Making sense of the blog statement by former Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner.

Media criticism.
Feb. 11 2010 5:52 PM

The Posner Plagiarism Perplex

What to make of Gerald Posner's blog statement.

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Next in his blog, Posner tenders what I call the "banality of plagiarism" defense, which the New Republic's Ruth Shalit unfurled in 1995 when she was caught plagiarizing. (She, too, blamed her plagiarism on sloppy work methods.) Of the copy she lifted, Shalit told the Washington Post's Frank Ahrens, "They were very banal sentences." Banal, but good enough to steal.

Posner strikes a similar pose in his statement:

[T]he material copied—facts, figures, the most mundane information, not great prose from another writer—is yet further evidence that my focus was on breaking news, but not enough focus unfortunately on the background information in the articles.

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Again, you don't have to rob from Proust to qualify as a low-down plagiarist. Even mundane information takes time and energy to collect and type up—sometimes more time and energy than it takes to toss off an original sonnet.

In an essay published by Media Ethics (fall 2006), Edward Wasserman attacks the wrong of plagiarism at its roots. Most everybody concedes that plagiarism harms plagiarized writers by denying them due credit for original work. But Wasserman delineates the harm done to readers. By concealing the true source of information, plagiarists deny "the public insight into how key facts come to light"and undermines the efforts of other journalists and readers to assess the truth value of the (embezzled) journalistic accounts. In Wasserman's view, plagiarism violates the very "truth-seeking and truth-telling" mission of journalism.

From the dissembling fog that is his blog statement, Posner reaches out to apologize to his readers, acknowledge that he "shortcut" his "own rigorous standards," and admit that he violated "the basic rules of journalism." Of the writers he stole from Posner says nothing. How many such writers are there? The count is still live. Yesterday, Slate reader Gregory Gelembiuk, who helped me build the Posner plagiarism dossier, sent me this previously unnoted example from the Daily Beast in which Posner lifts from the Associated Press.

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I think that's enough Posner for now. Thanks to Slate intern Graham Vyse for his research assistance. Send tips to slate.pressbox@gmail.com and waltz to the music of 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.)

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