Post Classifieds

Plagiarism extends into the newsroom

By Michelle Carpenter
On October 27, 2011

   Do not take credit for work that is not your own. Always cite your sources and provide attribution where it is due. Plagiarism is an offense that students are warned about in every class as a crime against the institution.

   This offense, however, extends beyond the classroom. Jonathan Broder, former journalist for "The Chicago Tribune," exemplified how plagiarism remains a reality after school.

   Broder had been a foreign correspondent for "The Chicago Tribune," working in the Middle East since 1979. He had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Tribune for his accomplishments in reporting in the Middle East.

   On Feb. 22, 1988, in an article titled "Where Violence Is a Way of Life: On West Bank, Chaos Is Normalcy," Broder described the violence, chaos and state of life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Some of the writing in this article, however, was not Broder's own work.

   It was found that sentences and phrases published in Broder's article were originally written in an article by Joel Greenberg, journalist for the Jerusalem Post. On Feb. 29, 1988, "The Chicago Tribune" issued a correction and clarification.

   The Tribune wrote, "The facts in the Tribune story, which included substantial original material, were accurate. The language taken from "The Jerusalem Post" column constitutes only a fraction of the total story and contributed significantly only to organization and imagery. But the byline inaccurately implied that it was all Mr. Broder's work."

   The Pulitzer Prize nomination for Broder was rescinded by former Tribune editor, James Squires. Broder resigned from the Tribune in March 1988. Squires commented on the plagiarism saying that Broder was "obsessed by the story, wouldn't take any help. He was suffering from the physical fatigue and trauma of watching that story."

   This was not the first instance of plagiarism by Broder. Philip Terzian, literary editor of "The Weekly Standard," noticed that an article written by Broder in 1981 about Muammar Qaddafi included fragments of sentences and phrases that had been previously published in an article by "Newsweek." After notifying the Tribune about these similarities, a "kill advisory" was issued for Broder's story.

   Terzian commented on Broder's plagiarism in 1988 saying, "What struck me at the time was the editor, Squires, said it was so shocking and out of the blue, which was funny because seven years earlier the same thing had happened."

   Despite these instances of plagiarism, Broder was able to continue a career in journalism. He went on to become the Washington correspondent for "Salon," which describes itself as an online "progressive news site." He is currently the senior editor at "Congressional Quarterly," a publishing company owned by The Economist Group, which produces publications focused on the government.

   Broder broke an ethical rule of journalism. He was dishonest and passed off someone else's work as his own. Yet, despite these crimes against journalism, he is able to continue a career disseminating news to the public. Those who have fabricated the news carry Scarlet Letters for the rest of their lives; yet, when a journalist plagiarizes, is it considered less of an offense than for other types of writers?

   Former editor for "Salon," David Talbot, believes so. He commented on the matter in 1998, saying that Broder "really fought back, you know, and rehabilitated himself as a journalist. My feeling is that this is not a case like Stephen Glass, or Janet Cooke, or Patricia Smith, of someone chronically making up stories."

   Others do not harbor the same feelings on this issue. In an interview with Philip Terzian on Oct. 21, 2011, he stated that "plagiarism is a very serious matter and one of the worst things you can do in journalism."

   Terzian referred to plagiarism as "intellectual theft" and "a capital offense in our field of work."

   This problem continues to show up in the news. The integrity of journalism rests upon the truth.  Publishing someone else's material, while it may deliver truthful facts, is still deceptive and calls into question the credibility of journalists and the field as a whole.

   To avoid this, Terzian provided a simple solution. "My advice to you," he said, "is be original."

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