Plagiarism at the Daily Beast: Gerald Posner concedes lifting from the Miami Herald.

Media criticism.
Feb. 5 2010 3:18 PM

Plagiarism at the Daily Beast

Veteran journalist Gerald Posner concedes that he lifted from the Miami Herald.

Gerald Posner. Click image to expand.
Gerald Posner

Veteran journalist Gerald Posner acknowledged today that he copied five sentences from a Miami Herald article this week for a piece he wrote for the Daily Beast. The Daily Beast appended an editor's note to the beginning of Posner's piece today, explaining that the copying was "inadvertent" and that the Daily Beast has deleted the copied passages.

Here are the relevant sentences from the Feb. 2 Miami Herald story by Julie Brown, which was about a local murder and estate battle:

The Novacks, who wed in 1991, had a tumultuous marriage. In 2002, Narcy Novack and two others tied Novack Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and removed money from his safe, according to the police report.

"If I can't have you, no one else will," she told him, according to a divorce petition he filed and later dropped.

At the time, Narcy Novack told police the incident was part of a sex game.

She also showed them pornographic pictures of women with artificial limbs, claiming her husband had a fetish for them.

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Here are the sentences that have been redacted from Posner's Feb. 2 Daily Beastpiece:

There is little doubt the Novacks had a volatile relationship. In 2002, 11 years into their marriage, Narcy and two others tied Ben Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and took money from his safe, according to the police report filed at the time.

"If I can't have you, no one else will," she told him, according to a divorce petition Ben Jr. filed and then dropped.

Narcy told police investigators at the time that the entire episode was part of a sex game. And she also showed them porno snapshots of women with artificial limbs having sex, claiming her husband had a fetish for them.

(Here's a cached version of the original Posner article.)

When asked whether what Posner did was plagiarism, Daily BeastExecutive Editor Edward Felsenthal didn't dodge. Reading aloud from the definition of plagiarism on Dictionary.com—"the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work"—he agreed that that's what Posner did. "Yeah, you'd have to say it's plagiarism," he said. "I do believe it was inadvertent."

Posner, theDaily Beast's chief investigative reporter, didn't make any excuses, either. And he made no effort to escape the P-word, which writers caught stealing copy usually do.

Stating that he was "horrified" at what he did, Posner agreed that it constitutes plagiarism. But he couldn't figure out how he did it.

He said he had no memory of having seen the Herald story, describing himself as "absolutely sure" he did not see it before sending his own story to Beast editors. But that memory must be wrong, he said, because the similarities between the two pieces are too great, and the Herald's storywas posted before he e-mailed his to his editors at 2:03 a.m. on Feb. 2.

"I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied." He regards the subtle differences between his copy and the Herald's as evidence of him "doing the rewrite" of what he thought was his copy.

Posner is no stranger to the story he plagiarized, having covered elements of it for his 2009 book Miami Babylon: Crime Wealth and Power—A Dispatch From the Beach. He has continued to gather material on it for the book's upcoming paperback edition. Citing primary documents in his possession and his own original reporting, he said that he didn't have to plagiarize the Herald to write his Beaststory.

But, again, he's not making excuses. He also refused to soft-pedal in any way what he did because it was inadvertent, as many plagiarists do. "The act is the act," he said.

Posner said he's always been tough on plagiarists and has long believed that people who get caught taking other people's copy should say this: "I am humbled by it, and it will not happen again."

"There is no excuse," he said, repeatedly expressing his regret. "I take full responsibility."

According to Felsenthal, Posner will continue to write for the Beast.

"I'm convinced this was an unintentional aberration in an extraordinary career breaking news and doing top quality journalism with high ethical standards," Felsenthal said.

Addendum, Feb. 6: A sixth sentence lifted from the Herald article by Posner has been called to my attention:

"Because her husband left her his estate, she is now free to sell his assets, including their home, his boat and his massive collection of Batman memorabilia." —Miami Herald

"Because her husband left her his estate, Narcy is now free to sell his assets, including their home, his yacht, and his massive collection of Batman memorabilia." —The Daily Beast

Addendum, Feb. 6: The seventh sentence lifted by Posner from the Herald:

"Neither Abad nor her mother attended Monday's hearing in Fort Lauderdale." —Miami Herald

"Neither Abad nor her mother attended Monday's hearing in Fort Lauderdale."  —The Daily Beast

Follow That Story! See "More Posner Plagiarism" and "The Posner Plagiarism Perplex."

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Thanks to the reader who alerted me to the similarities between the two pieces. Keep those tips coming to   slate.pressbox@gmail.com, and if you're of a mind, make George Packer angry by reading my  Twitter feed. (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: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Posner in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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