Plagiarism and apology: The New York Times lifts from City Hall.

Media criticism.
March 11 2008 6:03 PM

Plagiarism and Apology

The New York Times lifts from City Hall.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.

New York Times Standards Editor Craig Whitney apologized to Manhattan Media this afternoon after today's (March 11) Times lifted from a Manhattan Media story published on the Web and e-mailed to a media list yesterday.

The lift, taken from Manhattan Media's City Hall piece about New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson, appeared at the end of a Times story about the succession process should Gov. Eliot Spitzer resign.

City Hall reported:

Speaking at an On/Off the Record breakfast held by City Hall and The Capitol in late October, Paterson took a pause from explaining the nebulous role of the lieutenant governor in office to remark on bringing the national lieutenant governor's association to Buffalo this spring.

The Times reported:

Speaking at a breakfast in late October, Mr. Paterson took a pause from explaining the nebulous, mainly ceremonial role of the lieutenant governor to muse on his initial reluctance to attend a meeting of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.

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(Emphasis added to both excerpts.)

The Times article also reproduced a Paterson quotation from City Hall, which it did not attribute to City Hall.

In his e-mail to Manhattan Media President Tom Allon, the Times' Whitney writes:

Dear Mr. Tallon [sic]:

[Times Executive Editor] Bill Keller asked me to look into the question you raised about the similarities between the last two paragraphs of Nick Confessore's story today and two paragraphs from an article by your editor, Edward-Isaac Dovere, that was e-mailed last night.

You are right; the similarities are not coincidental, though the way they came about was bad luck.

Confessore, working on deadline, was getting feeds of on-the-record quotations from Lieutenant Governor Paterson from other reporters, and one of the reporters e-mailed to him (also by that time under severe deadline pressure) the two paragraphs from the article in The Capitol, thinking that the phrase about the breakfast being "held by City Hall and The Capitol" was a clear enough indication of the source of the two paragraphs; he gave no other indication of their source.  Confessore thought the introductory paragraph had been written by the reporter who sent it, and beyond superficial paraphrasing, did not see a need to attribute it.

Both reporters involved are chagrined. Neither intended to plagiarize.

Both have been reminded of the dangers of cutting-and-pasting. And we apologize to you and to Mr. Dovere.

Sincerely,
Craig Whitney
Standards Editor