Sunday, September 30, 2012

Margaret Wente, Twitter, Plagiarism, and Nicholas Carr

Seems Twitter played a big role in recent events.  I happened to remember (and look up) a column of Ms. Wente’s about Twitter today. 

Nicholas Carr is a writer whose article, Is Google Making Us Stupid” Ms. Wente discussed in 2008.  He blogs at Rough Type.  Here’s something he wrote on March 27, 2009 about a New York Times article on celebrity tweets (emphasis mine):

 …a lot of celebrities have hired flacks to feed content into their Twitter streams, their blogs, and the various other online channels of faux authenticity. A gentleman named Broadway (not his real name) thumbs tweets for rapper 50 Cent (not his real name), who has nearly a quarter million pseudonymous followers... "He doesn't actually use Twitter," Broadway says ... "but the energy of it is all him."

Here’s what Margaret Wente wrote the next day. 

A lot of celebrities are now using Twitter as a marketing tool to create an air of faux authenticity and faux connection. They hire flacks to feed content into their Twitter streams and blogs. The New York Times reports that a gentleman named Broadway (not his real name) thumbs tweets for rapper 50 Cent (not his real name), who has nearly a quarter of a million followers. “He doesn't actually use Twitter,” Broadway says. “But the energy of it is all him.”

And here, just for comparison in regard to this whole thing, is an apology regarding plagiarism by The Ottawa Citizen’s Robert Sibley. 

Update:  For anyone coming late to this story, just a few of many background links here, here, and here. 


  1. Wente wrote on GlobeCampus, which is like scratching it out on toilet paper.

    It looks as if the language is not rooted in a common source, such as The NYT post.

    "faux authenticity" is pretty generic, so it does not raise a lot of alarms for me.

    One might say Wente forgot the quote marks, but it is reworded text.

    It is a hack job, worthy of a grade 8 student.

    Wente should never return to The Globe and Mail. It is not as if there were few potential columnists around. It would be easy to find a good one from Poynter writers alone.

    This is called hubris. If J-schools took language seriously, at them they would be working over the COBUILD English Grammar and Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English fiercely.

    They just do not pay any attention.

    Papers still have people "refuting" allegations when that is not true (witness John Furlong).

    How is it possible to be so absorbed in not paying attention?

    Wente, get out. You are pathetic.

    Clayton Burns (aka unknown)

  2. I admire your patience and diligence. It's wrong that the Globe and Mail continues to fail to acknowledge the multiple instances of plagiarism. Even the Globe and Mail reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, who actually reported on this Wente issue, never actually admitted that Margaret Wente committed more than one instance of plagiarism. I'm curious to see how their public relations approach to reporting handles this fresh case.

  3. The line "50 cent (not his real name)" makes the plagiarism painfully obvious. If the G & M doesn't want to become an even bigger joke than the National Post they need to get rid of Wente.

  4. You no longer have reporters, you have repeaters.

    The new game began in Canada on Aug. 27, 1980. “Black Wednesday”, as it became known, was the day newspaper corporations across the country colluded to swap properties and kill competition. The Ottawa Journal and the Winnipeg Tribune folded, and Vancouver Province's owner, Southam, bought the Vancouver Sun. The two had been in bed together since 1950s via a press-and-profit-sharing agreement at Pacific Press that killed the third paper and defended against upstarts.

    Suddenly competition for readers was no longer necessary; these publicly traded corporations now focused on advertiser-pleasing copy as the technique for pulling more ads.

    At least Postmedia has an understandable reason for changing standards: they're legally obligated to maximize profits. But the fact that the commercial-free public broadcaster also ignores the public good suggests that there is a new definition of journalism.

  5. wow, just wow. In some strange way, I was hoping you had uncovered the last of it. It seems like there's a trove of this stuff. This is plagiarism plain and simple.

  6. Haven't you got anything better to do? You made your point.

  7. @ Karen

    Just curious: would you say the same if some other professional (doctor, builder, investment consultant, politician) were shown to be not living up to their codes of practice? Are you suggesting any further information of a similar nature be withheld, because it might cause embarrassment?

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    3. @ Karen

      You're welcome to comment here, but I suggest you start thinking seriously about what you say.

      My work acknowledges the use of historical material (public domain), right up front, frequently addressing notions of "the copy". The copies in question are usually historical - 17th , 18th or 19th century - there is no copyright issue involved. And this is only part of the work.

      Now I suggest, since you clearly don't understand the difference between this and what Ms. Wente is acknowledged- by just about everyone - to have done, that you go and harass the journalists and ethicists who have taken her to task for plagiarism in much stronger terms than I. I presume they know what they're talking about, as it's their industry and their code of practice. I simply provided the information.

    4. You're really mincing words! Notions of 'the copy' are accelerated in this age. Does your work explore that? If you ask me you haven't properly attributed Wente's writing right here on this blog! You're defaming her in fact.

    5. Thanks for coming out Margare... I meant Karen. She has more than sufficiently credited the text that she has borrowed from Wente throughout her blog. Nice try, though.

  8. I can’t wait to hear someone complain that this example is from more than three years ago, as though that somehow made it harder to spot the identical text.

    Pretty sure that the Globe is looking forward to hiding all of these “ancient” sins behind a paywall.

  9. Why are you so obsessed with applying ethical standards to the work of reporters! I am sick of seeing people in this society held to account! Don't you have anything better to do than crusade against literary frauds? You've made your point already, the world is corrupt now it's time to stop and let the corruption continue. Only an obsessive twisted person writes repeatedly about ethics. I cannot understand how anybody could think doing the right thing and pointing out when wrong things are done instead, is a worthwhile way to be spending one's time on this planet. You all are sick, I tell you. Sick!

  10. Is it so difficult to give the writer of the original piece credit? Seriously, if the reported had simply put the person's name at the beginning of the quote, none of this might have happened.

    I mean, it was the next day. I suppose had the original blogger wrote something 6 months or a year prior, some slack might have been given. But the next day.

    Sheesh. If you're going to steal, at least be creative about it.

  11. Stealing the words of a fellow journalist is probably no worse than stealing anyone else's words. But within the profession, it is the depths of depravity, like stealing money from one's own family. The vehement attacks on Wente from within the profession must arise in part from this visceral disgust. And those within the profession who defend her have stronger stomachs than most of their colleagues.

  12. Pretending that you wrote something when you didn't is fraud. This is not about stealing or about copyright or anything like that. This is about a reporter who poses as being someone you can trust with the truth, misrepresenting other people's work as their own. That's a lie and it's a fraud perpetrated on the public for the benefit of the writer. You don't need to be "within the profession" to see that.

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  14. Did anyone else notice that some of Wente's columns, that were brought up as questionable by other people, were "Updated" without explanation?

    One example:

    "An addiction we won't hang up on"
    Published Wednesday, Jul. 22 2009, 6:52 PM EDT
    Last updated Thursday, Sep. 06 2012, 3:47 PM EDT

    That a commenter compared to:

    "Whirling Dervish Drivers"
    Published: July 21, 2009

    I noticed other unexplained "updates" (but didn't document).

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  17. You are my hero.

    I have known more than a few students who plagiarized during university, and all of them were caught and were prosecuted. In one case, a friend irrevocably damaged her professional reputation when the plagiarism caused her to fail her fourth-year placement requirement to necessary to graduate the social work program.

    It is not difficult to quote. I will never understand how someone could value laziness over integrity, whether a 19 year old student, or a successful adult journalist.

  18. This all reminds me of a farce from my Grad Student days, when a spectacularly gormless student submitted his plagiarised essay with a single footnote to page 123 Oxford History of England where stood his entire 4 page paper, word for word, except for the ones he didn't understand and inaccurately replaced.
    Wente's documented pattern is insulting and she needs to be dumped for someone who can do the job.

  19. Now that Ms Wente seems to have finished her little vacation - have her posts changed for the better? I wouldn't mind seeing a review of a current one now.

  20. Love your work. You have single-handedly (and rightly) changed the way I think of the Globe and Mail.

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