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Archive for September 18th, 2014

Journalism has no such sin as low-level plagiarism.

The very act of rewriting stolen material makes a theft more sinister and deliberate than the stupid plagiarists who steal whole paragraphs, passages or stories verbatim.

Plagiarism accusations against Fareed Zakaria continue, and Poynter’s Kelly McBride evaluated them for Politico and concluded: “It’s plagiarism. Low-level. But plagiarism.”

Kelly is a longtime friend and one of the strongest and wisest voices on journalism ethics. Several years ago we collaborated on a series of ethics seminars and my respect for her grew each time we worked together. I have praised and promoted the ethics book she edited with Tom Rosenstiel, The New Ethics of Journalism. And I’ll invite and publish or link to any response she has to this post.

But she’s wrong to use the phrase “low-level” in describing dozens of instances of obviously deliberate theft of other people’s work. That’s not all she said. She also said, “It seems obvious that Fareed was overly reliant on his source material.” I agree with that, but it’s a huge understatement. He was overly reliant on his source material, without attribution.

Here’s how we defined plagiarism in Telling the Truth and Nothing But, a book on which I collaborated with journalists from more than 30 journalism organizations, media companies and universities: (more…)

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