June 23, 2003


Plagiarism update:

An Australian tabloid has disciplined one of its reporters for plagiarizing material from the Star Tribune and apologized to the reporter whose words were stolen.

Glenn Mitchell was disciplined by his newspaper, the Herald Sun in Melbourne, after an internal investigation confirmed the plagiarism, deputy editor John Trevorrow wrote Friday in an e-mail to The Associated Press. He did not specify the punishment.

"Plagiarism is emphatically unacceptable and the Herald Sun does not tolerate it," Trevorrow wrote.

Read more in this earlier report, which includes samples of Mitchell’s theft. While we're on the subject, Peter McEvoy presents a three-point response to claims that Media Watch let Phillip Adams off the hook:

Media Watch has looked at the articles and concluded that it didn't make the grade:

1. Adams has rewritten the information sufficiently so that he isn't using Schuessler's manner of expression.

Whoa, there! “Rewritten sufficiently”? WTF? Here’s the original:

While he entertained audiences with automata that played the flute and the organ, his most celebrated invention was a copper duck that realistically "gulped" food through a flexible neck and then excreted it on a silver platter. First displayed in 1739, the duck caused a sensation. "Without the shitting duck," Voltaire quipped, "there would be nothing to remind us of the glory of France."

And here’s the rewrite:

Jacques amused himself, and others, with automata that played the flute and the organ. And then there was his immensely successful copper duck. History records that the creature would peck away at food, apparently swallow it through a flexible neck and then, voila! excrete it onto a silver dish. First displayed in 1739, the duck was the toast of Paris. “Without the shitting duck,” said Voltaire, “there would be nothing to remind us of the glory of France."

Same information in the same order using many of the same words and concluding with the same quote broken at the same point. Why, it’s almost the same as plagiarism! McEvoy continues:

2. Adams cites a vague source - "history tells us". It's not a great acknowledgement, but it does indicate that he's using secondary sources for his information rather than passing it off as his own.

It does, if by “history” you mean “the February 13 edition of The New York Review of Books”.

3. The two paragraphs are a minor part of the article.

So only mention it briefly (Media Watch once attacked Miranda Devine over a single word). Incidentally, why include the brevity of the offence as a mitigating factor if Media Watch has already decided that this isn’t plagiarism?

UPDATE. The Bunyip has more.

Posted by Tim Blair at June 23, 2003 06:06 AM

Lautréamont: ``Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It closely grasps an author's sentence, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with the right one.'' _Poesies_ p.67 of Lykiard translation.

I think the charge serves to say that the original journalism has worth, which is probably a conceit, but accounts for its popularity. It's an ``As you can see, journalism is great stuff'' story. So you hear about plagiarism in the news.

An alternative story that you don't hear: ``With all due respect for words, given the habits they have contracted in so many foul mouths, it actually takes courage not only to write but even to speak.'' Francis Ponge, perhaps a description of the journalistic endeavor, and what might be useful: to write against words. I don't see that the essay in question does so; boredom sets in in either version.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at June 23, 2003 at 06:56 AM

As Bunyip has demonsztrated on his blog several times, Philip Adams is a serial plagiariser.

Posted by: bargarz at June 23, 2003 at 09:27 AM

As Bunyip has demonstrated on his blog several times, Philip Adams is a serial plagiariser.

Posted by: bargarz at June 23, 2003 at 09:27 AM

I am a serial poster to the MW guestbook and a sometime email harrasser of Peter McEvoy, but I have to agree with him on this one: by itself, at least, it's a pretty trivial offence - better characterized as laziness than plagiarism.

That is not to say that it would be out of place as an exhibit in a general review of Adams' sloppiness and disregard for facts, but by itself, it doesn't amount to much.

Of course, Tim is right that MW goes after its ideological opponents for equally trivial (non-) offences, but I'd prefer MW to stop trivial attacks on conservative journalists than start cricticizing left-wing writers for equally trivial offences . . . after all, there are plenty of real crimes to spend their time on.

Posted by: Mork at June 23, 2003 at 10:05 AM

I'm non MW-basher, and I rarely agree with Tim Blair, but this is plagiarism.

btw, Tim, did you have to mention Devine because she mentioned you last week?

Posted by: Robert at June 23, 2003 at 11:29 AM

Yes, I did. It's a rule. Violators are made to wash Phillip's SUV.

Posted by: tim at June 23, 2003 at 11:57 AM

Anyone out there read the book that was under review? Or the three or four other books in English that came out in the seventies and eighties on the subject of automata, all of which mentioned the shitting duck, the date of its exhibition, the disposition of its mechanism, and quoted Voltaire?

Just so as we know who's plagiarising or paraphrasing whom.

Posted by: Mark at June 23, 2003 at 01:20 PM

Dear Mark or Mac: I have the three or four other books to which you refer or mention. You're right or correct, they do mention the duck or goose. And now if you excuse me, I'm off to Wan Chai for massage or a sauna.

Posted by: Preston Whip at June 23, 2003 at 01:54 PM

Why do all you neocons/right wingers/fascists/oppressors/chimps spend so much energy hating Adams and even Media Watch? As someone who sits vaguely in the political centre, I can only think that if Adams and MW are getting up your autocratic noses - they must be doing something right.

This is such an amazingly trivial story, yet you made it a big one. A big one where you look silly.

Chimps. Mind you, you do provide a reasonable public service as spellcheckers, so you're not a complete waste. Quite.

Posted by: Nemesis at June 23, 2003 at 02:54 PM

Why do all you right wingers/oppressors/chimps/fascists/neocons spend all this energy loathing Media Watch and even Adams? As a person who sits sort of in the political middle, I can only believe that if MW and Adams are getting up your autocratic noses, they must be doing something right.

There. I'm done for the week. Now that's journalism! Thanks Nemesis.

Posted by: P. Adams at June 23, 2003 at 03:08 PM

Keep coming across this Adams fella. This time he copies himself He is, of course, 'Nemesis', or has once again plagerized. G

Posted by: Gerry at June 23, 2003 at 03:34 PM

I agree this is plagiarism.

But your reference to Miranda Devine being taken on by Media Watch over a single word (where she referred to people as "cockroaches"[0]) implies it was about plagiarism, which it plainly was not. You're either being deliberately disingenous, or stupidly comparing apples to oranges.

Personally, I think you're too smart not to know that they didn't mean they'll throw out all stories involving brevity of offence.

[0] Hardly a hanging offence. Media Watch themselves did the same thing in 1999(?), back when they were actually entertaining.

Posted by: mark at June 23, 2003 at 04:37 PM

Hate, Nemesis?
Nah. Loathe his dribble and his adoration of communism and the hypocrisy: capitalist ad man just a good old bruvver. Pig's arse.

Posted by: d at June 23, 2003 at 06:16 PM

Mark, watch Tim and the Bunyip jump up and down about one word Margo Kingston used...

Posted by: Robert at June 23, 2003 at 06:34 PM

Dear Mr. Blair,
Having examined a year's worth of Phillip Adams columns, our lawyers have concluded that one-third of his compensation is rightly due to the New York Review. We appreciate Mr. Adams's eagerness to rebroadcast the words of our contributors, but since it is we who pay them, we would prefer he made up his own.
Robert B. Silvers, Barbara Epstein
New York Review of Books

Posted by: New York Review at June 23, 2003 at 07:04 PM

Mark: the cockroaches thing seemed a bit irrelevant to me too, until I read down and found Tim had referred to it (and in better detail) quite recently: http://timblair.spleenville.com/archives/003905.php

(So I think this is a legitimate abbreviated reference.)

Posted by: Michael S. at June 24, 2003 at 01:03 AM

Point of order (1): I am emphatically NOT Philip Adams. Can't stand the bugger. The difference is that my response is simply to not read his columns. Apology accepted in advance.

You lot on t'other hand appear to study every word emitting from the Adams pen, so I guess he must view you all as his "public". Must be depressing writing for chimps.

Point of Order (2): Adams use of my words was not plagiarism as he credited me. (For which, much thanks, but I still ain't gonna read your stuff, Phil).

Tim Blair however is possibly Australia's finest comic writer (and you can quote me on that).

Hmmm. Margo said "nigger" so now the "Shi'ites will really hit the fan". Love to Miranda too. It's just fantastic stuff! Cutting edge!

Posted by: Nemesis at June 24, 2003 at 04:36 PM

Another scandal! ``Then in 1783, a close observer of the Duck's swallowing mechanism uncovered an even greater deceit: the food did not continue down the neck and into the stomach but rather stayed at the base of the mouth tube. Reasoning that digesting the food by dissolution would take longer than the brief pause the Duck took between swallowing and expulsion, this observer concluded that the grain input and excrement output were entirely unrelated and that the tail end of the Duck must be loaded before each act with fake excrement.'' Jessica Riskin ``Origins of Artificial Life'' _Critical Inquiry_ 29:4 (Summer 2003) p.609

Posted by: Ron Hardin at June 26, 2003 at 01:45 AM