Plagiarism and Apology
The New York Times lifts from City Hall.
(I believe Whitney's first reference to the Capitol, another Manhattan Media publication, is mistaken. I think he means City Hall.)
David Blum, editorial director of Manhattan Media and editor-in-chiefof its New York Press, expresses his dissatisfaction with Whitney's explanation via e-mail. He writes:
whitney's explanation doesn't make sense. the story in question had a single byline and no contributors' tags, so whitney's defense that confessore was writing from another reporter's files doesn't jibe with new york times policy about credit. [See addendum to this story below.] also, whitney says only that reporters were sending confessore quotes, so why would confessore think that the contextual material was written by an (uncredited) new york times reporter? the email refers to the "reporters involved" but doesn't identify the second reporter being blamed. given that this email acknowledges that dovere's article was plagiarized, and blames it in part on a second, uncredited reporter, shouldn't this second reporter be identified?
it's easy for the new york times to always excuse plagiarism on "cut and paste" issues and label it "inadvertent" -- but it seems both a convenient and flimsy defense in this case, if true at all. newspapers are always on deadlines -- and the new york times should know how to handle copy on deadline without plagiarism, inadvertent or otherwise.
Nobody appointed me as Solomon in this dispute, but here goes.
The Times admits that it plagiarized City Hall, but did so inadvertently. As all plagiarism cops know, intent is no defense. But Whitney isn't erecting a defense. He's explaining how the plagiarism happened, an account I find plausible. He apologizes, which is the right thing to do, and he reports that all the mentally tardy individuals at the paper responsible for the transgression have been reminded of proper Times procedure.
No, Whitney doesn't identify the second blamed reporter, and he probably should. And Blum is right to insist that the Times should know how to move deadline copy without plagiarism, inadvertent or otherwise. I don't think he'll find opposition to that view inside the Times.
The key for me is that the Times accepted institutional responsibility for the transgression in near real time and apologized. If only every case of plagiarism came this close to being settled this quickly.
Addendum, March 12: Blum read the Times story in question on the Web, which is also where I read it. No contributors box ran with that version. However, the Times did run a contributors box—listing 22 names—in the New York print edition of the paper on Page B4. The box and the story in question did not run in the national edition of the Times, which is what I read here in Washington.
Via e-mail, Blum writes: "That certainly answers the question I raised yesterday. I appreciated the Editors' Note that appeared in the New York Times today, and agreed completely with what you wrote regarding the Times' prompt explanation and apology."