Jayson Blair Pt. 2?

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 27, 2008

Taos Turner over at The Argentine Post.com has made an excellent case that New York Times editor Denny Lee is a serial plagiarist.

In all, Byrnes referred to or quoted 12 expats for his Newsweek story. Lee quoted or referred to not one or two of these sources, but to eight of them. These include Amanda Knauer, David Lampson, Gavin Burnett, Grant Dull, Jane Hallisey, Marina Palmer, Tomi Streiff and Tom Rixton. But while Lee referred to or quoted all of these sources, he did not contact all of them to confirm their stories. Marina Palmer, author of “Kiss and Tango,” is one of those people. She actually left Argentina in September to move to Oxford. And while she plans “to return to Argentina as much as possible,” she is no longer an expat in Buenos Aires. She said in an email that Lee had not interviewed her.


Fred Brown is vice chair of the ethics committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also a past national president of the SPJ and he helped write the Society’s 1996 Code of Ethics. Amid a long list of rules, the Code states that a journalist should “never plagiarize.”

If verbatim theft is what counts, then Lee is not guilty. No two sentences are exact duplicates. But it sure appears that he virtually copied entire phrases, ideas and even the basic structure of Newsweek’s original article. I contacted Brown to ask him what he thought of Lee’s story. Does it amount to plagiarism?

“I'd say this is certainly a case where the similarities are not coincidental,” Brown said. “There are too many phrases that are too similar. One of the dead giveaways for plagiarism is that while the words may be slightly changed, the structure remains the same. That certainly seems to be the case here. And if it's not plagiarism, it's certainly sloppy and lazy journalism. This is not fair to the original writer. The New York Times should be more careful about this. Given its history, the Times needs to be very careful about this sort of thing.”

I disagree. It's plagiarism. Merely changing an adjective or two, yet quoting the same people and having the overall story structure nearly identical is plagiarism. If I had written the original article, I'd be beating on the Times' door demanding someone's head on a pike.

It will be interesting to see how the Times responds, though I wouldn't be surprised if they simply ignored the issue.


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March 2008



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