Ethical Lapses  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   March 2001

Ethical Lapses   

Related reading:
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   » Ethically Challenged


R ECENT EPISODES INVOLVING charges of plagiarism and fabrication include:

February 7. Steven Helmer, a reporter for Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania's Press Enterprise, was fired after he admitted to fabricating at least one person. Editor Jim Sachetti says there is evidence that Helmer, who was hired in March 2000, may have invented other sources as well.

January 15. Mona Prufer, features editor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina's Sun News, resigned for "including original work by others without attribution" in a books column and in a cooking column, says Editor Trisha O'Connor. The editor says she is not labeling the incident "plagiarism."

January 15. In that day's issue, Business Week apologized for an October 30 story, which used information from the Washington Post. After an investigation, the writer, Marcia Stepanek, was fired. Stepanek counters that she "did my own reporting" and was "sloppy with my notes." She says she hadn't read the Post story before writing hers. When asked how the similarities occurred, Stepanek would only say that she confused an earlier draft with her notes.

January 4. The Daily Deal, a business and financial publication, ran a correction, saying it "failed to cite CNN.com as the author" of a December 20 piece. The Daily Deal writer, Donna Block, says, "it was my error in forgetting to put the attribution in." Editor in Chief Robert Teitelman says Block was disciplined, but he didn't want to say how.

December 28. San Jose Mercury News intern David Cragin was suspended for using material from the Washington Post. He was then fired when more evidence of plagiarism was found.

December 22. The Detroit News apologized for copying a paragraph from a suburban weekly. Publisher and Editor Mark Silverman, who called the incident plagiarism, would not reveal how a reporter and an editor were disciplined.

November 21. Sacramento Bee political writer Dennis Love was fired for plagiarism and fabrication. He admitted the charges.

November 17. Northwestern University's Medill News Service released a statement saying it could not verify two stories, which had been written by student Eric R. Drudis. The San Jose Mercury News, the Philadelphia Daily News and the San Francisco Examiner later could not find proof that sources from 17 of Drudis' stories had existed. He was removed from the master's degree program, but he can still earn his bachelor's in June, reported the Daily Northwestern.

October 2000. Philadelphia Inquirer Chicago correspondent Raad Cawthon resigned while the paper was investigating plagiarism charges against him. Cawthon used material similar to that in a Chicago Tribune piece.

July 18. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that quotes in a sports column "should have been attributed to The Associated Press." Columnist Kathleen Nelson used two quotes and some phrasing from the AP, Post-Dispatch Readers' Advocate Carolyn Kingcade revealed in a column. An editor talked to Nelson about the importance of attribution.

July 15. San Antonio Express-News Sports Editor Mitchell Krugel admitted to using four paragraphs from a June 19 column by Gil LeBreton, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Krugel's piece on Tiger Woods ran June 20 with a tag line that said "wire services contributed to this report." Krugel and Editor Robert Rivard wrote apologies to readers.

July 14. The New York Times acknowledged that a June 27 obituary of British spy-trainer Vera Atkins used material from London's Times. It said five passages "closely reflected the phrasing" of the London paper's obituary. Managing Editor Bill Keller would not say how or if obit writer Douglas Martin was disciplined.

July 7. Boston Globe editorial page columnist Jeff Jacoby was suspended for four months for not citing other sources in a July 3 piece on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Editorial Page Editor Renee Loth did not call it plagiarism, but Ombudsman Jack Thomas did.

November 25, 1999. The Baltimore Sun said that a music critic had been fired for using material from "The Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera." That critic was Stephen Wigler, though the Sun did not name him in print.

September 7, 1999. Indianapolis Star TV Critic Steve Hall was fired for plagiarism. He first had been suspended August 27 for one offense; he was dismissed after other incidents came to light. Hall acknowledged his lapse, but told WRTV in Indianapolis that he felt the punishment was too harsh, according to the Associated Press.

August 20, 1999. Arizona Republic columnist Julie Amparano was fired for fabricating sources. The Republic looked at 11 of her 17 columns and couldn't find 20 people mentioned in them. She denied the charges.

May 10, 1999. Kim Stacy was fired by the Owensboro, Kentucky, Messenger-Inquirer for fabrication. She had written five front-page columns about her dying of cancer, a disease she never had. Stacy told editors she lied because she didn't want to reveal that she had AIDS, but then admitted she had lied about that as well.

January 15, 1999. CNNfn.com fired reporter Leena Ajinkya for plagiarism. Ajinkya's piece, which ran that day, was similar to a Wall Street Journal article, according to Wall Street Journal and Editor & Publisher reports. A CNN spokeswoman confirmed that a reporter was fired but could not confirm the exact details.

November 16, 1998. Time magazine ran an apology for a November 2 article by art critic Robert Hughes, the lead of which resembled the lead of a review by art lecturer Patricia Macdonald. Hughes said in the apology, "To my embarrassment I seem to have cannibalized it, but it was entirely unconscious."

August 19, 1998. Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle resigned after an October 8, 1995, column about two young children with cancer could not be confirmed. Eight days before, he had been suspended for two months for using George Carlin jokes without attribution.

August 18, 1998. Wall Street Journal reporter James S. Hirsch was dismissed for including a false statement in a story. In a piece on columnist Barnicle, Hirsch had written, "The Globe is owned by New York Times Co., which declined to comment." But Hirsch had not called the Times Co. for that story.

June 18, 1998. Boston Globe columnist Patricia Smith resigned after admitting she had fabricated people in her columns.

May 8, 1998. The New Republic's Stephen Glass was fired for fabricating an article. A subsequent investigation found 27 of his 41 TNR articles contained elements that could not be confirmed.

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