Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘CNN’

These tweets early in the San Bernardino shooting Wednesday attracted a lot of media attention, including a blog post from me last night and the initial version of this post (most of which will be retained here, with updates noted):

shooting tweet 2

shooting tweet 1

As I noted in both posts, this was either an eyewitness who could provide helpful accounts for reporters working on a breaking news story or a prankster playing the media. She answered tonight:

it was a prank

I exposed the media

“Marie’s” success included a telephone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and a bogus “Gamergate” reference in an AP story that was published online by the New York Times.

My own original version of this post raised doubts about her. But I concluded she was probably legit (but I said wouldn’t use her tweets in a breaking news story without a phone interview). We never had a phone interview (though I gave her my number), but I thought my analysis of her media interactions fit well in the context of a blog that addresses media issues. Despite some passages that are now embarrassing, I think most of it holds up as valid analysis. I hope it improved after the liar started boasting about the hoax.

Let’s be clear about several things here:

  1. You can call it a prank, “Marie,” but it’s also a lie. That may make you smarter than some journalists, but you’re still a liar.
  2. Exploiting a tragedy for fun and laughs is lower on the scale of humanity than whatever you think media do in seeking to interview witnesses to tragedies. Enjoy your end zone dance, but I think you should attend the funerals of each of the San Bernardino victims whose deaths gave you such glee.
  3. “Marie” didn’t expose “the media.” She exposed a few media outlets (albeit some big ones; more on them later). As far as I can tell, most journalists who contacted “Marie” didn’t use her story. Some told me privately that they were skeptical. I will be asking them if I can use their time-stamped expressions of skepticism, all before her victory tweet.

Another important point here is that this may not be a one-woman (if “Marie” is, in fact, a woman) hoax. Shortly before she started her end-zone dance on Twitter, I had a direct-message exchange with a possible co-conspirator (unless this is another lie) who had posed as a CNN reporter early in her exchanges with the media. Some other fakes (detailed below in the original post along with the fake-CNN reporter) might also be co-conspirators.

Here are my DMs to and from “Paul Town,” the fake CNN reporter:

Town

Paul Town 2

Paul Town 3

For what it’s worth, I don’t think you fight for ethics in journalism, by lying, so that’s just another lie. I did note Marie’s tie to Gamergate, a running controversy over sexual harassment and conflict in video game development, in the original post.

Some journalists were skeptical from the first

Andrew Seaman of Reuters first called Marie to my attention by direct message Wednesday night, noting this tweet from Brian Ries of Mashable:

Ries

He elaborated in direct messages Wednesday night after my initial post, which focused more on the San Bernardino Sun’s breaking-news coverage, but reported his doubts:
Ries 1

Ries 2

Later in the original post, you’ll see several journalists who tweeted at Marie, asking for interviews. In most cases, I can’t see any indication that the journalists used anything from Marie, so I think skepticism was widespread, though obviously not universal.

Reported.ly, which specializes in real-time reporting from social media, and produced a social-media timeline of the San Bernardino shooting considered and rejected Marie’s tweet. Reported.ly chief Andy Carvin explained the decision to me in a Facebook message (I add the last names and Twitter profile links of the journalists he referred to by first name):

I just took a look at our chat log; we discussed the tweet in Slack. Kim Bui found it, then noted she hadn’t used it. I suggested we take a close look at the timestamp to see what if anything we could glean from it. Malachy Browne urged caution and noted it was the first time the user had ever mentioned San Bernardino. So we moved on and left her on the cutting room floor.

Monday update: Browne elaborated on Twitter:

Malachy Browne tweets

Gadi Schwartz of NBC LA reached out to Marie (you’ll see his tweet below), but told me later by DM that the timeline “seemed fishy so i quickly moved on.”

Scott Schwebke of the Orange County Register asked Marie to contact him, but eventually decided not to use anything from her:

Schwebke tweet

Shortly before Marie began gloating about her lie, Seaman, chair of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, expressed strong skepticism in a Twitter DM:

Seaman DM

Who fell for the story?

While lots of journalists backed away, Marie did successfully troll some of the biggest names in the media, using the names “Marie Christmas,” “Marie Port” and “Marie A. Parker” in various media reports:

CNN

On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, the host interviewed “Marie Port” by telephone Wednesday night. I have asked CNN spokeswoman Erica Puntel for an explanation of how Cooper and/or his producers vetted Marie before putting her on the air, and will update if I hear from her.

I can’t find a clip of just that segment from Wednesday night on Cooper’s show site and don’t plan to watch the whole episode to catch that interview on an official CNN video. (I suspect CNN will ask YouTube to take the clip below down, so I’ll embed the video, followed by a screengrab):

AC360 screengrab

Marie and her friends commented on Twitter about the interview. I used those tweets in the original post and left them in place if you care to read that far.

Associated Press

When a liar suckers the AP, that means potentially 1,400 newspaper members and thousands of broadcast members might have used the story.

Here’s an archived version of the AP story of “Stories of those who survived mass shooting in California,” which included this sneaky reference to Gamergate:

The woman said he had a strange emblem on his shirt with the letters GG on it.

Friday morning update: AP Vice President and Director of Media Relations emailed me this bulletin, saying it was sent to members about 8 p.m. Thursday:

AP kill bulletin

The current AP story has a correction at the end:

This story has been corrected to eliminate the testimony from Marie A. Parker. That person has publicly retracted the statements.

I would prefer a stronger description than “retracted.” That person (whose name most certainly isn’t Marie A. Parker) is gloating about pulling a hoax on the AP. The correction should note that AP fell for a lie and quoted someone fictitious.

gloating over AP

And in that spirit, I should note that Marie gloated about me, too:

Marie trolls buttry

New York Times

While most AP members probably didn’t use the story (that’s true of most AP stories; every member selects a minority from a huge budget of news coverage), the New York Times did, and that prompted gloating from Marie and her friends/followers:

NYT gloat

I understand the Times story occurs as an automatic feed from AP with no Times handling. The Times story did not carry the correction when I updated this story late Thursday, but it carries the AP correction Friday morning.

Times Standards Editor Phil Corbett emailed me:

As far as I can tell, that story was part of the automated feed of AP (and Reuters) stories that readers can access through nytimes.com. Those stories are not selected or edited by Times editors. Corrections to them, when needed, are handled by the AP.

The Times did write its own story on a hoax involving a possible suspect’s name, but I’m not going into that here.

International Business Times

The International Business Times, quoted “Marie Christmas,” saying she lived in “La Puerta, Calif.” The story didn’t say whether they communicated by phone or Twitter DM. I can’t find any tweets between them. Google Maps shows a couple California businesses in the San Diego area named La Puerta, but not a community by that name. La Puente, Calif., is about 50 miles west of San Bernardino. I’ve asked IB Times contacts for explanation and will update if they respond. At 11:30 p.m. Central time Thursday, the story was not corrected.

Jay Dow

New York TV reporter Jay Dow of WPIX-TV made the best media mea culpa:

Jay Dow guilty pleaWhat’s left of my original post

Pieces of the original post have been moved up and updated. I don’t unpublish without a good reason, and embarrassment isn’t a good enough one. So here’s what’s left of what I posted Thursday evening shortly before Marie started boasting about the hoax. I will note some updates and add comments on where I am pleased or disappointed with what I originally wrote. But it’s all here, unless I moved it up and updated:

Eyewitnesses who tweet about horrible news events can be important, willing and helpful sources for journalists covering breaking news.

All journalism ethics codes stress accuracy and verification. Coverage of breaking news has always tested journalists’ ability to verify information in a hurry. The 2006 Sago mine disaster in West Virginia, well into the digital age, but at the birth of the social media age we’re experiencing now, resulted in inaccurate front-page banner headlines and late-night broadcasts trumpeting the “miracle rescue” of 12 trapped coal miners. It later turned out that only one miner had survived. The mistaken source in that story was then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin.

Unfolding breaking stories today often call on journalists to vet lesser-known sources, such as “Marie Christmas,” whose tweets above offered journalists a chance to connect with an actual eyewitness, while awaiting those official reports (which, as the Manchin case reminds us, can be mistaken).

Breaking news stories have always required journalists to try to connect with eyewitnesses, some of whom want to talk to us and some of whom don’t. Asking them for interviews can be difficult, and sometimes a single witness will attract a media horde. Crude bunch that we can be, journalists (and our sources, too, I suppose) sometimes call this horde a clusterfuck. Which might be a good time to warn you that I’m not cleaning up language for this post. The rest of the F-bombs won’t be coming from me, but mostly references to journalists in the media horde.

When journalists try to verify that people actually witnessed events they have tweeted about, we can be annoying, even insulting. Verification — and media inquiries in general — can be an uncomfortable. Even when we’re doing good journalism we can be intrusive and we have to be skeptical.

Before I was able to ask “Marie Christmas” about what she saw and experienced Wednesday, I mentioned her (though not by @JewyMarie username or the obviously fictitious name on her Twitter account) in a post yesterday about breaking news coverage. (If you don’t want to read or reread the full post, just search “eyewitness” at the link above and you’ll find the section where I mentioned her tweets and why Brian Ries of Mashable raised questions about whether she was an actual witness.) I believe Ries’ concerns were valid and thoughtful, but I won’t elaborate on them again here.

Update: Yeah, this paragraph is embarrassing: After closer examination, I believe “Marie” (she used the last name Port in a CNN interview) actually was an eyewitness, even though I’m not sure we know her true name. I saw the red flags that prompted Ries’ concerns. But I saw many reasons to believe she was a true eyewitness. She had interactions before, during and after the incident that convince me strongly of her legitimacy. This will be a long post, with about 50 screenshots of tweets among Marie and friends, strangers and journalists. Some of the tweets will repeat ground I covered yesterday, but with screenshots this time, rather than just quotes.

I didn’t use screenshots last night because Marie had taken her Twitter account private. I asked to follow her (you can’t read tweets from a private account unless the user accepts you as a follower). She accepted my request and after our discussion by direct message, I have decided to use screenshots of tweets from, to and about her. She has decided to speak publicly about her experience yesterday, and I think her direct messages and Twitter exchanges illustrate some points about breaking news coverage and verification, as well as about the toll journalism can take on sources and how some of the public views our work.

Interspersed with the screenshots will be my comments. I won’t use screenshots that address some personal matters Marie tweeted about before her moment of fame, but those tweets contributed to my belief that she’s legitimate. We’ll start with my direct-message exchange with her:

DMs 1

I normally wouldn’t ask someone that bluntly about verification and whether she was actually there. A phone call would have allowed more gradual and polite vetting, some basic questions about who she was, etc. But since we were communicating by Twitter, I got to the point more directly. I also had already given her a link in which I discussed reasons for skepticism about her specifically. So I got to the point. I think you can detect irritation in the messages below, and I understand and respect that response. If we have more exchanges, I will add them to this post.

Second DM string

She has not DM’d me since, which I understand, but since she had answered questions and had done an earlier interview, I decided to grab screenshots and use her Twitter exchanges.

Clearly, she was right about her birthday. Before her birthday lunch, she got lots of greetings from Twitter friends:

happy birthday

birthday 1

birthday 2

Long birthday

birthday plans

chef boyardee

The birthday greetings don’t verify that Marie witnessed the shooting. But they do identify that the person who tweeted about the shooting is a real person with real friends who knew it was her birthday and acted friendly toward her. All of that could describe a prankster. But I’d be more suspicious of someone with a fairly inactive previous Twitter history. Marie is active and lively on Twitter. This looks like someone who would tweet if she saw something terrifying unfold on her birthday.

Plus, the tweets identify lots of friends you could contact for verification. Some might connect you with Marie directly. Some might have been at the birthday gathering and shot their own photos of it. I didn’t try to contact the friends, but would have if I were covering a breaking story. I did check their timelines and didn’t find anyone who had been at the birthday gathering, but also didn’t see anything suspicious. They appeared to share interests and personality traits. One tweeted about hearing Marie on CNN that evening. Update: Trying to contact the friends directly would have certainly raised suspicions. 

CNN tweet

Of course, that could be amazement about a friend being on CNN to discuss what she witnessed. Or it could be amazement that a friend pulled off a con. More on the CNN interview later.

As I noted yesterday, Ries saw concerns in Marie’s timeline: (Update: I used this screengrab up higher, but decided to leave it in its original place, too.)

Ries

Sarcasm is a frequent tone in Marie’s timeline, and nothing I could see before Wednesday indicated any connection to San Bernardino (as Ries noted in a direct message). And I saw tweets about pranks, though they seemed to be appreciation for pranks by others, not a pattern of playing pranks herself. I saw valid reasons to wonder about the authenticity of Wednesday’s claim. But I have no doubt this is an authentic person’s oft-used Twitter account, even if the name is fictional. Frequent interests of Marie are Anime, video games and the Gamergate sexual-cyberharasssment controversy (in which Roguestar is a figure):

anime

videogame

samurai jack

Roguestar

Marie Christmas, media star

I have taught thousands of journalists in recent years to use Twitter to connect with eyewitnesses to breaking news events. My first blog post on the topic was six years ago this month, noting how slow media organizations were in catching up with a survivor who tweeted immediately and extensively about a Denver plane crash. I have used that example in dozens of workshops, seminars and classes.

Back then, watching carefully on Twitter was a certain path to a scoop. Update: In teaching verification techniques, I noted that the survivor’s username, @2drinksbehind, should be a red flag, as Marie’s obviously bogus name was. But his timeline provided more help in verifying his authenticity.

Well, today someone who tweets from the scene of a breaking story gets plenty of media attention, more than I noted in yesterday’s post. Marie received multiple inquiries from some news organizations (it’s not uncommon to have lots of journalists working a story this big and duplication is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent).

I am messaging the journalists cited here in a variety of ways, before and after I post, and will update if they respond.

New York’s Gray Lady and tabloid Daily News both wanted to talk to Marie:

NYT

NYT 2

NY Daily News Fairfield response

More shortly on John Fairfield and others who objected to journalists seeking interviews with Marie.

reuters

This next inquiry came from the Chicago Tribune. Of course journalists should emphasize safety over media contact, as Scott Kleinberg did here:

Kleinberg location

Update (after initial publication but before the hoax-boasting started): Kleinberg, social media editor for the Chicago Tribune, send this detailed explanation of his Twitter approach to possible eyewitnesses (before the hoax was revealed):

First and foremost, I’m a stickler for accuracy. My tweets about this situation were careful … using official accounts, etc.

Maybe you noticed that I sent an angry tweet with all caps to the general world telling them not to tweet verbatim from the scanner. Ever since Boston it’s been a thing and it drives me mad.

With , I had a few thoughts at the time. Remember … I’ve been live tweeting in one form or another since 2008-2009 so I’ve learned a thing or 100 along the way. First thing: Never tweet and provide email addresses or phone numbers. That makes you look desperate and I bet it’s what attracted those naysayers.

They say be careful and launch into the contact thing so it seems disingenuous. I was careful to put safety first and let her know that we’d love to talk to her but I didn’t want to put any specifics out there yet.

Right or wrong or helpful, those other journalists don’t realize how much perception matters. So for me I immediately thought of telling her to stay safe … I do that when I ask people to tweet weather photos so I’m all about safety.

I figured that if she responded, then I’d go into the deep verifying and ask her a whole bunch of questions. In the meantime I was looking at her feed and trying to get a sense for who she was. I instantly thought she was young and in high school based on the subject matter, the lack of capital letters and next to zero punctuation. I’d guess a senior in high school as some of the friends wishing her happy birthday had 15 in their Twitter handles, which I believe is their graduating year.

At that moment I just wanted to make the connection. And I wasn’t looking per se to talk to an eyewitness, but I just happened to catch hers and the tone resonated where I wanted to reach out. The people who put in phone numbers and act desperate often send the same tweet to multiple people and that adds to the desperation even more.

Kleinberg did not get a response from Marie, but I like his thoughtful approach. I’m not opposed to tweeting a phone number, but I think he makes a valid point. I know many journalists who’ve gotten great interviews (and been able to vet sources effectively) that way. But perhaps that was more effective before today’s Twitter media horde.

Update: After being informed of the hoax, Kleinberg added:

Kleinberg DM

MSNBC invited a phone call. You can vet a source better and more politely over the phones. Phone numbers may be a your-mileage-might-vary situation:

msnbc

NBCLA Gadi Schwartz

This next inquiry is from the Daily Beast. (I recommend that journalists reaching out to news eyewitnesses identify themselves in the tweets, rather than counting on the person to check your profile to learn who you are.)

Daily Beast

Even a Russian media outlet wanted to talk to Marie:

RT producer

Multiple responses here. I’m not sure why I haven’t been able to see ABC producer Ali Ehrlich‘s tweet to Marie. More shortly on some of the others, but this string shows the horde Marie was attracting.

Media responses

As this next tweet indicates, Marie was not going to be easy to interview (clearly a red flag in retrospect, though some journalists, as noted above, backed away in part because of the lack of a phone). The “Buzzfeed Afghanistan” inquiry is clearly a fake, but the media inquiry at the end of this string was legitimate.

No phone

Backlash to media inquiries

John Fairfield, mentioned above, was the most consistent scold of journalists seeking interviews with Marie. But he had plenty of company:

CBS News Campa Fairfield response

Fairfield ABC responseKaty Conrad CBS response

KCBS response

KNBC thread

roaches

Update: Jenna Susko of NBC LA says:

I messaged with her but did not use it.

Fake fake fake

Merry Fyrsmas, included above in a string of legitimate media inquiries, does not appear to be an actual journalist, nor is Fyrasec News, which she cited, an actual news organization (or one you can find on Google, at least). I suspect this is a friend, mocking journalists’ inquiries of Marie.

Fryasec Fairfield response 2

Update: @Fyrasec confirmed my conclusion:

Merry Fyrsmas

The inquiry below appears to be a fake, too. Merry Coyote’s link in the Twitter bio is not to a political blog and I could not find such a blog. Might be a friend of Marie’s mocking all the media attention. Or just a stranger joining the clamor.

Crazy Coyote

The question below appears like something an actual journalist might ask, but the inquirer doesn’t identify himself and discloses in his Twitter bio that the “Counterspin Central” blog he once authored is no longer active. Hesiod Thogony, whether a fake or real name for this Twitter user, has its roots in antiquity that I don’t care to read about.

Hesiod theogony

A fake CNN reporter

CNN Paul Townjpg

Though Marie did eventually appear on CNN, this inquiry is a fake. CNN reporters and producers are pretty easy to Google and I can’t find any indication of a CNN employee by that name. Here’s the top of his Twitter page:

Paul Town profile

And the tweet pinned at the top of his timeline:

Indonesian boy

And the home page for paultown.com, the link from his Twitter bio:

Paul Town.com

Nothing there looks like a journalist. Erica Puntel from CNN PR confirmed by email my conclusion that he’s a fake. Will update if I hear from him. (If he follows me back, I’ll DM him questions. If not, I’ll tweet at him when I post this, inviting comment. The blog has no contact information that I can find.)

Update: “Town” followed me back and I’ve added our DM exchange up high. He’s the guy (if he’s male) claiming a “secret cabal” of media trolls.

Actual interviews

Marie later exchanged tweets from an actual CNN reporter:

CNN Hanks Farifield response

Update: Hanks would not discuss his interactions with Marie. In fairness it should be noted that he is a CNN digital writer/producer, and I could not find any references to “Marie” on CNN.com. Hanks does not produce for Anderson Cooper 360, the CNN show where Cooper interviewed “Marie Port” by telephone Wednesday night, as I noted earlier in the updated post.

The reaction to the Cooper interview seems to indicate friends regarded it as legit. In retrospect, some, if not all, were clearly in on the hoax:

cnn interview 1

Anderson Cooper

Marie and her friends wound down the evening with light banter.

verified accounts

She summed the day up:

fuck

I think if she would have gotten in touch with me on deadline, I could have verified pretty quickly that Marie was a valid eyewitness and tried to use and verify her real given name. I wouldn’t have used her tweets in a breaking story without talking to her, though. Update: I’m glad I originally said that I wouldn’t use the tweets without talking to her. And, given the fact that she was lying, I’m certain I would have been able to determine that if we had ever talked on the phone.

I feel comfortable using them here because of our Twitter exchange and the context I am providing. The work I spent on this blog post was way more than you can spend on one source in most breaking news stories.

Here were my last DMs to her (I have not heard back, but will try again and update if I do).

final DMs with Marie

I’ll update with responses, if any, from Marie and journalists I have messaged (and will continue messaging; sometimes sending the link to a published post brings a response).

Post script

Verification HandbookAs I’ve noted in earlier posts about identifying mass killers, I don’t like indulging attention-seekers, and these trolls clearly relish attention, even if for their fake names. So it sickens me to feed that disgusting behavior with this much attention. But journalists covering breaking news should learn from our mistakes. I made mistakes in my initial analysis of this episode, and other journalists made bigger mistakes. So I wrote this long, long updated analysis in hopes of making it harder for trolls to exploit tragedy, and journalists’ challenges in covering unfolding breaking news.

I suggest reading my social media verification tips (I may need to reread them myself, and update). I also suggest reading the Verification Handbook. In my chapter of that book, I used (and explained the history of) one of journalism’s favorite clichés: If your mother tells you she loves you check it out. And if someone with a phony-sounding name tells you anything, double-check and triple-check it out. Or move on to a more credible source.

One final point: This hoax was clearly rooted in Twitter, and social media have given liars and pranksters new tools. But media hoaxes way predate social media. Journalists have been interviewing teen-age boys named “Heywood Jablome” (say it out loud; the kids always spell it for the gullible reporters) for decades.

Friday evening postscript

If you’ve made it this far, you might find the comments from trolls below interesting. Fascinating patterns: Moral indignation about failings (some of them valid, obviously) by the media but completely clueless about how cowardly they appear hiding behind bogus names and how completely lacking they are in integrity, as they trumpet lying as a perverted tool of digital vigilantism. I responded to a few, because I respond to almost all commenters here, but I’m going to stop. I generally delete comments from trolls, because they are so clearly seeking attention and I don’t like to indulge attention-seekers. But they seem appropriate here, showing the psychology of the lying troll better than I could describe it.

Update: Of course, I spoke too soon. Right after I posted the paragraph above, a troll lied in a comment, so I deleted it. You can defend lying here, but I won’t tolerate new lies. Find somewhere else to troll. And another update: No sooner did I post that last update than the same troll posted another long diatribe with more lies. I’ve deleted his/her entire thread, including my responses. This was the most active troll in the comments, but I think enough others remain to illustrate the points I’ve made above.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Since August, I’ve been noting and commenting on the detailed documentation of Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism by the blog Our Bad Media.

The bloggers, identified only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, agreed to an email interview. Their answers to my questions are below. As you will see, I asked a lot of questions (some of them supplied by my students). The bloggers grouped related questions and answered them below. They each gave their own responses in an interview with Newsweek, but they responded together to my questions, so I will just list them in the interview below as Our Bad Media.

Here’s the format: We’ll start with my questions. I will note which questions came from students. Their answers will follow in bold. Both my questions and their answers are edited only lightly here, fixing a few typos or dropped words and adding some links (their email included some, too). If I have any comment on their answers, that will follow in italics.

I’m a little chagrined at the length of my questions now that I see them in this format. When I’m not on Twitter, I sometimes forget the lessons I’ve learned about brevity. But I think these bloggers’ work has been interesting and I thank them for these detailed, thoughtful responses.

Buttry: I’m interested in why you investigated Zakaria. You told Newsweek you were interested in checking how well editors checked claims of malfeasance by their star writers and the claims about checking Zakaria’s work in 2012 “seemed like a perfect place” to look. But this was two years later. Did something else raise suspicions? Or did someone tip you? Did you read something Zakaria wrote that sounded familiar? Did you wonder after he was reinstated in 2012 whether they really checked? Did you check someone else out first, but he was the first place you found ripoffs? I’d be interested in knowing why you turned to him after exposing Benny Johnson.

Our Bad Media: We figured that if we were going to find any more examples of plagiarism, it would make sense to look into journalists who had already faced previous accusations. It was especially hard to resist given that the Post, CNN and other outlets quickly claimed it was an isolated incident and very publicly vouched for his credibility after proclaiming to have “reviewed” his work.  The implications of them not having done so were pretty enticing.

Buttry comment: I’ve often speculated that no one gets caught their first time plagiarizing. I don’t know why I wasn’t more skeptical myself in 2012. I hope I was distracted and didn’t pay much attention to his reinstatement. I’m glad Our Bad Media checked his work more thoroughly than his employers. I’d love to know whether they didn’t really check (I doubt it), made cursory checks and didn’t see anything blatant (the likeliest contender, in my view), checked using software that didn’t catch him because of the subtle changes Zakaria often made in his stolen passages (maybe, but some of the passages weren’t changed that much; if plagiarism software doesn’t catch that, it’s worthless) or checked thoroughly and saw some of the passages that Our Bad Media has noted and didn’t consider them to be plagiarism (doubtful, but their slowness in responding to the overwhelming proof of plagiarism makes me wonder). 

Buttry: You’ve said you agree with what I’ve been saying. One of the things I’ve said is that you’d be taken more seriously if you identified yourselves. Have you considered lifting the veil? Would you consider identifying yourselves in my blog? If you’re going to stay anonymous, why? Do you hold sensitive positions where this work might not be allowed or appreciated? Are you just shy? Having fun being anonymous? Related question from one of my students: Does anonymity hinder or help your cause?

Our Bad Media: We understand the curiosity of who we are, but we’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer as to how not knowing our names impacts the substance of the charges. Everyone, reporters and otherwise, can check our examples and verify them independently. But it’s also interesting that most everyone asking us to identify ourselves has been a journalist or someone in those circles. Outside of those circles, people tend to care more about what Zakaria and Johnson did. As far as the idea of facing retribution for this, we have zero reservations about our work—stealing is stealing, and we haven’t done anything wrong in bringing that to light.  But given that Capital New York reported on what looked like retribution for covering our work, we’re not really eager to test whether the outlets and journalists implicated here agree with that view.

Buttry comment: I wish the bloggers would identify themselves. I’d like to give them credit for their outstanding research, their persistence and their help in calling out one of journalism’s gravest sins. But I agree with them completely: We don’t need their names to evaluate the substance of their allegations, which are documented with screenshots and links. Their choice to remain anonymous (they prefer the term pseudonymous; I think both are accurate) should not affect their credibility, especially when they are critiquing a profession that prides itself on protecting unnamed sources.  

Buttry: OK, I’m going to parse your answers here a little like we do with politicians. Newsweek asked you: “Do either of you have any background in media, or want to be in media?” @blippoblappo replied: “We’re not reporters, and we are not looking to use our posts on plagiarism as a means to land a job in the industry.” @crushingbort replied: “I once did a hard-hitting story in the school paper on the poor quality of our drinking fountains, but no, I don’t consider myself a journalist by any means.” Neither of those replies answered the question of whether you have a background in the media. For instance, I’m not a reporter either and I’m not looking to land a job in the media, but I sure have a background in the media. And, since I blog and spent years in journalism, I do consider myself a journalist, but I know some retired journalists, former journalists and journalism professors who would answer that they don’t consider themselves journalists now. So here’s my question: What journalism and media experience, if any, do you have? Academia is another field where plagiarism is a big deal. Are either of you faculty (whether in journalism or another field) at a college or university? Or have you been?

Our Bad Media: We honest-to-god do not have any professional, semi-professional, or hobbyist background in journalism, outside of Bort’s schoolwork. Neither of us are (or have been) faculty or staff at any institution of higher education.

Buttry comment: OK, I’m going to take their word for this, but still keep wondering about their heavy interest in this. Theories I’m mulling:

  1. They are in the media but are not journalists. Note that I asked about “journalism and media” experience. Since they denied having journalism experience but omitted “media” from their denial, I wonder if they might be in advertising, audience development, technology or some other role with a media company.
  2. Speaking of technology, I wonder if they work in some technology field, perhaps something that serves media companies or otherwise overlaps with media. Some of their posts indicate a fairly high level of digital savvy.
  3. Maybe they’re in public relations. Again, close to the media and possibly resentful and/or scornful of how journalists view ourselves as more pure than those who have “sold out” and gone into PR. Even if not resentful, PR people have a strong interest in media, and you’d need a strong interest to do the research and writing these guys have done.
  4. Possibly in politics or government. Again, likely to have a strong interest in media and possibly be resentful or scornful of journalists and our arrogance.

And, by the way, if you’re blogging you’re journalists now, but that’s an old and tired argument.

Further, if all of those theories are wrong and these guys (they did confirm male gender to me) are just media consumers with a strong sense of ethics, good for them! Actually, good for them whatever the case. They have done a lot of work and care more about journalism ethics and have higher ethical standards than some of the most respected companies in the business. While I wish they would identify themselves, I applaud their work and respect their choice to remain known only by their ridiculous Twitter handles.

One more point on this: Why doesn’t some journalism organization employ these guys as full-time or part-time plagiarism watchdogs? Or pay someone else to do what they are doing on their own time out of some kind of strong interest? Someone — Poynter, Nieman Lab, a J-school, CJR (which published a good piece this week on plagiarism, including this case) — should offer these guys a job. Make identification a condition of employment if you like. I bet they’d identify if someone wanted to turn this passion into a job.   

Buttry: Question from a student: Did either of the anonymous bloggers get something plagiarized by Zakaria? And my follow-up: Were either of you plagiarized by Johnson? Or anyone else?

Our Bad Media: Neither of us have been plagiarized by anyone in the press, including Johnson or Zakaria (well, as far as we know – hard to rule out Zakaria lifting from anything, including my weekly shopping list). We’re not doing this as a response to having been victims of plagiarism, although we may have complained a few times back in the day about stolen tweets (a different beast entirely).

Buttry: You told Newsweek that you’d “found a number of other examples.” You didn’t know then when or whether you might publish those examples. Can you tell me how many other journalists you’re already looking into? Did you choose them out of curiosity or suspicion? Or did someone steer you in their direction?

Our Bad Media: We’re doing what other journalists won’t. Our suspicions are entirely our own, but they don’t come from any “sixth sense” or outsider tips. Imagine you thought our journalism was deficient when it came to holding your own field accountable for plagiarism. Where would you go? Checking out the star of the top aggregation site seems like a perfect place to start, and looking into a brand-name journalist who already went through a plagiarism scandal is the natural next step.

Buttry comment: Did you note the “other journalists” and “our journalism” references? Are they playing with us, dropping hints that they really are journalists, despite their denials? Or maybe they embrace my point that their blogging about journalism makes them journalists?

Buttry: With the Slate, Newsweek and Washington Post corrections, we now have three news organizations taking your accusations seriously at some level. What do you think would be an appropriate response to what you’ve revealed about Zakaria and why do you think organizations haven’t responded appropriately? Related question from a student: How infuriating is the distinct lack of response from the journalistic community?

Our Bad Media: In 2012, Zakaria served a week-long suspension for the lifting of a single paragraph of work. We’ve brought to light over 50 instances of attribution errors, over a dozen of which have been serious enough to merit correction. There’s no precedent for that many corrections without corresponding disciplinary action. The lack of response isn’t surprising, but it is unfortunately revealing about the state of the media today. Zakaria’s employers are weighing the benefits of maintaining a star brand versus doing the right thing and holding a serial plagiarist accountable. Without his fellow journalists demanding consequences, that equation doesn’t add up to CNN or the Washington Post doing the right thing.

Buttry comment: I couldn’t agree more. The weak response to this mountain of evidence from news organizations I respect has been disappointing and troubling.

I think plagiarism is a firing offense. I was fortunate not to have any accusations of plagiarism on my watch as editor, but I would have fired a staffer who plagiarized, probably with no second chances. I certainly would have fired one who plagiarized as extensively as Zakaria did. 

But I could respect another organization’s decision for a punishment/acknowledgment that amounted to less than firing. But I cannot imagine how you justify anything less than another suspension (no brushing all these other offenses off for time served), a public acknowledgment by him of his offenses, education about proper attribution and close monitoring of future stories.

Plagiarism is a serious offense and news organizations need to take it more seriously. I was glad to see this statement on Twitter yesterday from Teresa Schmedding, president of the American Copy Editors Society. I hope more journalists and leaders of news organizations echo her.

Buttry: Have you checked out anyone whose work didn’t seem to include any examples of plagiarism (that you could find)? Tom Friedman comes to mind, since you did a post that made fun of his overuse of a cliché, but didn’t bust him for plagiarism. Would you be willing to name (here or in one of your posts) journalists you’ve checked out whose work appears to be entirely original, to the extent that you’ve checked?

Our Bad Media: We can’t clear anyone of plagiarism – we have not done a review of any journalist to the extent that we’ve done it with Zakaria.

Buttry: How big a deal is plagiarism anyway? As a journalist, I think it’s a big deal, but I wonder sometimes if it’s a bigger deal to us than to the public. Most of Zakaria’s work was accurate (I remember a couple times you caught him in factual errors). Especially if you’re not journalists, I’d like to know why you think it’s a big deal.

Our Bad Media: There are a lot of terrible opinions and ideas floating around in journalism today and that’s all part of the normal discourse, but it used to generally be accepted that you have to draw the line at stealing other’s work. We mentioned early on the irony of that standard of Johnson getting the boot for plagiarism when he’d published anonymous death threats against Edward Snowden without repercussion. 

Zakaria’s case is different. He demonstrates that if you build a successful media brand around dispensing conventional wisdom (the kind that appeals to the rich and powerful), you’re held to a different standard, immune to any charges of ethical wrongdoing (look how closely the responses from his outlets re: his paid speeches mirrors the dismissals we got). Our anonymity was used as a reason to dismiss the charges even though they were far worse and more extensive than what originally got him suspended in 2012.

We’re not in the media but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate good journalism, and when you look at solid, hard-hitting reporting (the example we gave to Newsweek was the NYT on the lobbying of state attorneys general) there’s just a vast gulf between the work that goes into articles written by actual gumshoes and the sort of intellectually lazy, warmed-over takes of our biggest papers’ opinion pages. And it’s not the latter losing their jobs.

Buttry: Does medium or assistance matter? By which I mean, is attribution more important in writing and less important on TV or important in print writing but not blogging? Does it matter if Zakaria is getting help from research assistants or TV writers who are committing this plagiarism and his offense is just reading it on the air or failing to catch the lack of attribution or taking credit for his staff’s work?

Our Bad Media: Asking for attribution does not entail a demand for footnotes during cable news broadcasts. If Zakaria’s defenders don’t understand that, perhaps they need to go back to J-School. If words are coming out of your mouth – especially on a show that bears your name – you have to be held responsible for them, regardless of who may be writing them. For the record, we’re unconvinced that Zakaria did not write the words in his script, considering how much of the show is based on the columns he’s written for the Washington Post & TIME.

Buttry comment: I agree. Journalists are responsible for the work under our bylines and for what we say on the air. If someone is lucky enough to have staff doing some of your work for you, you are responsible for setting high standards and holding them to those standards. If Zakaria had fired a staff member for plagiarism and investigated and found all these offenses himself, I would absolve him of primary responsibility. But his defense of blatant plagiarism makes it irrelevant whether he committed the plagiarism. It happened on his show and under his byline. He’s responsible.

And I don’t think plagiarism should be acceptable in any medium. How you attribute may vary between media — for instance, you can’t link in print or broadcast content — but journalists should cite our sources in all media.

Buttry (with a student’s question): Does it seem from this story some of the biggest news outlets and journalism companies are more concerned about their image than maintaining high journalism ethics?

Our Bad Media: Simple answer: yes.

Another student question: How much blame should editors take for allowing such plagiarism to take place, although they did not actually commit the plagiarism?

Our Bad Media: We can’t expect editors to catch every instance of plagiarism that sneaks through the cracks. We can demand that they perform due diligence when it comes to checking the work of their outlet’s biggest stars, like Johnson and Zakaria. And when editors say they review a body of work for plagiarism, they need to be held to their word. I think the biggest takeaway from the Zakaria story isn’t that he’s a bad actor, but that his editors at the Washington Post willfully misled readers when they said they reviewed his work in 2012. Only after our prodding – two years after the “review” – did the paper issue corrections. How did they miss those? And why hasn’t any journalist bothered to ask them?

Buttry comment: I emailed Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt in September, asking his response to one of my blog posts that criticized the Post. He has not responded. I also have invited response in the past from Zakaria and CNN and have not receive any. I’m not sending out new messages directly inviting response this time. But I welcome responses from Zakaria, Hiatt, CNN or Time. You can respond in the comments or email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.

Another student question: Is Fareed Zakaria trying to hold onto what reputation he can still maintain at this point or does he believe that these instances are truly not plagiarism?

Our Bad Media: We can’t speak to Zakaria’s mental state right now. If Zakaria knew what he was doing, that’s obviously wrong. On the other hand, if Zakaria thinks that lifting entire paragraphs verbatim and extensive patchwriting are “truly not plagiarism,” that in itself is incredibly troubling.

Earlier posts about Our Bad Media

Attribution, quotation marks and links: They turn plagiarism into research

Thoughts on anonymity, identification, credibility and Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism accusers

Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism wasn’t ‘low-level;’ no one’s is

Bloggers call out CNN for double standard on Fareed Zakaria

Newsweek, Slate and Washington Post acknowledge Zakaria’s failure to attribute

Read Full Post »

SlateCNN and Time are the remaining holdouts in failing to acknowledge Fareed Zakaria’s frequent plagiarism (though they don’t use the p-word).

Newsweek and Slate have added editors’ notes to Zakaria columns saying they did not meet the publications’ standards of attribution. And Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who once called plagiarism allegations by Our Bad Media reckless, told Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon Monday that five Zakaria articles “strike me as problematic in their absence of full attribution.”

Our Bad Media originally accused Zakaria in August of extensive plagiarism, beyond the incident he was suspended for in 2012, in his work for CNN, the Post and Time. In subsequent posts the bloggers identified only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort expanded on their allegations, including instances of plagiarism by Zakaria since 2012 and in Newsweek, Slate and other publication. (more…)

Read Full Post »

EsquireThe 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: (more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

Fareed Zakaria GPSIf David Carr of the New York Times had documented more than a dozen incidents of apparent plagiarism by Fareed Zakaria, Zakaria probably would have lost his jobs with prominent media outlets.

But the accusations come from writers identified only by two odd-sounding Twitter handles. The substance of the accusations by @blippoblappo and @crushingbort in their blog Our Bad Media gets lost because we don’t know the accusers.

Zakaria gave Politico a response to the initial accusations from Our Bad Media, denying any wrongdoing, but not addressing the substance of most of the 12 instances cited in a Aug. 19 post on Our Bad Media. I have not seen any response from him to their latest post, detailing six more instances of apparent plagiarism from his best-selling book, The Post-American World.

Looking at the substance of the accusations — side-by-side images highlighting verbatim and closely similar passages between Zakaria’s work and sources he never or barely cited — the offenses are similar to the 2012 plagiarism from a Jill Lepore article in the New Yorker, which brought Zakaria a suspension from the three media outlets that featured his work then. I haven’t checked them all out beyond looking at those images, but the checks I have made validate the accusations, and I presume we would have heard if any of them were not accurate.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

I have said multiple times here that attribution is the difference between plagiarism and research.

I also have said many times that linking is a matter of journalism ethics and that if journalists were expected to link to their digital sources, editors would prevent plagiarism more effectively and detect it more quickly.

Fareed Zakaria apparently did more research than attribution in some of his work for Time, CNN and the Washington Post. And his failure to link to sources — and his newsrooms’ failure to demand links — has damaged his credibility as a journalist, however this latest accusation plays out.

The media watchdogs who caught Buzzfeed editor Benny Johnson plagiarizing, known only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, have documented a dozen cases of apparent plagiarism by Zakaria. All of the incidents they cite occurred prior to the 2012 incident when Zakaria was suspended for plagiarizing the work of the New Yorker’s Jill LePore.

His employers then said they reviewed his previous work, satisfying themselves that the theft was, in the words of Time’s official statement, “an isolated incident.” On their Our Bad Media blog, the watchdogs say that they needed only “less than an hour and a few Google searches” to find a dozen examples of Zakaria using verbatim passages or lightly rewritten passages from other news sources. So they rightly question how rigorously Zakaria’s employers reviewed his work, a question Craig Silverman raised in 2012. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »