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.
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).
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
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:
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
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.”
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
fact the material also involved another writer’s prose, along with mis-placed
or migrating quotation marks
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”.
Ms. Stead, now Public Editor, and her replacement, made good on that promise.
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.
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
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.
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.
these “accusations”, as Ms. Stead contends? I hope I’ve raised legitimate questions - backed
up by thorough documentation.
for Ms. Wente; while I do it reluctantly, and I’m not very good at it, this
blogger is female.