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A little forensic punditry

Kevin Drum points to this WaPo piece by William Adler, in which he shows how he fingered a UT prof for signing his name to an op-ed which had been entirely written by someone else, and as it embarrassingly turned out for the prof, printed under a different prof’s name in a different newspaper in the past. A longer and more detailed version of this story is here, which Julia had noted.

It’s pretty good reading, and I agree with Adler’s suggested questions for op-ed page editors: 1) Did you write this piece? 2) Are you a consultant, paid or not, to an organization or interest group with a vested interest in your column? I find it disturbing that this kind of punditry fraud has been going on for so long, but at least now with Google, Lexis/Nexis, and watchdogs like Adler, it ought to be harder to go undetected. Really, though, it’d be much better if op-ed page editors themselves Googled authors and the occasional catchphrase before running a piece in their own paper. In addition to this sort of fraud, they’d also catch writers with intentionally misleading bylines.

What I don’t understand is why UT is not planning any disciplinary action against Sheldon Landsberger, its errant professor.

The college is not planning any disciplinary action against Landsberger, said Dean Ben Streetman.


The University considers plagiarism “any use of the content or style of another’s intellectual product without proper attribution” when regarding student work. Disciplinary action for “scholastic dishonesty” ranges from failing the specific class to permanent expulsion and is administered by Student Judicial Services.


Streetman, who has been dean for eight years, said he has never dealt with a similar experience.

“We believe that when faculty write articles, that it should be original,” he said.

I suppose, though it’s not clear to me here, that Streetman is saying that the University doesn’t have a rule that covers this case. If so, then Landsberger would seem to be free on a technicality. I’d feel better about that if UT, and any other school which doesn’t explicitly cover such occurrances, would address it for the future.

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  1. Linkmeister says:

    Great minds, and all that. I know I’ll be looking more closely at the guest op/eds in my local papers.

  2. kevin whited says:

    I can’t speak to the AAS, but I can’t imagine the Chron would have any such problem with this sort of op-ed, even when pointed out.

    Journalistic standards are in decline everywhere.

    Drum is right that this is very much a blog-like account of holding a writer and a newspaper accountable. Increasingly, I think we’ll see more and more of it, and the emergence of more sites like ChronWatch and Texas Media Watch.

    Local journalism will benefit.

  3. Palolo lolo says:

    If a student had done that,they’d be flunked and maybe dismissed.