Front Drug Information Center, a Miami nonprofit that has been tracking cocaine abuse for more than two decades.

Now, from the Times story, similarly marked:

Paco is highly addictive because its high lasts just a few minutes—and is so intense that many users smoke 20 to 50 paco cigarettes a day to try to make its effects linger. Paco is even more toxic than crack cocaine because it is made mostly of solvents and chemicals like kerosene, with just a dab of cocaine, Argentine and Brazilian drug enforcement officials said.

I discovered the plagiarism while considering the Times article as a candidate for my "Stupidest Drug Story of Week" series. The unsourced assertion that paco was highly addictive because its high is short-acting struck me as suspicious nonsense. Plenty of drugs are short-acting without being highly addictive. A few Nexis stops later, I found the Herald piece.

Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson says that the piece's author, Alexei Barrionuevo, concedes that he lifted the two passages. Barrionuevo had been working on the paco story for a couple of weeks and realized at the end of the process that he needed definitional passages about the drug to distinguish it from crack cocaine. She says that instead of consulting his notes, which he claims contained the information, he relied on Google. Indeed, a copy of the Herald story can be found via Google.

Barrionuevo doesn't specifically recall taking the lines from the Herald story, says Abramson, but he doesn't dispute that it's very likely his source was the newspaper.

Did Barrionuevo commit plagiarism?

"Yes," says Abramson. "I think when you take material almost word-for-word and don't credit it, it is." Like most employers, the Times doesn't discuss internal personnel issues. Citing this policy, Abramson declines  comment on whether a reprimand is planned.

A Times Editors' Note about the incident is in the works, she says.

******

This is one of those days when I don't feel like writing a flip sign-off. As always, send comments to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: Here's a hand-built RSS feed that will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word paco in the subject head of an e-mail message and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.