April 12, 2004
Let no one else's work evade your eyes

Kevin makes a detailed case that hotshot Chron columnist Rick Casey plagiarized this WaPo piece when he wrote this column. It's clear, as Kevin demonstrates, that Casey basically just rewrote the WaPo article. Kevin is also clear that making a charge of plagiarism is a big deal and shouldn't be done lightly. He's certainly persuasive in stating his case.

Still, I'm uncomfortable with it. Casey did say up front that he was taking his column from that story. I think one could reasonably infer that he meant that as a blanket footnote, in which case I'd call him guilty of egregious laziness, which I must say is still a sin for a guy with a three-day-a-week gig on the front page of the Metro section of a major daily. I think what distinguishes him from Mickey Herskowitz, who was suspended for recycling one of his own old columns, was that Herskowitz never mentioned that he was taking the day off. A fine distinction, perhaps, but enough for me to acquit on the first count of the indictment.

Perhaps in some sense, this is a fault of formatting. Had Casey been a blogger, he could've simply given his link, used the "blockquote" tag or somesuch to clearly quote the stuff he wanted, and interjected whatever snarky comments he had in mind when he first read the WaPo piece. All that pretty much gets lost in print.

Again, this doesn't excuse Casey of his slothfulness. Maybe if he did have a daily blog, like Bill Bishop of the Statesman, we'd be fine overlooking the occasional (or even the regular) link-and-quote post, which (let's face it) all of us amateurs do whenever we feel like it. Until then, I do think he at least owes us an explanation why he didn't add a little content to the original piece - surely he could've picked up the phone and asked Phil Gramm what kind of minority he is, or asked Joe Barton for a list of Texans Against Gerrymandering's members. How hard would that have been?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2004 to Other punditry | TrackBack

Intent doesn't absolve Casey. Whether he meant to credit Dan Morgan properly or not, he didn't. Nor did he use quote marks to credit Morgan when he appropriated phrases almost exactly. And even if somehow his blanket credit to a Washington Post story were enough credit for the appropriation that followed, that still doesn't account for the first three paragraphs that he presents as his own (which were obviously taken from Morgan).

The author of the WaPo piece did not disagree with my charge of plagiarism. Neither the editor nor the reader representative at the Comical responded to my email. Perhaps Howard Kurtz, who's taken some interest in the Herskowitz flap, will be able to get some answers out of the Chronicle since this matter actually involves a writer at his own newspaper. You'd think they would take accusations of plagiarism more seriously, especially after Jeff Cohen's hissyfit over Herskowitz. We'll see.

Posted by: kevin whited on April 12, 2004 8:58 PM

I guess this is an eye of the beholder thing, and in my eye he didn't quite cross the line. The fact that Dan Morgan thinks he did, though, is very telling, and I will have to reconsider. Do you plan on publishing Morgan's response to you?

Just to be clear, even though I don't think this was plagiarism, I do think we're owed an explanation, and I do think a suspension would be a reasonable response by the Chron.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2004 9:24 PM

At least one of your readers recognizes the subject reference!

To quote another line from the same source, "Only be sure always to call it please 'research.'" And that is part of the problem: all the way through their high school careers, students learn to look up things, copy them into their own term papers (with or without appropriate footnotes), and call the whole thing "research." We've trivialized the term "research," and in the process, we've blurred the line... never really a bright line to begin with... between making full legitimate use of someone else's work and plagiarizing it.

I don't know which Casey did. I dislike his column, and I find reading it such a chore that I undertake it only when someone tells me he has addressed a subject of importance. His work is loosely constructed and weakly written, contains occasional completely unrelated barbs (e.g., he recently began a column about local officials with a completely unconnected slur against Bill Clinton, about whom one would think it would be easy to pen more legitimate criticism, if it were relevant) and is frequently as snarky as I am on my own blog... inexcusable, I'd say, in an employed political columnist. Who cares if he plagiarizes? If he did so more frequently, it might improve what we have to read!

Posted by: Steve Bates on April 13, 2004 1:23 AM

I've got to side with Kevin on this one. While a lot of the facts could be drawn from campaign funding disclosures and other publicly accessible documents, the direct quotations are not. They are the result of gumshoe journalism on the part of Dan Morgan who is not mentioned by name only off handedly by Casey as being from the Washington Post.

And as Kevin pointed out, the lead sentence from Casey's paragraph 14 is virtually identical to Morgan's work.

To use Morgan's article as the genesis for a column is not a journalistic sin. But Casey needs to add something - reaction of local or state politicians would have been nice. Otherwise he needs to more throughly attribute his work to Morgan. Maybe he didn't because it would become apparently how little work he actually put into this particular "column".

Posted by: Patrick on April 13, 2004 9:29 AM