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Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Whitewashing Hillary

Sometimes I wish journalists were doctors – so we could sue them for malpractice. In her July 24 column on Weinergate, syndicated columnist Ruth Marcus notes that Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, and her mentor, Hillary Clinton, both had to deal with unreliable spouses.

But, Marcus says, there is a “difference between Slick Willie and Carlos Danger, and therefore the difference between Hillary Clinton [who stood by Bill in the 1992 interview on “60 Minutes”] and Huma Abedin, is the distance between plausible deniability (even to oneself) and uncontroverted proof.

“Post-Monica, at least post-Bill’s Monica confession — you did not see Hillary Clinton making the case for her husband. You saw her, back to the camera, with Chelsea bridging the physical and emotional distance between husband and wife as they trudged to the helicopter en route to Martha’s Vineyard.”

Despite her plausible deniability hedge, this interpretation is utterly and absolutely false. Of course Hillary knew that Bill was cheat – as two even more famous Washington Post reporters have detailed. David Maraniss has written that Bill began cheating on her while they were dating at Yale Law school in the 1970s. Carl Bernstein reported that Bill planned to divorce Hillary in 1989 so he could be with one of his lovers. He also says that she told her friend, Diane Blair, that she hoped the spotlight of the presidency would force her husband to control in his extra-marital appetite.

If your spouse cheats on you once, you might not know. If your spouse does it as often as others eat cereal, you know – especially when you tell your best friend you know!

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A little plagiarism at the AP?

Almost all of my students at St. Augustine’s University tell me they “never use Wikipedia” because “you can’t trust it.” I spend the next ten minutes telling them it’s not that unreliable and that the key is to use the footnotes to find the sources the article is based on (trust, but verify).

In fact, working journalists often turn to Wikipedia for a crash course on deadline. Consider this July 24 AP story about NSA leaker Edward Snowden by Nataliya Vasilyeva and Laura Mills. They report that a Russian lawyer has been bringing the American – who is holed up in the Moscow airport figuring out how to get to a safe haven – books to read, including Crime and Punishment.

Vasilyeva and Mills write: “The novel is about the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of a poor ex-student who kills a pawnbroker for her cash.”

Wikipedia’s entry for the novel says: “Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash.”

It seems pretty clear that they cribbed their description from Wikipedia (and perhaps the Wikipedia writer cribbed the description from yet another source, and yet another possible cribber). We cannot expect reporters to reread a novel to provide a brief description. But it is inappropriate to borrow specific language – “mental anguish and moral dilemmas.”

Don’t get me wrong – this is small beer; it’s plagiarism with a tiny p. If these reporters worked for me I’d ask them why they did it, tell them never again and move on.

But in the age of the internet, when so much information is available, it is even more important that reporters guard against lazy habits and give credit where credit is due. My guess is that these reporters would never in a million years say “according to Wikipedia” but that seems to be exactly what they did.

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