It Was The “Warp Speed” That Did It

Julie Brown at the Miami Herald:

The Novacks, who wed in 1991, had a tumultuous marriage. In 2002, Narcy Novack and two others tied Novack Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and removed money from his safe, according to the police report.

“If I can’t have you, no one else will,” she told him, according to a divorce petition he filed and later dropped.

At the time, Narcy Novack told police the incident was part of a sex game.

She also showed them pornographic pictures of women with artificial limbs, claiming her husband had a fetish for them.

Novack Jr. was the son of the late founder of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. Ben Novack Sr. built the luxurious hotel in 1954, and his son grew up in the hotel penthouse.

The Gerald Posner piece that was originally at the Daily Beast, now saved by Slate:

There is little doubt the Novacks had a volatile relationship. In 2002, 11 years into their marriage, Narcy and two others tied Ben Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and took money from his safe, according to the police report filed at the time.

“If I can’t have you, no one else will,” she told him, according to a divorce petition Ben Jr. filed and then dropped.

Narcy told police investigators at the time that the entire episode was part of a sex game. And she also showed them porno snapshots of women with artificial limbs having sex, claiming her husband had a fetish for them.

The scrubbed piece at The Daily Beast

Gerald Posner:

Today I found out that I am suspended from my Chief Investigative Reporter position at The Daily Beast. I now realize that a method of compiling information that I have used successfully since 1984 on book research obviously does not work in a fail safe manner at the warp speed of the net. Some of the incidents raised by Jack Shafer are not plagiarism, but are instances in which I received the same exact prepared quotation or statement from a police officer or press agent as other reporters. But others are mistakes I deeply regret.

Rest assured, no one has been tougher on me than I have over this issue. I ask all of you to accept my apology for these instances, a tiny percentage of hundreds of thousands of words written over decades. I accept, however, the full responsibility.

Jack Shafer at Slate here, here and here

Shafer:

When asked whether what Posner did was plagiarism, Daily Beast Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal didn’t dodge. Reading aloud from the definition of plagiarism on Dictionary.com—”the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work”—he agreed that that’s what Posner did. “Yeah, you’d have to say it’s plagiarism,” he said. “I do believe it was inadvertent.”

Posner, the Daily Beast’s chief investigative reporter, didn’t make any excuses, either. And he made no effort to escape the P-word, which writers caught stealing copy usually do.

Stating that he was “horrified” at what he did, Posner agreed that it constitutes plagiarism. But he couldn’t figure out how he did it.

He said he had no memory of having seen the Herald story, describing himself as “absolutely sure” he did not see it before sending his own story to Beast editors. But that memory must be wrong, he said, because the similarities between the two pieces are too great, and the Herald‘s story was posted before he e-mailed his to his editors at 2:03 a.m. on Feb. 2.

“I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied.” He regards the subtle differences between his copy and the Herald‘s as evidence of him “doing the rewrite” of what he thought was his copy.

Posner:

When The Daily Beast had asked me last Friday if there were any more problems than the five original sentences highlighted by Shafer, I had confidently told them, “No.” It was not because I had subjected my own articles to so-called plagiarism software, or because I was in denial about any deliberate plagiarism. It was, as it is now, my own belief that all the reporting I had done for the Beast since last June had been original and had broken news on a number of substantive issues.

This afternoon I received a call from Edward Felsenthal, the excellent managing editor of The Daily Beast. He informed me that as part of the Beast’s internal investigation, they had uncovered more instances in earlier articles of mine in which there the same problems of apparent plagiarism as the ones originally brought to life last Friday by Shafer. I instantly offered my resignation and Edward accepted.

What was clear was that the excellent reputation established by The Daily Beast in the last year should not be tarnished by any controversy swirling around me.

Readers of my writing over 26 years, 11 books and over a hundred articles, have the right to trust that I have personally vetted and corroborated the facts I present, and that I can vouch for them. Plagiarism is insidious because it rightfully violates that trust. Just the mere use of the word raises the idea that the accused journalist has broken one of the cardinal rules of writing and is somehow cutting corners on research, facts, or original reporting.

Since June 1, when I accepted the full time staff position, I have published 72 articles (8 were published freelance before accepting the full-time reporter’s job). That averages about 2 articles a week. They all required intensive reporting, and the subjects ranged from the Michael Jackson death probe, CIA morale, Teddy Kennedy’s fortune, whether there was a John Doe 2 in the Murrah bombing, exclusive interviews with Afghanistan’s Karzai brothers, Roman Polanski, probes into domestic and international terror, and the Tiger Woods story, among many others. At least a dozen stories that I spent time researching did not pan out, and never got published.

I realize how it is that I have inadvertently, but repeatedly, violated my own high standards. The core of my problem was in shifting from that of a book writer – with two years or more on a project – to what I describe as the “warp speed of the net.” For the Beast articles, I created master electronic files, which contained all the information I developed about a topic – that included interviews, scanned documents, published articles, and public information. I often had master files that were 15,000 words, that needed to be cut into a story of 1,000 to 1500 words.

Shafer on this statement:

As one who has been working at the warp speed of the Net since 1996, who routinely gathers Nexis dumps, clipped Web pages, scanned documents, handwritten notebooks, recorded interviews, DVRed news shows, hard-cover books bristling with Post-It notes, and nests of newspaper clippings fit for the incubation of Layson albatross eggs, I don’t buy it. In recent years, I’ve written upward of 120 pieces annually, and my harder-working Slate colleagues—John Dickerson, Christopher Beam, Emily Bazelon, Timothy Noah, William Saletan, Dahlia Lithwick, Farhad Manjoo, et al.—have posted similar or higher numbers while writing on deadline. None of them has plagiarized. Nor have I.

Posner makes another claim in his statement that cannot go unchallenged. He writes:

Clearly, if I were a serial plagiarizer, I would have scanned my own drafts with such [plagiarism detection] software before submitting to the Beast.

But examples of plagiarized stories found by me and Slate readers establish that Posner is a serial plagiarist! Of that there is no dispute! That he didn’t scan his drafts with software before submitting them to the Daily Beast doesn’t prove he isn’t a serial plagiarist.

Razib Khan at Science Blogs:

The Ben Domenech case actually shows that yes, internet-age plagiarists can be pathologically dumb. There are plenty of cases of small-time plagiarists; my friend Randall Parker of FuturePundit was pointed to another blogger who was copying his posts almost verbatim. Small potatoes. But if you’re a professional journalist, you’re going to get caught if you have any prominence if people can compare the text on the internet.

I think catching people plagiarizing like this is a good sign that there are some mental peculiarities at work here; cognitive biases if you will. This isn’t cheating on college papers, unethical as it is, this is being unethical for short-term gains when there’s a very high probability that you’ll be caught and humiliated in public in the long -term.

Michael Roston:

There have been a number of big plagiarism scandals in the years that I’ve been a working journalist. But few notable incidents have involved writers whose primary method of communication is blogging.

There’s a good reason for that: bloggers tend to openly quote one another, as well as news stories written by journalists from traditional outlets, quite freely. Too freely in many instances, and that’s why we get into conflicts with one another sometimes about the fair use of text that we clip. Perhaps, for instance, Posner could take issue with the amount of text I copied from his blog post above. But he couldn’t accuse me of plagiarizing him – I’m quoting him, clearly citing the source, and linking back to him.

If you turn into the sort of character who steals too much from your sources without saying enough on your own, you might develop a reputation for being more of an aggregator than a blogger. You might also get shamed by your source (see ‘Grand Theft Huffpo‘). You could even get sued. Or, your audience may just tune out because people would rather stick to the sources you rip.

But you’ll seldom get called a ‘plagiarist.’

The reason bloggers don’t often plagiarize is that we don’t need to. We can make a point by piggy-backing off of factual statements or opinions from others, and easily make it clear that we didn’t say it first. If Posner had simply hyperlinked back to his sources in his Daily Beast stories – a process that I suspect is much more quick and easy to carry out than copying, pasting, and re-writing bits of the source material – we probably wouldn’t be talking about ‘Gerald Posner, Plagiarist’ now.

UPDATE: Hamilton Nolan at Gawker

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1 Comment

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One response to “It Was The “Warp Speed” That Did It

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built This Weekend « Around The Sphere

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