The pseudonymous bloggers @blippoblappo and @crushingbort deliver withering criticism of CNN in a guest piece on Esquire.com.
The piece, titled “CNN does not get to cherrypick the rules of journalism,” rips the news network for its double standard in standing by Fareed Zakaria despite extensive documentation on the Our Bad Media blog of plagiarism by Zakaria. Earlier this year, the bloggers noted, CNN fired a news editor for multiple instances of plagiarism. “In its statement announcing her firing, CNN trumpeted its standards of ‘trust, integrity, and simply giving credit where it’s due.'” But, beyond a dismissive statement last month when Our Bad Media published the first of three posts documenting 45 instances of apparent plagiarism, CNN has ignored the accusations against one of its biggest stars.
I won’t repeat much detail here of the Esquire piece, though I encourage you to read it (and I thank my pseudonymous friends for their mention of me). However, these three points stand out:
- In a mischievous poke at Old Media’s usual condescension toward New Media (of which Buzzfeed is a favorite target), @blippoblappo and @crushingbort wrote: “Even BuzzFeed eventually took action when we pointed out less than a dozen examples of plagiarism by Benny Johnson. Why should CNN—which literally bills itself as ‘The Most Trusted Name In News’ —be able to ignore what BuzzFeed wouldn’t?” Ouch.
- The bloggers seem to delight in the Old Media disapproval of their anonymity and their ridiculous pseudonyms: “Why would CNN defer to Zakaria on answering for why he plagiarized on their network? And what could he possibly say in his defense? That stealing material is defensible if the people who publicize it go by names that sound like third-rate Pokemon?”
- The bloggers are absolutely right, though, that their identities are immaterial: “Nothing about who we are will give readers a deeper insight into the wide span of plagiarism committed by Fareed Zakaria, and nothing about them gives his massive theft a pass. Our names would be an issue if our work couldn’t be checked. But everything we’ve posted is publically available information that can be verified independently by anyone with an Internet connection.”
I agree with what the bloggers wrote and appreciate that Esquire gave them a wider audience for their research.
I disagree, though, with the headline (which the bloggers may not have written). Actually, journalism has no rules. The new Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which says simply, “Don’t plagiarize,” also says (in the pharmaceutical-like disclaimer postscript) that the code “is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide … It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”
Broadcasters have been reading from news stories without credit and without consequences for most, if not all, of my career. But it was never right and I’m glad these journalists are calling it out as the plagiarism that it is.
Certainly CNN gets to cherrypick journalism ethics if it wishes. Mitch Albom kept his job at the Detroit Free Press after he made stuff up and Mike Barnicle found work on television after resigning from the Boston Globe in a plagiarism scandal.
But ethical journalists get to call out the hypocrisy of networks that don’t hold their stars to high standards. And I’m glad @blippoblappo and @crushingbort keep doing that, whatever their names are.