Friday, September 21, 2012

Response to The Globe and Mail


This is in response to an article by the Globe and Mail’s Public Editor, in regard to a recent post here asking whether the attribution practices of Margaret Wente constitute plagiarism. Before continuing, I’d like to commend the Globe for having a Public Editor.

Having said that, while I will give Ms. Stead the benefit of the doubt and thank her for trying to protect my privacy, it was ironic to be referred to an “anonymous blogger” - for three reasons.

1)   Several articles  on alternative sites have, in the past day or so, identified me as the ‘author’ of this blog (what this indicates about the insular character of mainstream media I leave to others).

2)  Apart from that, Ms. Stead was aware of who I was.  That is because all, or almost all, of the issues identified here over the past year and more were sent to The Globe under my name, almost always before they were posted.  Indeed, that is why previous corrections and/or Editor’s Notes related to Ms. Wente appeared in the first place.
So it’s hard to understand this:

 We have looked into all of the complaints raised by the anonymous blogger regarding Ms. Wente and other writers at The Globe and Mail and made corrections or clarifications where information was incorrect or unclear.
Ms. Stead cannot credibly be suggesting that corrections were made because the Globe scans “anonymous bloggers” in search of errors?  Again, I will give her the benefit of the doubt, and assume she was respecting my privacy, and thank her for it.
3)  With their permission, I include below excerpts from a response to one of several questions from JSource regarding feedback received from the Globe and Mail:
After identifying a few attribution problems, including some which warranted correction, I received a response from Sylvia Stead (at the time Associate Editor) on May 26, 2011, addressed, Dear Ms. Wainio and Media Culpa.  It began “This is a private letter, not for publication”.

Because of that proviso, I won’t reproduce it all.  But in brief, it chided me because I “hide behind a faceless blog site to very publicly defame Canada's best known columnist Margaret Wente” with  “single-minded zealotry.”  It said the attribution problems I’d identified (straightforward side-by-side comparisons) were “defamatory of Ms. Wente”, “misguided” and “wrong.”

It continued, “Your complaint is not regarding someone else's written words, it is about a quote. A quote that is attributed to the person who gave it. This is not plagiarism”. 

(In fact the material also involved another writer’s prose, along with mis-placed or migrating quotation marks).

It concluded: “we have responded to you a number of times pointing out that you are wrong in your very public attacks on Ms. Wente. We will not respond again”.

Both Ms. Stead, now Public Editor, and her replacement, made good on that promise. 

Just prior to that email, The Globe had been obliged to correct an error I brought to them where one of Ms. Wente’s un-attributed quotes turned the scientist who gave it to AP into a fisherman.  Just after the email, they were obliged to attribute material which I pointed out had appeared in The New York Times prior to Ms. Wente’s article.  So my concerns were not without merit, and they were aware of a pattern.

I continued to apprise The Globe of problems. Other corrections followed - for the "John"  in Ms. Wente’s Occupy story, some improperly attributed language by Christopher Lasch, something related to a Pew report on religion, and others.

Given this, it’s hard not to assume that editors did not simply put their fingers in their ears.  And it is (again) a bit ironic that it is Ms. Stead conducting “an investigation” into the matter.

I won’t address in detail the Public Editor’s response, though I find it astonishing that it does not deal with the almost identical Dan Gardner paragraph, in which quotation marks simply go missing in Ms. Wente’s almost identical prose. Or the migrating quotation marks in regard to Collier and other writers.

I believe the side-by-side comparisons speak for themselves.  But if what we see in that article (and others) by Ms. Wente represents acceptable practice in the eyes of editors, the journalism community, and the public, so be it.

My purpose here is to let those standards be public knowledge, so that the next time a young journalist engages in a similar practice, we all acknowledge that what Margaret Wente did in that article and in others, is acceptable.  Because if it’s acceptable for the country’s premier newspaper - which, in my opinion, should set an example – then it is acceptable for everyone, including students whom Ms.Wente regularly derides.    


Sloppy attribution is more than plagiarism.  It can, and does, produce serious factual errors, and erodes public trust.  Ms. Wente’s supposed Occupy protester "John" is the most striking and serious example. In my opinion, The Globe’s correction in that case did not address what could be considered a kind of fabulism no less serious than Jonah Lehrer’s invented Dylan quote – except that Ms. Wente didn’t write it herself. Through the absence of attribution, she not only borrowed someone’s material, she created a kind of “collage” – effectively lifting a character from one situation and pasting him into another time and place to become the “face” of a movement he had nothing to do with.   To me, that's more serious than borrowing someone’s writing.  But I’m not an expert, and welcome discussion from those who are.

Are these “accusations”, as Ms. Stead contends?  I hope I’ve raised legitimate questions - backed up by thorough documentation.

Oh, and for Ms. Wente; while I do it reluctantly, and I’m not very good at it, this blogger is female.  .

33 comments:

  1. The saddest part about this is that the Globe & Mail considers Margaret Wente to be "Canada's best known columnist."

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    2. Well there is well-known and then there is infamous.

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  3. The NYT FIRES people who do that. Zakariah was suspended. WHY can't G&M act?

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  4. Again, commendation and thank you for your hard work, female blogger. Being a half glass full kind of male blogger, I think the result is actually a positive thing for the centre and the left. Stead's approach and actions have thrown a monkey wrench into the whole 'liberal media' canard. That meme is now dead. This is not going away. As they say, this thing has legs. It depends on us to open that wedge given us by the Globe and make our voices heard more often and more loudly than ever before.

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  5. I'm producing a conversation about this topic for The Agenda with Steve Paikin and was wondering if you'd be interested in participating. If so flip me your email address, mine is mmartin@tvo.org. The date I'm working with is Oct 9th.

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  6. It will be interesting to see what G&M does about this issue. In my view, Wente has an undeserved reputation as an outstanding columnist.
    Ruth Sept.22, 2012

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  7. This is an excellent and well-reasoned response. Please contains to document Wente'a missteps and errors, because even if the Globe ignores and maligns you, you're doing a really interesting and necessary media service.

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  8. Simply making the statement purporting Wente to be Canada's best known columnist is akin to calling Westboro Baptist Church christianity's best known congregation. To the G&M - Bollocks.

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  9. Your good and hard work exemplifies one of the many reasons that I no longer subscribe to the Globe, which, of course, continues to fatuously and erroneously call itself Canada's newspaper of record. By such an egregious departure from journalistic/academic standards as your plagiarism evidence establishes, it amply demonstrates why it can no longer be taken seriously.

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  10. I wonder if Wente would quit her day job, so to speak, if she were to be convinced that editorial writing was "more of a guy thing"...

    - RG>

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  11. Excellent work! Keep it up, please.

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  12. Thank you for your dedication to this issue. I think it's also worth remembering that Ms Wente is "sloppy" in a consistent manner. She promotes a Harper-esque conservatism in all her writing and she consistently lifts material from other right-wing writers who are themselves selective with the truth (eg. the climate-change denyers)

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  13. Well-researched. I am appalled but not surprised.

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  14. " Several articles on alternative sites have, in the past day or so, identified me as the ‘author’ of this blog (what this indicates about the insular character of mainstream media I leave to others)."

    Are you sure you didn't mean insidious for the bold word?

    As far as Wente being "well known," has Canada even had a well known columnist, for the right reasons, since the Foth left the field?

    People like Wente have to plagiarize because they can't write, even if they were being stenographers of the Gospel!

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  15. kootcoot, it can't possibly be "insidious", only "insular" makes sense there.

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  17. Your consistent intelligent hard work in "raising legitimate questions" is greatly appreciated; let's hope there will soon be demonstrable consequences (although the current attention to the issue of newspaper integrity, regardless of outcome, is already an important consequence).

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  18. Margaret Wente is an embarrassment to the entire country. Please continue with your assiduous correction of her shameless garbage and rest assured that intelligent readers have taken note! We can hope that more mainstream media will pick up on this if it gains legs on social media.

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  19. Congratulations Prof. Wainio. You are a hero to all of us academics who spend huge amounts of time educating our students about plagiarism. I find dealing with students caught doing what Wente did to be traumatic and emotional for all concerned - there are always lots of tears. I am outraged by the Globe's dismissal of this.

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  20. I have been quietly watching from the sidelines and have finally decide to weigh in. From a very simple perspective the G&M should give Ms. Wente the boot for the same reason that any Journalism Professor would toss a student from his class, plagiarism.

    The G&M should be sending you a cheque for doing their editorial work considering they used your research to clean up the writings of of "Canada's best known journalist". Frankly I think the use of the proviso of "Private and not for Publication" by the G&M's people reeks of cowardice.

    Whatever you do, please don't stop writing Media Culpa. Someone, somewhere, somehow needs to help keep mainstream media accountable. Thank you for your efforts.

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  22. I think the Globe is too cash strapped to afford her severance, so it's easier to keep her on.

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  23. Dear Professor Wainio:

    The work you've done with your blog is probably one of the best definitions of "citizen-journalist" one could come up with.

    Thank you,
    Dwayne

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  24. Fantastic work Prof. Waino.

    You demonstrate far greater civility and restraint in your responses than I would be capable of, and thereby render the paper flimsy attempts to discredit you as someone with a 'vendetta' as absurdly transparent.

    In this day and age, where government and media are far closer bedfellows than we'd like and accountability is dead and buried in the back yard (Harper anyone?), your professional and wonderfully coherent critique of this whole situation rings crystalline true.

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  25. Mainstream media has become such a joke.

    Keep shining a light on the bastards...

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  26. Thank you, Carol, for this look into media professionalism, or lack thereof. Admittedly, I am more comfortable on the left side of the political spectrum, particularly in the face of often fanatical rhetoric from the 'conservatives' of Conservatives. So while I have read a lot of Wente's stuff, I have often wondered how she was able to form such strong and clear opinions on so many wide ranging topics. Now we know, she wasn't. And your Blog also presents some solid background for my unease at several of the Globe's stands on such things as the CPC acceptance of questionable political shenanigans. Keep up the good work. Bill Reinhart

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  27. That is because all, or almost all, of the issues identified here over the past year and more were sent to The Globe.

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  28. The work you've done with your blog is probably one of the best definitions of "citizen-journalist" one could come up with.
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  29. Hope this little problem will be resolved. You've been doing a good job and I hope any distractions will be limited. I've enjoyed going over your work and hope you maintain this quality. Vaginal Mesh Reports

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