About Gannon, Plagiarism, and the AP

Especially in light of Jeff Gannon's ascension to National Press Club Blogger (hattip to CTMan1), Susie Dow's commentary yesterday about the AP and fair use got me thinking about why calling out the lack of attribution (whether because of sloppiness or intended plagiarism) is important to all of us.

Disclosure. I have a bias here. Some time ago I eagerly opened a newly-arrived edition of a magazine I subscribe to because the cover story was on a subject with which I am very familiar. I had never heard of the writer, so I was intrigued.

I hadn't read but a sentence when I went into a sort of trancelike state of shock. I was reading, word for word, my own writing. The cover article was a straight lift -- only with pictures -- of something I had written many years previously for a small company that sells instructional manuals.

I had done the writing on a "work for hire" agreement, which means essentially that the company paid me to write it and there my "ownership" ended. But I was sure that the company also didn't know that the material, which they had copyrighted, had been stolen.

How did my saga end? The owner contacted the "named" author -- who now outed, 'fessed up to the magazine editors and offered a retraction. But the damage was done, even though his future article (also lifted from my writing) was cancelled.

Frankly, I have never sorted out all my emotions about seeing my exact words (about 3000 of them) ascribed to someone else. The real argument was between the owner (you can substitute AP here, if you are so inclined to make a parallel) of the company I did the writing for under the work-for-hire agreement and the person (the thief!) who very deliberately sought to gain (credibility, money, fame!) from the so-called authorship.

Discovering the identity of Jeff Gannon -- that soft-ball question throwing "reporter" in the White House Press conferences -- was the event that birthed ePluribus Media. Jeff Gannon / James Guckert is a known plagiarist -- and many ePluribus Media writers and researchers have spent their time documenting, thinking about and discussing the importance of sourcing, citing and avoiding plagiarism. Below I offer a small listing of several of the articles and commentaries that they have written.

  • In Levels of Plagiarism, Aaron Barlow discusses and elucidates three types of plagiarism, the type that occurs because of carelessness, the type that which occurs because of coveting the talent generating the phrasing of the original and finally, that type that equals outright deceit: "I have trouble with plagiarism of all three of these three types--in ascending significance--but only the third, and a certain type of the second, approaches (or surpasses) the dishonesty of simply taking the work of another and putting one's own name on it. The others are annoyances worthy of chastisement, but they don't amount to much--though the owners of the rights of works of art co-opted this way might argue otherwise."
  • In Plagiarism: "They've Always Done It," also by Aaron, he reports on an NPR discussion about plagiarism. In his rebuttal, Barlow explains why we should pay attention to unattributed borrowings: "..plagiarism is ... an attempt at personal gain through the unacknowledged work of others. Through a hiding of the source. This subverts education, debasing the value of what all students do when it is not quashed. "
  • MKT wrote about Harriet Mier's problem with copying without attribution in his Harriet Miers: Was there plagiarism at whitehouse.gov? MKT carefully documents Miers' less than scrupulously-cited borrowings to illustrate her carelessness or, more seriously, her trying to pass herself off as more of an "expert" than she was.
  • Luaptifer's wonderful guidance on avoiding plagiarism is always a good read, especially since he so assiduously avoids plagiarizing his mentor!
  • Rba gives us an excellent snapshot of using primary sources -- to avoid the grapevine echo chamber and to establish the facts in his Primary Sources. As rba reported way back in October of 2005: "Publishing an article means the sources for the information have been checked at least twice: once by the writer, and once by a team of fact-checkers. A necessary step before the media puts that writing before the public under its banner. We have all seen examples of marginal writing and outright plagarism that have cost large news organizations readership, and reporters their jobs."
  • Over on the old ePluribus Media Journal, Charles Wilson, in his Talon News,Propaganda, and Plagiarism, took on the propaganda and plagiarism of our old friend Jeff Gannon / James Guckert. Of course, ironically with the AP brouhaha, Gannon might be perceived as an accurate representative of bloggers at the National Press Club since he made a career out of plagiarism.
    Ron Bynaert, who now writes frequently for Raw Story, tracked down and did a whale of a job documenting Gannon's plagiarism.
  • Again on the Journal, in You've Been Plagiarized! Susan Gardner and Ron Bynaert tracked down writers that Talon News and Gannon had plagiarized and interviewed them.

I am not sure that the AP has done much to clarify its stance, but the creation of original news/material is expensive in terms of time, resources, and money. I don't think the answers are simple and we do a disservice to writers everywhere if we don't examine the issues carefully and closely as Aaron, Luaptifer, rba and others have done in their commentaries listed above.

And a final note. Gathering news is serious and sometimes life-threatening. The AP has reporters who have literally given their lives to cover the news. As Reporters without Borders notes, over 216 journalists and media assistants have died trying to tell us the truth about what is happening in Iraq.

It's a damned small thing to ask that we cite their names.

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I know of one particular case where the copyright holder made a polite request to please remove material from a website. They sent three different emails, all of which were posted on the offending website and subsequently ridiculed by the site owners.

The copyright holder contacted the ISP. Poof. The website was taken down until the site owners vowed to remove the material.

(Just to be clear, the offending site knew perfectly well they were violating copyright.)

Unfortunately, with print material, it can't be collected back or stopped. It probably enters the Lexis Nexis database forever. By the time the correction comes out, nobody remembers.

Thought this might be interesting to add to the conversation ...

AP Exaggerates The 'Conversation' It's Having With Bloggers; Caught Copying Text From Bloggers As Well
from the and-it-gets-worse dept

and did ya see Markos take on it ... sheesh that guy has a lot of chutzpah!

The AP doesn't get to negotiate copyright law. But now, perhaps, they'll threaten someone who can afford to fight back, instead of cowardly going after small bloggers.

ePMedia ... get the scoop with us!
If it's true that our species is alone in the universe, then I'd have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little. ~ George Carlin

I'll read all of those, thanks so much.

This should be a fairly straight forward process if common sense prevails. If you quote someone, cite the source and respect the limitations on the amount allowed for reproduction. Hyper links are the most wonderful invention ever for this function.

I don't use copyright. All I ask is attribution and a link to the source. That's almost always honored.

I wasn't aware that ePluribus nailed the Gannon story. Here's my appreciation of that best of all scandals:

"Furthest from him is best, whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme above his equals." Milton

"Furthest from him is best, whom reason hath equaled, force hath made supreme above his equals." Milton

with no simple answers.

ePMedia folk just aren't very good at tooting their own horns... which may be why the attribution issue strikes a chord with me.

Many ePluribus Media writers and researchers have made major contributions to ongoing investigations -- Dr. Shields research on the politicization of the US Department of Justice, Adam Lambert's work, with multitudes of ePMedia researchers into the castration of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, Standingup's work into the Voter Caging, Ilona Meagher's and D.E. Ford's work into PTSD -- starting in 2005!

Michael, since you've been doing original reporting and news gathering, you know the work, time, resources that are involved. And you also know how a website is made richer by original work -- rather than constant streams of "McBlockQuote."

Thanks for your many wonderful contributions!