Sari Horwitz plagiarizes: Washington Post reporter admits to copying from the Arizona Republic. Jack Shafer explains why it matters.

Media criticism.
March 17 2011 4:20 PM

Why the Washington Post Plagiarism Matters

Because it injures readers.

Sari Horwitz. Click image to expand.
Sari Horwitz

Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli blocked all escape routes that his reporter Sari Horwitz might have mapped when he told Yahoo News reporter Michael Calderone yesterday, "There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism."

Horwitz stole from at least two Arizona Republic stories about the prosecution of Jared Lee Loughner earlier this month, the Post reports today. (Here's the Post editor's note on the matter.) Brauchli delivered his justice swiftly. Having learned of the plagiarism in a Monday e-mail from Randy Lovely, editor of the Republic, Brauchli had sentenced Horwitz to a three-month suspension by Wednesday.

Advertisement

Even though her offense was apparent, Horwitz still sought mitigation in her apology, saying "Under the pressure of tight deadlines, I did something I have never done in my entire career. I used another newspaper's work as if it were my own. It was wrong. It was inexcusable."

But it really doesn't matter what Horwitz's excuse for plagiarizing was. If she was suffering from panic attacks because the Romulans were invading, it wouldn't count as an excuse.* As Brauchli put it succinctly, no mitigating circumstances need apply. Do the crime, do the time.

The most aggrieved victims of plagiarism, as I've written before, aren't the writers whose work has been snatched. It isn't the editors who've been duped, although they can be relied upon to sob a hankie damp when a plagiarism incident includes them. The real victims are readers, who trust that the reporter accurately reported the story he filed under his byline.

In the Horwitz case, we have no assurance that she knew what she was writing about when she lifted from the Republic. In the first pinching, she took two paragraphs from a March 5 story by the Republic's Michael Kiefer. Kiefer writes:

Many of the additional charges were made under a provision in federal civil-rights law that is usually applied to hate crimes but can be extended to crimes against any person "participating in or enjoying any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility, or activity provided or administered by the United States"—in this case, Giffords' meet-and-greet event with her Tucson-area constituents.

The federal law forbids anyone from injuring, intimidating or interfering with a person involved in such a federal activity, or attempting to do so.

In her March 5 story, Horwitz writes two nearly identical passages:

The additional charges were made under a provision in federal civil rights law that is usually applied to hate crimes but can be extended to crimes against any person "participating in or enjoying any benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity provided or administered by the United States." In this case, that would be Giffords's "Congress on Your Corner"—meet-and-greet with her Tucson constituents.

The federal law forbids anyone from injuring, intimidating or interfering with any such person, or attempting to do so.

The Republic paragraphs are a layman's explanations of the court filings against Loughner, and there's little artistry or journalistic originality in the sentences Kiefer lays down. If he's waltzing around today, inflated with authorial pride over these 80 words, he's a dork. But I trust that he's sitting calmly and that he's no dork at all. He's written clear, informative copy about a complicated criminal indictment—exactly what his readers want. I prefer stuff like this to the slop that Henry James ladled out.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 3:19 PM In Defense of Congress Leaving Town Without a New War Vote
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 3:30 PM How Crisis Pregnancy Centers Trick Women
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 5:43 PM Oracle’s Larry Ellison Steps Down, Will Be Replaced by Hurd’n’Catz
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.