END-OF-YEAR HOUSECLEANING PART 1: The Plagiarism

For some reason, 2012 saw a huge uptick in other websites plagiarizing my stories. I’d like to think it has something to do with the quality of what I write, but in truth it’s more likely due to the fact that in a busy political year like 2012, the demand for new daily (and hourly) content drove untalented hacks to search out new sites to pillage for sustenance.

My stories were plagiarized about eighteen times in 2012 – a personal best. As I typically don’t write opinion journalism or personal observation pieces, my articles, which are usually built around some tip or story that no one else has covered, are ripe for being stolen. In at least half the cases, the offending sites, when contacted, apologized and promised to make things right. So there’s no need to name those names. And several of the sites chalked it up to honest mistakes (everyone gets the benefit of the doubt with me the first time around, so, again, I’ll let those instances go).

I understand that the plagiarism issue is in no way a problem unique to me; it happens to bloggers every week. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d pay tribute to two of the sites that, in 2012, decided to compensate for a lack of journalistic ability by stealing my work. Congrats, fellas – good for you hiring me as your story stringer! Now, about my paycheck…it seems to have gotten lost in the mail.

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Diogenes’ Middle Finger

I’ll be frank – I don’t know who these dipsticks are, and I don’t want to know. The site is officially “suckersonparade.blogspot.com,” and the majordomo is someone who calls himself/herself “Diogenes Sarcastica.” “Sarcastica” describes himself/herself/itself as an “unrepentant capitalist piggy,” and I can only assume it’s the kind of “vulture capitalism” the left likes to drone on about, as “Sarcastica” is a carrion eater through-and-through, who loves to copy my stories right down to the text and the photo captions verbatim, while bragging about the bigger sites that have linked to the pilfered posts.

And, of course, that’s the issue. Larger sites have carried the posts that “Sarcastica” stole, otherwise I never would have even heard of this pissant site.

For example, there was this, posted by me on May 10th, stolen by “Sarcastica” on May 14th, and immediately reposted on The Blaze…by Meredith Jessup, to whom I had emailed the original story on the 10th. Oopsy! Eventually, The Blaze apologized and added a link to my site, while still retaining the link to the stolen version (because, you know, The Blaze is all about morality and ethics and stuff, and thieves should always be allowed to continue to profit from their actions).

Unlike in every other instance of plagiarism this year, Sarcastica refused to respond to a single email I sent him/her/it. Here’s Diogenes’ Middle Finger’s Facebook page. If you feel like pestering the little f**k, be my guest.

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The Washington Examiner

Washington Examiner editorial page editor David Freddoso has created a climate at his paper in which plagiarism is not only tolerated, but excused. During my coverage of the Scott Walker recall campaign, Washington Examiner Zoolander-in-residence Joel Gehrke (a commentary staff writer) decided to purloin one of my stories, a May 24th exclusive about how challenger Tom Barrett, during a Milwaukee campaign stop, chided the GOP about its supposed “war on women,” while bringing to the stage a self-described “gangsta rapper” to sing about “niggas” and “bitches who shake they asses.”

The next day, on May 25th, the story ran in the Examiner…yes, the same story, just paraphrased, reworded, with the same video I used in my piece, and presented as a Gehrke exclusive! Zoolander Joel rode that story all the way to Fox News! Man, those woulda been some nice hits for ol’ Dave, had Mr. “Blue Steal” credited my site.

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It’s difficult, however, to get too angry with a child when his parents defend and excuse misbehavior. At any newspaper, it’s up to the editors to create a climate that encourages responsible journalistic practices. In a lengthy series of emails throughout May and June, editor David Freddoso acknowledged that Gehrke should have credited my site, as Gehrke had acknowledged to him that that is indeed where he got the story. Freddoso also made Gehrke add a “hat tip” to a SECOND story Gehrke got from my site.

So far, so good, right? Well…not exactly. I mean, an Examiner staff writer plagiarized one piece and ran another without a hat-tip in the space of just two days. It was hard for me to believe this could be an isolated incident, and it was harder still to believe that the writer in question had any fear of being held to a reasonable standard of journalistic ethics.

Any questions I might have had regarding how something like this could’ve happened were soon answered by Freddoso’s emails insisting that Gehrke’s plagiarism of the Barrett story was not plagiarism. Freddoso’s reasoning? Gehrke had paraphrased my piece. And he had added a few sentences describing things that were said in the video I ran accompanying my story (the video that Gehrke only saw because I ran it).

According to Freddoso, plagiarism can only involve the direct and exact copying of passages. If the passages are paraphrased from the original source work, it’s not plagiarism.

And this guy’s an editor at a newspaper!

Needless to say, if you see someone’s original work, paraphrase it and pass it off as your own, it’s plagiarism. That’s just a fact. Anyone who believes otherwise is an idiot or a liar.

Check out this little Abbot and Costello routine between me and Freddoso (these are excerpts of much longer emails, which I’d be happy to provide in full upon request):

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Freddoso: As for “plagiarism,” I don’t see anything resembling that here. Plagiarism involves an unattributed presentation of someone else’s work, or a close imitation thereof, as one’s own….I see no similarities between your text on this topic and his. I see no evidence that any of your language was copied and disguised in his post, although I will be happy to look at any passage comparisons you want to send me.

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Me: “I see no similarities between your text on this topic and his.” Wow…you were actually willing to put that in writing. That’s almost impressive. If you seriously don’t think that Joel’s piece is a “close imitation” of mine, I think we’re finished talking.

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Freddoso: As I said, I would be happy to look at passage comparisons.

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Me: I wanted to make sure that I fully understand your position. Your position, as I understand it based upon your emails to me, is that plagiarism, in the case of written content, cannot be considered to have occurred if the passages in the original piece and the contested piece are not word-for-word the same.

You appear to be saying that something that is paraphrased (defined as “the restatement of the meaning of a text using different words”) cannot be considered plagiarism. Is that what you’re saying? Are you stating that:

A)    Something that is paraphrased without giving credit to the source from which it was taken is not plagiarism;

B)    Plagiarism involves only the lifting of word-for-word text segments, and not an idea rephrased without attribution to the original source;

C)    An author who takes another author’s unique work and paraphrases it without crediting the original source has not committed plagiarism.

Are A, B, and C all statements you agree with? Because that’s been your position in the emails you’ve sent. Still, before I let my readers know that an editor at a newspaper actually supports those positions, I wanted to give you one more chance to clarify where you stand.

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Freddoso: No, that is not anything like what I said, nor is it correct. You can quote verbatim from my earlier email if you want an accurate definition. As I noted earlier, I see no similarities between the pieces you are comparing.

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And…by that point my splitting headache prompted me to end the correspondence.

The Barrett rally about which I wrote was a public event. It could have indeed been possible for another author to have found footage of it, and written a similar story. But Gehrke and Freddoso admitted that Gehrke found the story on my site, rewrote it “using his own words” (Freddoso’s quote), and passed it off as his own “find.”

To me, this whole mess wouldn’t be worth writing about, had editor Freddoso not gone to the mat to try to argue that plagiarism isn’t plagiarism. The Barrett story, the recall, my site hits, that’s all old news. What bugs me, what still bugs me, is that an editor at any newspaper would do that.

Perhaps Freddoso’s unintentionally funniest line in defense of Gehrke was, “Joel did his own work and wrote his own words.” Did his own work? Yes, if by “work” Freddoso means reading my story and “using his own words” to paraphrase it.

Funny…I always thought “work” meant going out and finding stories yourself. If the journalistic definition of “work” is simply re-wording other people’s original pieces, maybe I need to sign up for that kind of “work.” It seems a lot less stressful, as long as your boss is the understanding type, like David Freddoso.

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