There are only so many subjects to write about, and in today’s world of internet journalism, a lot of people writing about them. If you spend huge quantities of time reading other people’s work, it is inevitable that you will churn out work that sounds pretty similar to someone else’s. The fact is, our brains are wired like that. Every now and then, I take a look back at some of my earlier writing, and I often notice I sound (or was trying to sound) like writers I admired. Maybe I’ll look back at this in 5 years time and see the same thing.
The internet has turned ‘plagiarism’ into an art form, arguably legitimizing it with the simple ‘copy and paste’. It is now such a fundamental part of online journalism that it has completely changed what is taught in J-School. But there are rules when it comes to copying other people’s work – you should give credit, and link back to the original source. And you don’t copy someone’s thought process and pass it off as your own.
Which brings me to the following example of the blurred ethical lines that permeate online reporting.
While doing some digging for the Mailbag on CPAC, I came across the following description of Rep. Louie Gohmert’s speech. Barnini Chakraborty at Fox News had written the following:
In a speech to a conservative audience that spanned several decades of U.S. foreign policy, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert spoke passionately about the wars of yesteryear, tying together Vietnam, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – while mostly blaming them on former President Jimmy Carter.
Then, I saw that Jillian Rayfield fromSalon had summed it up in remarkably similar language:
In a speech that spanned several decades of U.S. foreign policy, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, tied together the Vietnam War, the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and mostly blamed it all on Jimmy Carter.
Fox News doesn’t publish the exact time the article was published, (I’ve reached out to Fox News to find out when it was published, so should hopefully get an update). Rayfield’s piece had the following time stamp on her piece: THURSDAY, MAR 14, 2013 10:58 AM EDT.
Could both descriptions in the ideologically opposed outlets have been written independently? The paragraphs not only express the same facts, but an identical sentiment. It’s unclear whether this constitutes actual plagiarism on either parties behalf because some of the tenses were changed (‘tying’ to ‘tied’, and ‘spanned’ to ‘spanning’) and words were either added or removed (‘spoke passionately’ and ‘yesteryear’ were in the Fox piece, but not in Salon’s), but if I’m honest, it smacks of laziness and a lack of professionalism on someone’s part. It looks to me like a shitty re-write, but then again, it is possible that both writers came up with it independently.
I’ve been back and forth about it with a couple of Banter writers (Chez warned me off going for a direct accusation of plagiarism – a good call I think) and I am still on the fence about it.
Thoughts? Be interested to see readers opinions on it.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.