Plagiarism: Theft, Fraud, Betrayal (and Extenuating Circumstances)

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

We recently had a discussion on plagiarism, occasioned by this article from TNR on Chris Hedges and this response from Jane Hamsher. In this brief post, I’m going to try to avoid relitigating the fact set on that thread in favor of making some general observations on plagiarism — although others are free to do so — because I think plagiarism is an important issue. Tendentiously, I’m going to categorize people who believe that plagiarism is “no big deal” or, alternatively, justified as “pro-plagiarists,” since the outcome of their position is an increase in plagiarism.

At the outset, the question I would really like pro-plagiarists to answer is this: Is it OK with you if either I (lambert) or Yves start publishing other people’s material under our own names without attribution? Do you feel that Naked Capitalism, as a credible source, would suffer if we did? If in fact plagiarism is “no big deal” (or justified) that would come as a great relief to both of us, because coming up with original posts on a daily basis is inordinately stressful and very time-consuming!

That question posed, here’s a real-life example of “No big deal,” occasioned by disgraced New Yorker Gladwell wannabe Jonah Lehrer, on the occasion of his public apology (for which he was paid a retainer of $20,000 (!)):

What struck me the most [was] one of the questions posed by a conference attendee. She stated flippantly that Lehrer’s plagiarism affected her less than a “typo on Wikipedia,” and didn’t understand why people expected public apology for something that didn’t specifically hurt them.

(A Wired investigation 18 of Lehrer’s works showed that 17 had problems, 14 with recycling, 8 with plagiarism, and 8 with facts.)

And here’s an argument that plagiarism is justifiable:

I think this controversy shows how deeply the bourgeois notion of property has soaked into the mentality of today’s intelligentsia. Under such a mentality, our tribunes veto each other over a few shared phrases. It also shows the defects intrinsic to a Western “left” which is closely connected to an academic milieu. Within the merit-hierarchy of academe, plagiarism invalidates argument. But is that true in reality?

Extenuating Circumstances

I think plagiarism[1] is a big deal and isn’t justifiable; that it combines theft, fraud, and betrayal. Except there are three extenuating circumstances:

First, clearly at today’s Ivy League schools, especially for students destined for the C-suites in business, government, or the law theft, fraud, and betrayal are implicitly part of the curriculum; after all, we as a society could hardly have mastered the art of accounting control fraud without teaching the future perps the tricks of the trade. There’s no epidemic without carriers, after all.

Second, some cultures or subcultures simply don’t possess the concept. For example, American journalists in the Revolutionary War:

Without professional writing staffs of journalists or correspondents, eighteenth-century newspaper printers relied heavily on an intercolonial newspaper exchange system to fill their pages. Printers often copied entire paragraphs or columns directly from other newspapers and frequently without attribution. As a result, identical news reports often appeared in multiple papers throughout America. This news-swapping technique, and resulting plagiarism, helped spread the ideas of liberty and uphold the colonists’ resistance to British Parliament.

Or, closer to home, the Aghan intern at NPR, who plagiarized 68 words in his first published piece:

All agree that Shafi immediately responded matter-of-factly that he copied the lines. He didn’t see what the problem was. .. As he told me, “In Afghanistan, journalism, press freedom and ethical issues surrounding them are still being developed. Ten years ago there was literally no media except a Taliban radio.” hat we have here, then, is a cultural gap. Other experts in Afghanistan have confirmed to me that it is common practice among Afghan journalists and researchers to copy and paste material they think is accurate. … The rule is right, but the journalist first has to know the rule, and Shafi didn’t.

(Here’s a discussion of how the concept and practice of plagiarism varies by professional subculture.)

Finally, many times journalism is a collective work product. David Simon of The Baltimore Sun (and The Wire) writes:

On the police beat, on general assignment, and especially on the rewrite desk, you were usually reacting to new developments on stories that were ongoing for days or months. You would quickly marry the fresh stuff to what had already been reported, more often than not by other staffers. You relied on info from the newspaper library, working your way through old clips, changing a word or two, flipping a sentence with a dependent clause, or, if you needed to lift a large chunk, restructuring a few paragraphs.

Boilerplate, we called this stuff….

Given this history, there is behind me a trail of newsprint that includes tens of thousands of paragraphs cribbed from other Sun reporters or reconfirmed from other publications. Am I certain that in every instance I changed enough adjectives, flipped enough sentences, restructured enough paragraphs, and generally rewrote the background enough to avoid a charge of plagiarism? Do I have confidence that in re-reporting others I confirmed every single salient fact?

So I am a plagiarist. …. A lot of people need to be fired, apparently. There may be scribes confident of their day-after-day, year-after-year output, who are sure no paragraph they ever used as background is too similar to its source, who are certain that whenever they reworked another paper’s story every fact was reconfirmed. But there are others—many others—who … will privately admit unease.

Journalism is not scholarship. While reporting requires integrity and precision, it is not a world of footnotes, textual cites, and bibliographic acknowledgment, and the news report of any major daily is a communal property. It is accumulated edition-by-edition, day-by-day, through the labor of many. Working rewrite, if I caught a prison break in the mid-1980s, I cribbed background from Doug Struck, who covered that beat in the ’70s. On a political story, if I needed a clean, accurate explanation of the city Board of Estimates, I was grabbing that piece from Sandy Banisky. And if someone wanted a deadline definition of a semiautomatic weapon, they might have pulled it from my copy.

(However, I think we can agree that none of these three extenuating circumstances — elite schooling, different culture, or collective work product — apply in to the fact set for Chris Hedges.)

* * *

So, from bad to worse: theft, fraud, and betrayal. We’ll take these in the order that Dante did, placing them respectively in the Seventh and Tenth Zones of Circle Eight, and the Fourth Zone of Circle Nine in his Inferno.


Theft is the “taking of another person’s property without that person’s permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.” Here’s a really egregious example:

The man behind Allen Total Media is A William “Bill” Allen, a would-be media mogul who has attracted scorn and ridicule from publishers in Pennsylvania for helping himself to other people’s reporting and and “consolidating” it under seemingly fake bylines on his websites.

Along with his Alaska gambit, Allen operates a website out of Greenville, Pa.: the Mercer County Free Press. He claims it’s the result of a consolidation of five regional papers into one offering.

It’s actually the latest Web address he calls home for his online operation, which inevitably features the same content mix: reprints of press releases from sources (see here/here), news stories lifted in whole from other local media (see here/here), news stories lifted verbatim from major wire services (see here/here), shorter items that appear to be rewritten from elsewhere, with typos added (See: “A Boli [sic] Alert Has Been Issued For Brookfield This Afternoon”), and the occasional joke/meme that makes its way around the Web.

Often, the lifted articles are given new bylines to suggest a staffer wrote them (giving it an added element of plagiarism), or carry the dubious credit “Shared Content.”

(We are so beyond the bounds of “fair use” here!) What harm does theft like this do? Richard Posner, writing on historian-plagiarists:

Because a footnote does not signal verbatim incorporation of material from the source footnoted, all that can be said in defense of the historians with whom I began is that they made it easier for their plagiarism to be discovered. This is relevant to how severely they should be criticized, because one of the reasons academic plagiarism is so strongly reprobated is that it is normally very difficult to detect. (In contrast, Eliot and Manet wanted their audience to recognize their borrowings.) … [T]hese are particularly grave forms of fraud, because they may lead the reader to take steps, such as giving the student a good grade or voting to promote the professor, that he would not take if he knew the truth. But readers of popular histories are not professional historians, and most don’t care a straw how original the historian is. The public wants a good read, a good show, and the fact that a book or a play may be the work of many hands—as, in truth, most art and entertainment are—is of no consequence to it. The harm is not to the reader but to those writers whose work does not glitter with stolen gold.

So, Posner suggests that the way to put matters right with those whose work has been stolen is to pay them (with “gold”), but there’s no harm to the reader. I’m not sure I agree. Posner’s strictures on the “the public” strike me as perilously close to the Straussian “noble lie.” For example, the common reader definitely “takes steps” based on popularized writing and journalism; that’s why propagandists use those tools. But suppose the public concludes that the thefts are not isolated incidents, but that all writers are stealing from each other? What would that do for the market for writers, or the process of writing? Nothing good.

(Note that the harm of theft was a big deal to the institutions that sought to shut Allen Total media down; note also that this harm occurs whether the work is private property or not; people can, after all, steal any kind of property, not just private.)


Fraud is a “deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain.” Here’s an example:

Editors at CNN were performing a regular spot check of content in the organization’s publishing queue last week when they discovered that a story by London bureau news editor Marie-Louise Gumuchian included material taken without attribution from another source.

Using plagiarism detection software, they quickly turned up more examples and in the end have so far found that Gumuchian plagiarized in roughly 50 articles.

CNN leadership announced their findings and her firing in an Editor’s Note published today….

“Most of what we found was [lifted] from Reuters, which she was previously employed by,” says a CNN source who asked not to be identified due to the fact that they were not cleared to speak publicly about the incident. “We also notified [Reuters]. She worked for us for about six months, so if we found that many in six months I can’t imagine the job Reuters has now.”

We could look at this example of plagiarism as a theft from Reuters. But it was also a fraud on CNN, since Gumuchian was paid for work she didn’t do. Both institutions were harmed, but other journalists were also harmed; as with Jonah Lehrer so with Marie-Louise Gumuchian. Rachel Does Science blogs:

One more thing. Jonah Lehrer’s behavior was offensive to me. Specifically me. Me, and every other young, emerging science journalist. Do you know how unobtainable a staff position at The New Yorker is, especially for a science writer, in the age of dying print and literary cutbacks? I would cut out my own kidney if it got me a regular blog on Wired, let alone a longterm print contract. The respect, stability, and readership attached to that gig is the sort of thing I’m afraid to even dream of. Jonah Lehrer got it, and he abused it. He recycled old pieces. He copy and pasted from others’ work. He didn’t provide the content he was being paid to provide.

I’m sure there were other journalists that CNN could have hired in Gumuchian’s place who would have played by the rules, exactly as there were writers The New Yorker could have hired instead of Lehrer. How would you like to be one of them?

(Note that the harm of fraud was a big deal not only to the defrauded CNN, but to Reuters, who had to go back to check over all of Gumuchian’s work. And the harm to Rachel Does Science occurs whether what kind of property Gumuchian appropriated.)


Finally, betrayal is “the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations.” Dante places betrayers in the bottom-most zone of the Ninth Circle: Judas, and backstabbers Cassius and Brutus. Here’s the example of Lehrer again:

Unlike recycling [see David Simon above], plagiarism and fabrication are fundamental betrayals of the reader’s trust. With plagiarism, an author tries to convince his audience that he has become conversant in a subject through journalistic research, processed that research, and distilled it by turning it into words on paper. Instead, a plagiarist merely takes someone’s thoughts or words and presents them as his own. … [P]lagiarism, betrays the reader—and betraying the reader is the cardinal sin in journalism.

(To be fair, there were mitigating circumstances; basically, the crapification of corporate journalism:

Lehrer’s transgressions are inexcusable—but I can’t help but think that the industry he (and I) work for share a some of the blame for his failure. I’m 10 years older than Lehrer, and unlike him, my contemporaries and I had all of our work scrutinized by layers upon layers of editors, top editors, copy editors, fact checkers and even (heaven help us!) subeditors before a single word got published. When we screwed up, there was likely someone to catch it and save us (public) embarrassment. And if someone violated journalistic ethics, it was more likely to be caught early in his career—allowing him the chance either to reform and recover or to slink off to another career without being humiliated on the national stage. No such luck for Lehrer; he rose to the very top in a flash, and despite having his work published by major media companies, he was operating, most of the time, without a safety net. Nobody noticed that something was amiss until it was too late to save him.

The contrast between the shallow institutions of today and the deep institutional memories and practices described by David Simon is very telling and very sad.)

Steve Buttry writes:

Reporters who plagiarize and fabricate harm the credibility of honest reporters and of their whole paper and industry.

Gawd knows, what with Judy Miller — to be fair, a fabricator, not a plagiarist — and all the rest of ’em things are bad enough. But if the public concludes that everybody reporting, everybody with a public platform, is just repeating everybody else’s words in a gigantic game of telephone, how do we proceed as a democratic society? Even as a pre-figurative democratic society? We’ll have blinded ourselves. To me, that’s a big deal.

Gresham’s Dynamic

Suppose that in fact we as a society decide that plagiarism is “no big deal” and often justifiable. We’re going to get what we asked for:

It’s worth noting that there is some dispute over whether Lehrer was really a good science writer at all. And he had quite a professional advantage: if you don’t mind fabricating things and taking unethical shortcuts, it’s much easier to write a compelling story out of difficult material.

That’s a Gresham’s dynamic where bad writing drives out good; theft, fraud, and betrayal are faster and easier than real writing, and if we don’t ruthlessly root out plagiarism, plagiarism will predominate (and many plagiarists are serial offenders).

(If you don’t think a Gresham’s Dynamic is a big deal, talk to Bill Black; and note that a Gresham’s dynamic can apply with any form of property.)


[1] Here are some codes of ethics on plagiarism, and some definitions of plagiarism.

From the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:

Seek Truth and Report It

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

— Never plagiarize

From the NYU Journalism Handbook: Ethics, Law & Good Practice:

Plagiarism: Journalists earn their living with words, and plagiarism — using someone else’s words as if they were your own — is, simply stated, stealing.

The ACM:

Respecting intellectual property rights is a foundational principle of the ACM’s Codes of Ethics. Plagiarism, in which one misrepresents ideas, words, computer codes or other creative expression as one’s own, is a clear violation of such ethical principles.

45 CFR 689.1:

(3) Plagiarism means the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit. deas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit.”

Finally, we should note that there are degrees of plagiarism. According to the IEEE:

The guidelines identify five levels of plagiarism, according to severity.

– Level 1 pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of a full paper, or the verbatim copying of a major portion (>50%), or verbatim copying within more than one paper by the same author(s).

– Level 2 pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of a large portion (between 20% and 50%) or verbatim copying within more than one paper by the same author(s).

– Level 3 pertains to the uncredited verbatim copying of individual elements (paragraph(s), sentence(s), illustration(s), etc.) resulting in a signi?cant portion (<20%) within a paper.

– Level 4 pertains to uncredited or improper paraphrasing of pages or paragraphs.

– Level 5 pertains to the credited verbatim copying of a major portion of a paper without clear delineation (e.g., quotes or indents).

The measures taken by IEEE against the author(s) depend on the severity level, and therefore it is very important that proof is provided enabling fair judgment of the case.

(Most of the examples cited in this post seem to fall into Levels 3, 4, and 5.)

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. QuarterBack

    The fall of Western civilization began with the invention of cut and paste.

    The societal damage of plagiarism extends into every genre and discipline. I have watched the insidious decline borne from cut and paste. People slowly stopped reading and switched to merely browsing and scanning to harvest nuggets to paste later. People stopped listening too, and switched to casually monitoring for phrases and quotes for later reuse; or to look intelligent. Engineers often talk of hacks that pretend to be engineers and designers, but who have never actually built anything meaningful in their life. We now have people who play the role of writers, orators, philosophers, or spiritual leaders who have never connected a string of original thoughts together. People have slowly stopped thinking because it is easier to just patch together a random tapestry of bullshit to get through the workday, or through the tedium of conversations that are not sufficiently entertaining.

    Cut and paste, can save time and often enable reuse of relevant points, but when it becomes the core of how one operates, all you get is schlock.

    1. William

      This is quite true in my profession of technical writing. A large percentage of those in the role of technical writer are terrified of having to write a paragraph. It is easy to fake one’s way through by cutting and pasting, and only updating material already written. Change a few words here and there. And it is easy to fake one’s way into a job with a padded resume and giving false impressions and promises during the initial interview. I’ve seen it over and over and in nearly every company I’ve worked. What is most galling is that I end up carrying the vast majority of the load while getting paid the same as the fakers.

  2. Steve H.

    “That was one of the scary things I finally figured out during my last visit to DC. I thought people constructed policy first and then reduced it to soundbites to sell it. I came to realize that most people in DC reason from soundbites (as in their analysis and policy design is constructed from soundbites from the get-go).”

  3. craazyman

    I don’t know what people are thinking when they plagiarize but when they die they’ll find themselves in a little room with a wooden desk, metal chair, a fluorescent light and a typewriter (not even a computer!) and a man will walk in and point to a stack of paper that goes up through the a hole in the ceiling, for thousands of miles, and he’ll say “You can see God in just a minute, but first he wants you to type out all these pages word for word. . . Let me know when you’re done. I’ll be out in the hall.” bwaaaaaaaaaak!Q!@! It’s best to make up your own crap or at least put other people’s crap in quotes. Unless of course it’s everybody’s crap, which should be pretty self evident.

    1. susan the other

      Plagiarism is kinda lazy. Always better to think thru stg. yourself. If we remember a quote so salient we cannot even hope to forget it, then credit where credit is due. And anyway and otherwise doing a lot of lifting of content from somebody else reduces interesting criticism to mush. But there is always the confounding proof of lineage to deal with. You can only CR the expression of an idea, but not the idea. Because ideas are eternal. And that’s just another good reason for us all to come up with our own lyrics.

      1. craazyman

        Not that I lose any sleep over this one, but I am pretty surprised somebody famous would lift whole paragraphs and not even say “according to so-and-so, city desk reporter for the Elmville News & Sentinel, at 10 p.m. a strange luminescent orb landed in the woods behind the house and three little men came descended waving what looked like foot-long rods with white lights on the end. The family dog began to whimper and curled up in a ball. That was all Mrs. Wilson recalled before waking up in the corn field across the street at 2 in the morning. Mr. Wilson was unable to remember anything other than the football game on TV.”

        You can keep the description but at least say who reported it. It might even be true!

  4. Pete

    “My work as a journalist and an author has been dedicated to telling the truth. I have made errors, and will no doubt make errors in the future. But I always seek when I discover these errors or when they are discovered by others to make corrections. I do not willfully hurt anyone or appropriate anyone else’s work. Writers, especially writers who have produced, as I have, hundreds of thousands of words of printed copy, are fallible. What matters are intent and a willingness to own up to inadvertent errors or mistakes. I have always worked, and will continue to work, to be as transparent and honest as possible.”

  5. F. Beard

    “Loans create deposits” is a phrase I sometimes use but I don’t know who used it first so I just leave it in quotes without attribution. Is that adequate?

    Otoh, “government-backed counterfeiting cartel” is a phrase I think is original to me so I leave the quote marks off but I can’t be sure it’s not my memory playing tricks on me.

    But if I cut and paste, I’ll surely use quote marks and attribution.

  6. tomk

    A bit off topic but I heard a story last night indicating that “theft, fraud, and betrayal” are not only part of the curriculum at elite schools, but part of the selection process. A high school biology teacher got a note from Stanford acknowledging receipt of a recommendation for a student. He quickly wrote back to let them know that he hadn’t written the recommendation, and wouldn’t have. The kid got in, the teacher called Stanford to say WTF, and they told him that people make mistakes, the fraud wasn’t that big deal.

    I’m wondering if the enterprising amorality was just what they were looking for, the kind of student most likely to make billion dollars and help keep the institution going. The teachers disavowal of the letter may have been what clinched the student’s admission.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The issue in this case is Princeton review type outfits rank the percentage of prospective joining the class. Admissions offices will not take kids depending on whether they think they will come. The elite schools can pull this off. A large state school and small lesser known schools cant, but the Ivies and “public Ivies” can afford this luxury.

      So it is dishonesty at work, but I doubt the applicant mattered.

    2. lambert strether

      That sounds like crapification of the college admissions process. (Wait, wait. I thought because meritocracy?) So a link would be nice, given how much else is crapified in our university system.

      1. tomk

        A dinner table conversation with a distant relative I only just met, no link, but he seems reliable, teaches in Virginia.

      2. craazyman

        Not at the University of Magonia!

        And it’s free!

        that’s the real problem — you need to be free. if somebody can get rich quick somehow and then write down stuff they make up — and then somebody decides to plagiarize them — it’s jjust hilarious.

        “Holy smokes” you’d think. “I just made that sht*t up and then typed it, and then somebody actually read it and typed it word for word all over again. That’s weird. Why would they do something like that? It was already typed and right there in front of them!” Then you’d do a bong hit and start laughing at the wall cracking yourself up in your head like a moron.

        But! But! If you have to sell your type to somebody to survive and you can’t type jjust any combination of letters. If it has to be letters organized in a certain special order, very precise. not jjust something like hadflk alskdj fa;k flasfasdkjflsajj fasdf — Then it’s not so funny. So it’s not the plagiarism itself. It the circumstances of the two people doing the typing. That’s what it is.

        There was a story several years back about Bob Dylan lifting some lines from a Japanese poet. It was pretty blatant. He really just lifted the lines and typed them (but in English, of course) somehow they found the poet and asked him what he thought. He said something like “It was incredible that Bob Dylan plagiarized me! I was flattered.” Maybe he had a good day job.

  7. John

    Certain things become cultural norms over a period of time. Hopefully, plagiarism is not one of them.

  8. Dino Reno

    Anti-plagiarists are so last century. Today we live in the sharing economy. Everything wants to be free. If it helps, think of your stolen work as being sampled, like on a hip-hop record. Pretty cool, right?

    1. diptherio

      No man, not cool! Not cool at all! ;-)

      The phenomenon of news aggregators has only made this situation worse–automatically. Websites like, and for instance, seem to get nearly all of their content from other sources, but often fail to note when those other sources are themselves cross-posting the content. This leads to things like Yves being credited, on these sites, for an article that she cross posted to NC from Macrobusiness with proper attribution and link-back. I’ve ended up seeing my own name on articles at Resilience and Symgen for just this reason, even though my name hadn’t appeared anywhere on the cross-posted articles (which I guess means they grabbed my name from the metadata ???). And these folks (or bots) don’t bother to ask permission before re-posting your article on their site in full. It is irksome…

      And then, of course, people don’t tend to go to the original source before promoting some story on social media. Thus, a story that originally appeared on my little backwater site (that could really use the traffic, thank you very much) gets credited to by whoever links to our story on their site…which they cross-posted without asking…gggrrrrrr……

      It’s not that I have anything against the Post Carbon Instit., who run Resilience, or the dude doing Symgen, but I would like people to check out our site–one that an actual person puts time and energy into, and which has way better information than any bot generated site. Also, I have no idea now how many people have read articles from our site because I don’t know how many people have read them on other, aggregator sites. This is a bummer because I’d like to be able to count those eyeballs when I’m out looking for grants (and just to be able to accurately judge our reach).

      Plagarism has now become automated–and it isn’t a good thing.

      1. Garrett Pace

        “Plagarism has now become automated–and it isn’t a good thing.”

        I’d worry more if there wasn’t so little out there worth stealing.

        1. lambert strether

          “So little worth stealing.” Maybe that means that the Gresham’s dynamic has already kicked in.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            “[I]f $omething need$ being $aid, there $houldnt be a price on it.” Ah, the idea that true idealists don’t need to pay the bills, because if they were really pure in heart, they’d work for freeloaders for nothing. I don’t know why this idea is so prevalent on the left. It’s like the idea that great artists should live in garrets in Paris, because that builds character.

            1. juliania

              Blame Socrates. Sophists got paid; he didn’t. (Xantippe’s on your side, though.)

            2. jrs

              Well there’s getting paid (a musician charging admission at the door for a performance) and there’s IP and why anti-IP sentiment is popular with the left should be pretty obvious. Maybe if IP wasn’t used to justify the abuses it was and wasn’t hand in glove with the corporate state (did Hedges coin the term corporate state?) but was decided on the basis of what actually best serves the common good it would be another matter.

                1. Yves Smith

                  Straw man. We are talking about written works. Please tell me when someone was at risk of death from not being able to read a newspaper article, novel, or op-ed.

              1. Lambert Strether

                Category error; information does not have wants. What Brand can only have meant is that some humans would like information to be free. They would, wouldn’t they?

                1. EconCCX

                  @Lambert What Brand can only have meant is that some humans would like information to be free. They would, wouldn’t they?

                  More likely that information is easily replicable and tends to diminish in price over time, the protections of the law and the preferences of its creators notwithstanding.

  9. Ann Barnds

    Read Lewis Hyde’s “Common as Air: Revolution, Art and Ownership” for a more nuanced discussion of ownership and shared use of ideas. I am not commenting on Hedges’ behavior, but hoping to raise questions about the notions of all ideas as strict property. Finally, Richard Posner on property and theft is a suspect authority, for me anyway, as his ideas about property led him to posit that a rapist is just a “sex thief”. (In Sex and Reason, p. 182, although I had help locating the actual source here:

    1. lambert strether

      Art is a lot more like the collective enterprise at the Baltimore Sun than anything else, so there are a lot of extenuating circumstances. And when I throw Posner in the same bucket as that creepy whackjob Leo Strauss, that should say something.

  10. Eeyores enigma

    Yes because the message doesn’t matter. The important thing is to be witty, clever, erudite, and verbose enough to hide you bias and intimidate most readers into thinking “wow this must be important thinking here”.

    You obviously neither understand the issue (no it’s not all about things banking/financial) nor how severe it is to the continued existence of civil society. I suspect it is more important for you to continue to do what you do than to cut to the chase and champion an issue, which is true for just about everyone so what can we expect.

  11. ltr

    The New Republic as the Daily Beast is only after personal destruction of any person who takes any position the editors do not agree with. I would never so much as click on either TNR or Beast any longer, thinking to do so would demean me. I noticed from a stray comment on Economist’s View, the Beast was trying to destroy Stephen F. Cohen yesterday because Cohen has been trying to actually understand Russia and not vilify Russia.

    Enough with these monster publications.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      To my mind, the sourcing from a Harpers’ fact checker is one of the things that made a prima facie case. If the career “progressives” at TAP and Salon hadn’t circled the tribal wagons, perhaps we could be hashing this out in a forum that, unlike TNR, doesn’t call for a set of rubber gloves while reading it (except for Joan Walsh, of course).

  12. DakotabornKansan

    Dueling Christophers …

    “Chris Hedges Defends Himself Against Accusations of Plagiarism—and Christopher Ketcham Responds,”

    I don’t know what to make of this shit storm. It seems there has been a rush to bash Hedges. I’ve always liked Hedges’ writings. I’m sure he has made a lot of enemies over the years. Is this article accusing him of plagiarism payback? Recall The New Republic’s article takedown of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald earlier this year. Who owns TNR and do they have an agenda?

    “The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” – George Orwell

    Lambert, thank you for the observations on plagiarism.

    I was reminded of these observations on plagiarism by Mark Twain:

    “I know one thing — that a certain amount of pride always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride protects a man from deliberately stealing other people’s ideas. That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man — and admirers had often told me I had nearly a basketful — though they were rather reserved as to the size of the basket.” – Mark Twain, “Unconscious Plagiarism,” speech, 1879

    ”But lemme correct you in one thing — I mean soothe you with one fact: a considerable part of every book is an unconscious plagiarism of some previous book. There is no sin about it. If there were, and it were of the deadly sort, it would eventually be necessary to restrict hell to authors — and then enlarge it.” – Mark Twain, letter to editor of Grants Pass Observer dated April 2, 1887; reprinted in The Morning Oregonian, May 4, 1910

    1. Savonarola

      Look, TNR might have an agenda. I certainly don’t read the publication any more, and haven’t for decades. But if you read the piece itself, it is an exposition of FACTS. It is the very definition of a “hit piece” that it trucks in innuendo. This piece lines up what Hedges submitted as his own, and then lines up what other people wrote, and draws the open conclusion that he takes work from other people. It’s easy to mess up and forgot where you got an idea. The hard work of writing for public consumption is to go back and find it and attribute it.

      He is at best incredibly sloppy and at worst dishonest. Bottom line. And his editors might just be idiots if they never caught this, or they might be cowards for catching it and not being brave enough to challenge Hedges on it. But the FACTS in Ketcham’s piece speak for themselves. And as noted, plagiarism is not just dishonest and lazy, but destroys things we claim to value like original thought and honest discourse.

      1. William

        Yes it is up to managers and editors to actually read and edit the work of their writers. They should have several, at the least, sit-down meetings with new writers to discuss attribution policy as well as writing style and skill development. All but one of the department managers I’ve worked with have done this. It is because they themselves are not writers and were hired only to manage budget and personnel. I wonder how true this is of public media outlets.

    2. docg

      “I’ve always liked Hedges’ writings.”

      How do you know they were his?

      Once someone goes down that path, that person is finished. This is the best of all reasons for avoiding plagiarism, or anything that might even look like it. It’s probably the most self destructive thing a writer can do. Because once ONE such instance is discovered it casts doubt on EVERY other thing you’ve written.

      As a teacher I discovered several instances of plagiarism, probably because I was diligent enough to track it down when I suspected it. And always the answer was the same: “Oh, I thought this was what you expected. I was just trying to give you want you wanted.”

      I even had a student who plagiarized a fellow student’s paper who was in the same class! I suppose she got away with it before so she saw no harm in it.

      Thank you, Lambert, for a thoughtful and responsible essay on this all too common and insidious problem. I will never read anything by Chris Hedges again. And yes, I read the response by Hamsher, which disgusted me. The article in question presented several instances of clear cut plagiarism, comparing whole paragraphs, and she doesn’t even bother reading it all the way through. So much for her as well.

      1. jrs

        I’ve always liked Hedges analysis, so I’ll continue reading. But the analysis might not be entirely original? Yea analysis, of our political economic situation no less, seldom is entirely original. So then what source of Hedges should I be reading instead of Hedges that’s better?

      2. Lambert Strether

        “How do you know they were his?” Ding ding ding ding!

        However, at least read Hedges’s response(s); there are links elsewhere on this thread. I said “prima facie case,” meaning there’s a case to answer; that’s not the same as a done deal.

  13. Middle Seaman

    The post attempts to classify copy and paste intellectually. Evaluating the possibility that copy isn’t necessary a major crime in some circumstances. I am not sure that the classification here satisfies the needs, but since most commenters so far didn’t really object that is all on that.

    The Hedges case show examples of copy and paste of someone’s “proprietary” thinking and wording. It’s essentially in your face “that’s her work, now it’s mine.” The Baltimore Sun’s police reporting that became standardized with the years. That makes flexible copy and paste advisable like “can I use your screwdriver?” Newspaper writing, for example, has become highly non-personal and pedestrian that an App will do the writing in a few years.

    Books aren’t written in haste. Time is available to consider sentences and words. Copy and paste just can’t be justified here. Art is different in many ways. The existing must be reused in one form or another. The Mona Lisa reappears a lot but always with a major twist (and seldom very successfully). The Notre Dam in Paris is painted or photographed time and again, never the same way.

  14. McMike

    Having read most of the TNR piece (not all; it IS way too damn long and wastes a lot of words), it is pretty clear that Hedges has a problem (assuming TNR is not making the stuff up). It may be a hit piece, but if it has its facts straight, it is a damning one.

    Reminds me more than a little of Eliot Spitzer. The guy must know on some level that his enemies will use anything they can against him, even if they have to make it up. Yet they can’t seem to stop themselves from making it easy for them.

    Hedges knows how the game is played, and he knows the rules. This sort of repeated obvious plagiarism is practically a call for help. It was bound to catch up with him. (Unless it is some sort of game of eleven dimensional chess…. )

    As we well know, many of our revered leaders were great womanizers, or jerks, or whatever. Great revolutionaries surely steal ideas and slogans and personas from others and appropriated them for themselves. But much of that occurred back before mass dissemination and other norms/conventions enabled their opponent to use it quite so well against them. (This comes in the wake of that revisionist hit piece on Caesar Chavez I was last month).

    It is a damn shame, we wonder; why can’t Hedges just have a mea culpa moment, a nolo contendere confession? It would be refreshing… “yes, I am overworked, there’s so much to do… or: in my mind I see the world as one big flow of ideas, like in the movie Matrix, and the ideas get jumbled, and in this sort of fugue state I lose track of what I thought versus what I heard… or: I do not subscribe to ownership of ideas, they are thrown out there to be reused and riffed off of, like jazz music, you may think you know the original author, but you are probably wrong… or whatever.”

    But of course, he can’t do that. Our society does not allow confessions. It does not forgive. Confessions are a sign of weakness, a guarantee of legal liability, a chink in the armor, a punch line for late night TV, a cause for dismissal and relegation to a last lap on Barbara Walters then into the purgatory of VH1 retrospectives.

    We do now want our leaders to be human, and we are in fact highly unforgiving of them when they turn out to be so. I believe that liberals are much more stringent than conservatives in this tendency.

    And of course also, Hedges is probably every bit as much caught up in whatever hangup he’s caught up in. Unable to extricate himself now, or even visualize an exit strategy. (There are several Brady Bunch episodes that cover this escalating lie phenomena).

    What interests me is what this says about us.

    There is something about leadership, even righteous leadership, that seems to attract people with major so-called character flaws. I think it in fact requires the flaws as part of the package; who else has the drive to get up each day and roll a rock up the hill? Who else is willing to stick their necks out, suffer the slings and arrows, and make the personal sacrifices, etc.?

    [Sidebar: go Google “slings and arrows.” Does my use of it here without attribution constitute plagiarism, insider cultural riffing/sampling, or has the phrase entered the public domain?]

    We as a culture, and the left in particular, treat our revolutionary leaders with a bad case of Madonna/Whore complex. We want them to be fierce, untiring, and selfless, we also want them to be perfect, flawless, and pure. And when they (inevitably) let us down, we either stick our heads in the sand and blindly ignore the issue, are we reject them and become unforgiving to the extreme. There is no middle ground of understanding and acceptance. The heroes, in other words, have become icons, symbols, or Gods…. anything but fellow human beings.

    What does this say about us?

    I think they are much like artists. But we are for some reason more accepting of character flaws in artists, we almost expect it.

    What does this say about us?

    I have noted in my mainly written interactions with thought leaders and original thinkers is that they are universally terse, self-confident in the extreme, and a little bit stand-offish. Are they jerks? Are they busy? Are they tired of fighting the same fight over and over? Is this nature or nurture?

    Have you ever seen anyone on Charlie Rose who wasn’t fully composed, fully self-aggrandizing, fully confident in their slice of wisdom? No. In fact, too much willingness to admit ambiguity, too much self-doubt, too much humility on TV comes across as weak, equivocating, and not at all inspirational.

    It seems to me that Hedges has a plagiarism problem. The question that interests me is will we allow this problem, or his failure to adequately come clean on it, be enough to allow his enemies – OUR enemies – to neutralize him? What standard do we use for this? What if it was not plagiarism, but pedophilia? Or womanizing? Or alcoholism? Which character flaws are fatal to the remainder of their life’s work and meaning?

    In the end, it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    1. Banger

      I have indeed seen a person on Chareley Rose that differed from all the others–his name was Hunter S. Thompson–you can see him on YouTube.

      1. McMike

        Yeah, and the mainstream did everything it could to marginalize him as a kook and addled – ignoring the message and focusing on the medium.

        Actually, HST was every bit as self-assured and unequivocal as the rest. He was just coming from a different direction, and with a less, um, polished, delivery.

        1. FederalismForever

          The “mainstream” did that? To the contrary, he absolutely reveled in his outsider status.

    2. Virmont

      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
      ― Theodore Roosevelt

  15. ScottW

    As an attorney, we find plagiarism the highest form of flattery. While we must accurately cite points of law and cases, legal reasoning is fair game for anyone else to use. The greatest complement is when a court lifts directly from a brief in writing an opinion, or when another attorney uses your legal arguments. No attribution needed in either instance.

    Having represented journalists for decades, I understand plagiarism in newspapers, blogs or books is viewed quite differently. However, I have found most journalists do not understand copyright law and either interpret fair use too liberally, or conservatively, depending on which side of the writing fence they sit. Those who read unattributed facts or quotes from their articles in competing outlets complain the author stole their work, while those using the same in their articles, now facing complaint, argue the material is in the pubic domain so what’s the harm? On both sides the arguments are mostly ticky, tacky, fueled more by professional pride than substantive complaint.

    Having read the Hedge’s hit piece, I think the title conveys more of the author’s intent than the substance of the piece. Hedges is a “Plagiarist” and now he will have to live with that label smeared on him by people who have always hated his work. They will be joined by those who, you know, detest plagiarism, no matter how big or small it may be. Because if you are a journalist/author and defend or blow off the charges against Hedges, what does that say about you? You support plagiarism?

    So, Lambert, to answer your question: “Is it OK with you if either I (lambert) or Yves start publishing other people’s material under our own names without attribution?” Objection. The question is vague without providing sufficient factual specificity. It’s like asking, “Do you believe a thief should be locked up in prison,” without specifying the facts of the crime.

    But I will answer despite my objection. It depends. The materiality of what you publish from others, under your name, is the key inquiry and how it relates to your piece. If after reviewing thousands of your writings, I find you failed to provide an attribution in a single graph of a long post, or cite facts in a similar manner as another author without attribution, or lift some quotes, I would not label you a plagiarist, nor would it negatively effect my opinion of you as a writer. Maybe you were sloppy–aren’t we all–but you are not a plagiarist because that word should be reserved for the greatest offenses. While the author from whom you lift the material may complain, it does not make me respect your work any less. Why should it if the vast substance and opinions contained therein are your own? However, if you lift entire columns from other authors, trying to pawn them off as your own, or the plagiarized material is the sum and substance of your work, then I am not really reading your work, but someone else’s. It’s all a matter of degree–as is everything in life.

    As for Hedges–I have read much of his work and greatly respect his contribution and how he has gotten me to think about subjects few other writers touch. The alleged “plagiarism” is so trite and had nothing to do with the formulation of my opinion about Hedges, the author. The problems noted in no way detract from the questions he poses, the analysis he injects into the debate. Should he have given attribution to Hemingway, Postman, Klein, and the rest–of course. But I think they would all forgive him for any lapse in judgment, relative to the contributions he has made. I rest my case.

    1. Mcmike

      Hmm, well, I think there are two different questions: (1) did he plagiarize, and (2) what should the consequence be? (i.e crime versus punishment).

      It seems pretty clear for me that he plagiarized rather heartily, and past experience shows that once a certain threshold is reached we will probably find a lot more instances once people start really digging. The effort it took to copy the entire text and cadence of the Orwell/Huxley passage is a notable example that is pretty hard to write off as accident and elevates more likely to begging/daring to get caught. The guy is an academic and trained experienced journalist who has operated at the highest levels, not some Afghan intern who can claim ignorance of our cultural conventions and legal precedence. Hell, he has surely witnessed enough scandals involving other plagiarists to make me wonder what went through his mind, and why not given his exposure as an opponent of the status quo be double careful?

      So the question is what do we do with it? To me, that is dependent on what he does next, having been, well, caught.

      The scarlet P can be a serious punishment, in some circles.

      But it is also true that we must decide, if he is indeed tried and convicted in a FAIR court, should he be above the law, or perhaps do the laws not apply to him? (reasonable arguments might be made for the latter). Or do we need to punish even him, in order to maintain the integrity of our system?

    2. Yves Smith

      My intellectual property lawyer takes a much less forgiving view of lifting entire paragraphs than you apparently do. She works for one of the boutiques that specialized in IP and wrote the US government’s first policies on IP (over 80% of which are still intact, which is not bad for an over 30 year old effort). So did the publisher of my book, McMillan

      1. ScottW

        What makes you think I am more forgiving than your IP attorney? If I represented you and you pointed me to people who ripped off your work either in part, or in total, I would strenuously object. I have written many a cease and desist letter demanding that ripoff websites take down articles they stole from our newspapers. People profiting off your work is illegal. But I have also counseled reporters who pointed me to articles that took their facts and republished them–not a violation of copyright law. You can’t copyright a quote, although the correct protocol is to provide attribution.

        It appears from Hedges’ response he corrected oversights for which he failed to give attribution. Since the TNR piece provides none of the paragraphs he allegedly ripped off in the Harper’s submission, there is no way to judge the severity of the offense. The citations of other passages written without attribution should be corrected, but in light of his huge body of work, for critics to claim he has a real plagiarism problem, is in my opinion, not correct. If more issues arise than have already been outlined in the article I will review my opinion. But I think concluding that Hedges cannot be trusted, or his body of work is not worth considering because of the cited claims is plain wrong, and politically motivated by many.

        1. tomk

          I haven’t seen anyone in comments here, or at FDL suggest that his (or somebody’s ) body of work is not worth considering because of the plagiarism, much less conclude that. The criticism I’ve seen, including the original TNR article, seem regretful, and not politically motivated at all. My hope is that a side effect of this opportunity for discussion will be to bring Hedges’ work more attention, as well as bring him to pay closer attention to making sure his work is all his.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      “I think the title conveys more of the author’s intent than the substance of the piece.” You’re aware that in most editorial contexts (although not blogs) the editors write the headlines, not the authors? (That’s because the headline, at least for a publication that has a print version, needs to fit on the cover, work with whatever the layout artist comes up with, etc.)

      As to “it’s all a matter of degree,” did you read the degrees explicitly listed in the NOTE? I suggest that we are still looking at “a big deal” in terms of degrees, regardless of the fact that (of course) there are degrees.

      Personally, I hope that Hedges is “forgiven” too. But for the sake of, let’s call it “informational hygiene” (Neal Stephenson) on the left, the transgression needed to be called out, and forgiveness sought and granted. (As opposed to tribal pom pom waving, not that you’re engaging in that, where “It’s OK because he’s our guy.” I get plenty of that from Obots. I don’t need any more.)

    4. docg

      “As for Hedges–I have read much of his work . . . ”

      How do you know it’s his?

      Only a lawyer could write like this. Sad.

  16. Foppe

    I’ll offer two thoughts in response. First off, copying without attribution (~= plagiarism) in a culture where one can earn a living by producing text is problematic insofar as someone’s doing so potentially decreases another’s revenues, or increase his/her own. This need not be 0-sum, though, because different people can have different readerships, which need not (meaningfully) overlap. So to the extent that readerships are unchanging, it may not matter much (economically) that someone else is plagiarizing your work.

    As for the trust issue: you’re still attaching your name to the thoughts you’re printing, so you’re giving people the idea that they should accept the text provided because they approve of the person behind the text. If you are printing stupid thoughts under your own name, you will be giving off the impression that you’re stupid; if you’re printing clever thoughts in your name, you will be giving off the impression that you as the author are clever. I understand what you’re trying to say when you say that you’re deceiving people into thinking that you’re more insightful or educated than you are, but it seems to me that this only matters to the extent that giving off the impression that you are such a person is really your goal in publishing certain texts using certain pen names. (Consider how your discussion relates to publishing different texts under different pen names, in which case you’re deliberately disassociating your textual persona (if you’ll allow me to use that as shorthand for ‘the kind of person that appears to be behind the texts that were penned/published under that name’) from the text that you’re presenting at that moment. To the extent that trust is an issue, I’d say it only matters to the extent that the reader wants to get to know the author, or conversely, to the extent that the author is writing about the topics he/she writes about to give off a certain impression.

  17. John Mc

    Appreciate the time, energy and thought it took you to put all this together Lambert. I think you do a good job of culling out why plagiarism not only has implications for writers, but also readers and society. This question really fits into the asked and answered already category, but we live during a period where ignorance regurgitates some of more respected conclusions previously digested.

    I tend to agree with DakotabornKansan here. There should be some institutional analysis to follow the Hedges accusation, even though in reading the piece, it appeared it would be hard for Hedges to dig himself out of this (no pun intended with truthdig). Nonetheless, there was some definite grief I experienced when I read about this as I have depended upon Hedges and about 30 or 40 other writers/journalists/academics to help me understand what has happened in this society. It is incredibly destabilizing to consider one of the people you consider to be part of the solution to take on the arrogance and acts of plagiarism he is being accused of. So, in a way, I prefer to hear what Hedges has to say on this and trust that there is some explanation which may make this much more clearer — plagiarism or not.

  18. impermanence

    The idea that you can “own” a thought is truly bizarre.

    What people won’t come up with in order to take what is another’s and make it their own.

    1. McMike

      Sure. But the norms, rules, and conventions of one’s trade and community must matter somehow, no?

      It’s an interesting conundrum in fact. Hedges could have credibly opened a dialog about ownership of ideas. But only of course at the risk of suffering lawsuits, editorial banishment, not to mention having to apply the same principles to his own published works (which he may or may not want to do personally, but probably at the protest of his publisher).

    2. John Mc

      There is something in between owning the truth and crediting those who have been working on it with you? No?

      1. impermanence

        No. Since all things are in constant flux [thinking being the easiest way to appreciate such], imagine attempting to own a thought. A thought, in a myriad of ways, would have changed before it was ever perceived [in that the conditions that gave rise to it, changed].

        This is but one of the absurdities of claiming ownership of that which is impossible to grasp [in any realistic way].

        1. John Mc

          You seem to be jacked up on the absurdity of claiming ownership. I cannot honestly say that I reject your thesis. In fact, our individualistic culture uses ownership as cudgel to discipline the masses in many institutions.

          Despite this, I am merely suggested that acknowledging those who have written on the subject (9 times out of 10, in more prolific and insightful, edited ways) deserve credit. Not for the ownership aspect, but to help writers, readers, and the public understand the depth, nuance of content and to serve as a reminder of work important to the dialogue. In my mind, one of the biggest problems we face is a collective “forgetting” of history (especially, financial, class, and economic history). The middle ground here resist private knowledge excesses but celebrates disciplined and honored thinking.

          1. impermanence

            There is no, “forgetting of history.” The same things happen over and over again because this is the intention.

            Individual thinking is way over-rated, as it is collective knowledge that is important. This is why IP is kind of a joke. Everything good that exists, does so because of the efforts of many. All great thinkers understand this.

            1. John Mc

              Impermanence, your points tend to be a bit dogmatic and very black/white (dripping with certainty). I do not know if this pattern is a defense mechanism to show everyone that you have knowledge, others do not or if this is some other issue (making this particular topic touchy).

              Nonetheless, I think to claim that there is no “forgetting of history” is to miss the last half of the century’s distraction of consumerism, and self-indulgent ineptitude (as Hedges points out —> the infantalism symbology, regression and liberal institutional forgetting of the traditional mission, predilection for spectacle, fantasy and violence) confirms many of us have forgotten our history (something Howard Zinn discussed in detail too).

              Lastly, to claim that the same things happen over and over is about as insightful as using the shades of grey metaphor to describe nuance. Neoliberal patterns have evolved and have changed over time (see Philip Mirowski’s book: Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste”.

              — please avoid telling us what all great thinkers believe (as your standard for great thinking is uncertain and unverifiable). It smacks of arrogance, usually in the internet world, undeserved.

              1. impermanence

                As long as we are all bullshitting, might as well do it with confidence, no? Having stated such, I believe it is reasonable to suggest that what happens, happens because it is EXACTLY what is planned [more or less].

                All of the houses and hotels end up on just a couple of players properties because this is how the game is played. If you care to cut through all the intellectual non-sense, you can begin to see that, in simplicity, you will find the truth, and that absolute simplicity is absolute truth.

        2. McMike

          Is it absurd for an artist to sign his work?

          Is it Right Living to scratch off an artist’s name, and write in your own?

          1. impermanence

            I would imagine that a truly great artist could care less about the work after it is completed. Otherwise, s/he is producing commodities, not art.

            1. Lambert Strether Post author

              “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” – Samuel Johnson

              C’mon. Art’s been commoditized back to Praxiteles, if not before.

            2. Yves Smith

              You’ve just revealed you know nothing about art or artists. The great artists of the Renaissance (Michalangelo, Titian, etc.) were all businessmen with large-scale studios and junior artists who helped produce their work. Van Gogh died convinced he was a failure because (depending on which account you believe) he either never sold a single painting or sold only one.

              Similarly, Picasso was once having lunch on the Cote d’Azur. It was late and the restaurant was nearly empty. A man at the next table recognized him and asked if he might draw something for him. Picasso made a quick sketch on a napkin and signed it. When the man tried to take the napkin, Picasso pulled it back and said, “That will be $1,000.” [as in $10,000 or $20,000 in current dollars].

              “What do you mean?” the man said. “That took you only a few minutes.”

              “No,” said Picasso. “It took a lifetime.”

              1. impermanence

                Yves, you are correct, I know nothing about art or artists, but I do understand human nature. A great artist will let go of her art as soon as it is completed.

                If the story about Picasso is accurate, then it certainly reveals a great deal about the man.

  19. Elliot

    replying to ScottW:

    This, 1000x. That TNR article is a hit piece, and shamefully so. But then, that’s TNR and not surprising. Thank you ScottW for clearing away the weeds on the topic of plagiarism.

    It’s sad to see people who should see Hedges as a natural ally in the battle for human decency fall for the cloaked venom encased in a rather hysterical call to protect intellectual property. As things devolve in the US, we need to be clear about the motivations of pieces like the TNR on Hedges and not grab the shiny objects they proffer.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Your comment is about as tribal as anything on the FDL comment page, a lot of which (frankly) shocked me.

      Grant that the accusation is true, instead of there merely being a prima facie case. Why do you feel that thieves, fraudsters, and betrayers are your “natural allies”? I would have thought they would be happier in one of the two major parties.

      NOTE What has “hysterical” about the piece? ZOMG!!!! Lots of exclamation points?!??!? TOO MANY CAPS?

  20. astrid

    If you or Yves failed to attribute my work, I might be slightly miffed at the lack of nicety, but far more happy to see my ideas seen and discussed by a wider audience. I cannot get worked up about this at all, just as I cannot get worked up when generic pharmaceutical companies “steal” IP to produce life saving drugs at affordable costs or teenagers “steal” music made by long dead musicians. Good compelling ideas and useful information are good for their own sake, they should be the property of the entire populace from then onward, and not tied to the parochial possessiveness of the person who first chanced upon them. The first discover might indeed deserve a finder’s fee from society, but we’re gone way too far in the other direction and made them the “owners” of *their intellectual property*.

    Plagarism is a misdemeanor at worst, it’s failure to observe the niceties of attribution. It’s nothing compared to the sort of things that TNR happily approves, such as Israel’s genocidal policies in Palestine, the warmongering of successive US governments, the impoverishment of the 99% the World over, and bailing out the 1% over and over again.

    Even if Hedges had plagarized 100% of his content from other sources without attribution, we’re looking at a case of intellectual kleptomania (since he could have easily attributed but apparently can’t help himself) and no more. It should not in itself discredit any ideas that Hedges advocated nor necessarily discredit Hedges as a public intellectual.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks for being so open. So, I take it you’re 100% OK with the idea that I (moi, lambert) or Yves can go out, copy somebody else’s article, and put it up at NC without attribution? Great, because that’s a lot less work and stress, but will you still put anything in the tip jar at fundraising time? Why or why not?

    2. FederalismForever

      @astrid. So many of the “pro-plagiarism” comments in this thread reflect a mindset that is eerily similar to the mindset that would excuse insider trading or front running.

    3. rur42

      TNR approve bad things; Hedges approves good things.

      Therefore Hedges “intellectual kleptomania” is inconsequential.

      Not sure I see the logic.

  21. Colinjames

    I don’t care how big a name or “important” one is to any given cause, it’s intellectual dishonesty and just straight up wrong. Further, the attempts at bullying the fact checker at Harper’s, the evasion on Hedges’ part, and his protection by the Nation point to exactly the kind of egomaniacal, elite power-broker circle-the-wagons kind of corruption that we see with Wall St and the Justice Dept (while not as criminal or consequential) that I’m sure he’s had plenty to complain about, making him a big hypocrite on top of it. I never was a big fan of Hedges but now I have zero respect for him, period.

  22. Paul P

    Chis Hedges raises issues others don’t touch.

    There are other things on the continuum of copying without attribution. The MSM briefing book, where a speaker is really a part of a chorus whose goal is to shape opinion. And, on the higher levels of propaganda, we have institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations which seek to develop a consensus among business, media, and political elites on long term strategy for the country and the world.
    This blog exposes the robotic, faith based, ideological economics that dominates the academy and brainwashes its students, each parroting nonsense, the result of which Alan Greenspan can proclaim markets to be self regulating and not get put away. A lot of people saying the same things, in similar words, from the same sources to limit thought and promote control.
    Who is the plagiarist here?

  23. Banger

    You make an interesting case and you bring p a lot of issues but I don’t find your arguments compelling and find it odd that this is considered a “big deal.” I think it could be a big deal in particular situations that involve, say, someone taking credit for something they didn’t do and getting fame and money for publishing someone else’s work–that is not so much plagiarism but fraud. Much depends on the damage/rewards involved not the sin itself.

    Let em start with Hedges since our discussion of the case inspired this post. Hedges was a war correspondent who, in my view, is suffering from some variant of PTSD–he himself admits to being deeply scarred by the experiences he’s had and I know, from knowing one war correspondent (meaning someone who actually is one, not the hacks who stay in hotels, and I understand how that can affect a life. That is no “excuse” for Hedges’ plagiarism which, having read the NRP piece goes beyond mere carelessness. Since, unlike most American intellectuals, I have a healthy respect for the unconscious and the fact that most of us are fragmented I know many people who do very messed up things almost without knowing we did–almost like there are parts of us that come out at various times and undermine our efforts or, to be crude, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing which may account for Hedges’ actions. Certainly his books are first-rate and his attributions are frequent and show great erudition and a subtle understanding of history and society. He didn’t need to plagiarize–he has great writing chops. If everyone in journalism had Hedges’ sensibility and writing skills and had read as broadly (my own impression of journalists is that they are, considering their responsibilities and fancy university degrees, not very interested in deep ideas let alone particularly erudite). So I have to say–give me a hundred Hedges and a hundred of the top journos who write for the mainstream and I’ll take the multitude of Hedges, and their plagiarism any day of the week–wouldn’t you?

    So here are things I consider a big deal: climate change, war and bloodshed, social justice, gangster-capitalism and many of the important issues discussed here everyday. Plagiarism, despite your argument that it is fraud ranks somewhere above being pompous (a favorite critique contra-Hedges at NC) and somewhat below holding false documents proving you graduated from a major college when you didn’t on a job application. Or maybe it is worse than that–let’s assume it is. So let’s look at the “responsible” jouros out there who suffered not in the least for “believing” that there were WMDs (kind of a misnomer since it was basically nerve gas not nuclear weapons) in Iraq in 03 when any real reporter would have known that was unlikely considering what was well known by many people who had followed the issue an read Scott Ritter and other experts on the matter. I submit to you that many if not most of the journos who were cheerleading for war (what better way to get a good career than cooperate with the security services at a time when civil liberties were suspended) simply knew what side of the bread got the butter an acted accordingly as they do daily just as much now as they did then. But much worse than these hacks, presumably, is Hedges who wasn’t irresponsible in his outspoken attempt to stand for the truth when it was unpopular and got him fired from that pinnacle of truthyness the NYT (lol) but took his role in society seriously. We need to weigh his sins against his virtues and those of his contemporaries in journalism–we can’t make the cut and dried rules you made in your post, at least not in my view–evidently you prefer cut and dried legalism and I find the whole rule structure of this structure to be toxic so we differ there for sure. Meanwhile those sneaky little weasels who won their editors’ praise for being stenographers to the intel services (who have straight out told the media they regard information as a legit weapon of war they intend to use against the American people) are just fine, presumably, in contrast to Hedges. Their actions resulted in who knows how many deaths as well as the social disintegration of Iraq and some of the surrounding region but at least they did not commit the crime of plagiarism.

    I don’t get it Lambert–sure plagiarism is a problem as is boorishness, drunken frat boys, shoplifting, cheating on your spouse (causes real pain), false documents, downloading term papers and claiming them as your own, cheating on taxes and so on but does it really rise to the level you claim? I see the victims of the false reporting of most reporters in the wars we have fought and those that these same reporters try to get us into (e.g., Syria). I see the victims of all the critical issues not covered, not examined when there was a “debate” on the health-care reform where the press was almost criminally negligent in their coverage of the issue as you know since this is, rightfully, a pet issue of yours–the facts were clear and unambiguous, i.e., the issue had been solved and taken care of by dozens of societies yet no one knew about these schemes just as few Americans know about much of anything of significance like the fact Europeans get five to six weeks vacation or that French workers, who work less, are more productive than American workers and so on and so and so on and so on–all these things and plagiarism is a problem? When Hedges’ sins hurt mainly him and some of those who he stole from and certainly not the public. I don’t see bodies lying around because of plagiarism. And you worry about that?

    Just as background, I disagree with Hedges on several major issues but he has a first-rate mind a rarity these days (yes, I know he is pompous). Also, I think it was rude, and selfish for him to have done what he did and it shows me he is confused and flawed and not to be entirely trusted–but his record speaks for itself.

    1. Yves Smith

      I make my living as a writer these days. And it is damned hard to make a living as a writer.

      Stealing my work IS a big deal. Period. If I found someone had stolen entire paragraphs and not attributed it, I would call them out on my blog as a plagiarist.

      When I wrote ECONNED, I not only attributed religiously (you can seen hundreds of footnotes), my publisher had to write the authors of every blockquote I used to get permission to reproduce the text even with it understood that we were making an attribution. I similarly get requests for permission to use entire posts or very substantial portions of them, again with attribution. Hedges knows the rules. He apparently thought someone of his stature didn’t need to bother

      1. McMike

        I am not sure Hedges is thinking clearly on this at all. But I do not suspect that the Leona Helmsley line of reasoning is where he is coming from.

        I’d like to believe (like, yes, perhaps projection), that whatever led him to this place is less consciously pathological.

      2. Banger

        I had a good friend who made a living as an editor for a major publishing house (also a published author of a very good book)–you were lucky to get such good care–most authors don’t get that kind of attention–Hedges may not have gotten that much attention.

        1. Yves Smith

          Palgrave did not give me “good care”. I fought tooth and nail on them on a lot of issues (among other things they were very rigid about deadlines, which is very unusual in the world of books, and then kept doing things that made it hard to meet them). I basically had to hire my own editor, for instance. But they were punctilious about legal issues.

      3. ltr

        “Hedges knows the rules. He apparently thought someone of his stature didn’t need to bother.”

        Well, I trust you completely and I am sorry that Mr. Hedges undermined his own work by using the work of others.

      4. AEL

        Please recall that copyright violation is *not* theft.
        You have not been deprived of your work.

        Using the words “theft” and “stealing” is incorrect and muddles understanding of what is happening.

        1. Yves Smith

          I make money by having people visit my site. They see my ads. I get revenues based on how many people see those ads.

          Having people read my copy on other sites enables THEM to derive revenue based on my work, that they have not paid for. And while not all of those readers would have come to my site, some of them would have, and some of them would even become regular readers.

          So they are earning revenues at a direct cost to me.

          How is that not stealing?

          1. abynormal

            Scarecrow Alert…

            drug companies make money by having people buy overpriced drugs. They get revenues based on how many people buy those drugs

            Having people take cheap generic drugs enables THEM to derive revenue based on drug company work, that they have not paid for.

            So they are earning revenues at a direct cost to Big Pharma

          2. AEL

            You may indeed have a tort for copyright violation (assuming that the offense rises to that level).

            It is not,however, theft. You have no true property rights to ‘your’ (particularly composed) words as they are not physical objects. You may have a (limited) government sanctioned monopoly either in copyright, trademark, or patent law.

            If you do not believe me, I suggest you make a complaint to the police the next time it happens and see if they file charges for theft.

      5. impermanence

        I believe the problem lies not in the “stealing” of the written word, but instead, that people believe it should have an economic value to begin with. If people simple wrote because they felt the impetus, imagine how much less non-sense there would be in print.

        And this goes for all the other ridiculous things that people get paid for [that produce zero economic value].

        1. McMike

          It would serve people well to separate the economic argument from the ethical one.

          I doubt that economic gain is the main incentive or outcome here, which is what we usually mean by theft.

          But the betrayal of values and trust in the bond of his word, that’s the real damage here.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      How do you propose to address climate change where the society-wide method of distributing information becomes based on theft, fraud, and betrayal, through a Gresham’s dynamic? Because that’s exactly what you, as a Pro-Plagiarist, are buying into. (Note the Gresham’s dynamic applies everywhere, to blogs like this one, not just major media.)

      It’s like you’re a boxer who got blinded, and you’re saying “It’s no big deal! I can still throw a punch!”

  24. Carolinian

    I can’t seem to get the reply to work–I’m sure it’s just me–but could I respectfully submit that of the screenfuls of comment on this issue only that of ScottW above, an attorney, is germaine. Plagiarism is a legal issue and courts have spent a lot of time dealing with it. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel with seat of the pants pondering (although, certainly, everyone is entitled to do so). If you like I can dial up my pal at Warner Brothers Legal for further expansion on the nature of intellectual property. It’s all they do.

    I’d also point out that “intellectual property” itself is an invented concept that didn’t even exist a few hundred years ago. Governments control the nature of this property just as they do with any property and have set limits to its extent with fair use etc. There is now a very lively debate going on as to whether these laws need to change. The expert on this would probably be Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing.

    But as to whether the reader is defrauded when author A claims credit for work by author B–how so? The reader gets the information regardless. Only the author is being deprived.

    I did finally read that New Republic piece and have to agree with ScottW that these are trivial charges. But that’s just my opinion. If the authors copied are offended they have the courts.

    I’d also point out that plagiarism charges can be a very selective sort of outrage. Supposedly Norman Finkelstein pretty much nailed Alan Dershowitz for plagiarizing Joan Peters but the result was that Finkelstein had his academic career ruined while Harvard did nothing.

    And perhaps that’s as it should be (not the vendetta against Finkelstein). There are more important issues in the world.

    1. John Mc

      “There are more important issues in the world.”

      We must not atomize ethics into issues of hierarchy. We need people to call out, hold to account those who break rules. It is simple. If we call out GSachs for trading against the public interest, front running trades, and making a market and trading on this position in the marketplace, then we should hold to account Jonah Lehrer or the plagiarist (whomever; wherever it leads). These are rules. We do not need a deregulated rules of writing. Ethics connects all of these issues.

      1. McMike

        Agreed. But it is one thing to point out the violation, and another to decide upon the ramification.

        Where some people get hung up is that the charge itself is enough in itself to serve to stifle Hedge’s ideas in punishment, which is in many’s view (and mine) an extreme sanction and one that risks losing the war along with the battle.

        But of course exactly here is where we find the slippery slope that leads people to create excuses and rationales for all sorts of cover ups and means/ends rationalizations.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The political class maintains a vast structure of bullshit and lies. It’s extremely expensive to maintain that structure; it takes think tanks by the score, the Ivy League, lots of smiling people on the teebee, and two political parties. We can’t hope to counter their bullshit and lies with our bullshit and lies. We aren’t funded to the required level. We will alway be outgunned.

          Fortunately, the truth is cheaper — at least to maintain — than the stock in trade of the political class; it’s the idea that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to keep track of what you said to whom, and when.

          That’s the principle of the thing, and that’s why I feel “no big deal” is so horribly destructive an attitude. That’s why the Hedges matter is the occasion for this thread (at least in my view) and not its topic. That said, I (and another professional) felt that the TNR article made a prima facie case (and when you think about it, who would you rather have made it? TNR, or FOX? It was going to come out; that’s what oppo is for. I don’t think this election cycle is going to be pretty for the left). If Hedges refutes it, then good for him and everyone. (Note that the post gives an example of how not to apologize, Jonah Lehrer.) Long-time readers may remember that I shared Hedges’ views on the black bloc in Occupy (a “cancer”), which is a different tribe that I imagine is piling on…

          1. Savonarola

            Lambert, this is a very pithy explanation of exactly why it matters – in general, and in this case. Hedges is supposed to be on the side of the truth.

            I’m also really distressed with the continued pro-plagiarism scrolling down these comments. I’m afraid that the culture is already way down Gresham’s path.

            I write for a living. I know exactly how bad things have gotten for those who write for a living. But worse, I see how the art of writing is being taught now because I have kids. I see how low the bar is and how they no longer teach the kind of rigorous thinking and organization that are required to think something new and then communicate it. Who wins when the bulk of the populace loses that, and loses the ability to even value it?

            When people say stupid crap like “ideas want to be free,” what they really mean is that society will not value coming up with ideas enough to pay for them. We don’t really value things in this culture until we have to shell out for them, yes. But also the use of any human gift takes time and effort. We choose which gifts to highly remunerate, and encourage, and which to pay subsistence wages. We are a culture that does not value writing and does not value original thought. I don’t think I want to go where that is leading. And I don’t know how to pull a whole culture off its track and try to go somewhere else.

            Someone above said it fairly well: ideas have provenance. When you think, you climb on the shoulders of others who thought about the same thing before and make a human chain of hearts and minds, grappling with something. Pretending that you are just that tall on your own is a sin. And it DOES call into question everything you’ve done before, because it suggests that you don’t understand your niche in the totem pole of humanity.

  25. Jake Mudrosti

    This in particular: ” we as a society could hardly have mastered the art of accounting control fraud without teaching the future perps the tricks of the trade. There’s no epidemic without carriers, after all.” Bingo!

    Regarding plagiarism in PhD theses, there’s so much raw material and interconnected threads to analyze, it makes one faint. Where to even start? Many people’s entire careers seem to be a form of performance art.

    And then of course, often accompanying plagiarism (as in a syndrome), there’s the problem of false representation — much harder to sift out than plagiarism, since it doesn’t lend itself to automated checks.
    As an example of that: would you suppose that the ocean tides are “caused by” unique moon-based powers unshared by the Sun? Well, Google/YouTube employees decided to fund this science “lesson,” with some portion of a $100 million initiative directed at the new “SciShow” channel, all while trumpeting it as one of 5 examples of education’s bold new future:

    Google/YouTube’s press contacts stonewalled and eventually ignored all inquiries about that. So… they win? Stuff like that happens because it pays?

    1. Jake Mudrosti

      Oh, and I forgot the best part:

      Not only did the YouTube “SciShow” channel receive some portion of $100 milliion, but it was heavily promoted by Google/YouTube for use in classrooms — including YouTube homepage splashes.

      I pointed out to a Google press contact that YouTube’s own terms required “primarily educational” intent for any channel included in their heavily-promoted YouTube EDU section:
      …and then asked a simple question, which I might paraphrase as : “How false would the video lessons have to be, before YouTube would no longer consider a channel to have a ‘primarily educational’ intent?”

      The Google press contact replied with a shocking answer: After YouTube had okayed a channel for inclusion in their heavily-promoted education subsection, there was no expectation of accuracy and no mechanism for either flagging or review. Only a gross violation of “community standards” would be grounds for a review.

      Small wonder that obvious plagiarism strikes certain people as A-OK, in such a culture.

  26. jrs

    Even if plagairism is a legitimate big deal, the problem is at this point it’s so easily conflated with Intellectual Property which increasing numbers of people believe is entirely illegitmate (it’s certainly abused).

  27. Jim Shannon

    Chris Hedges is telling the truth to Americans! The “Corpotate State of America” (CSA) knows full well he speaks the truth. The USA currently exists in name only and anyone who has followed the writings and reporting of him and Bill Black and Eves Smith and Barry Ritholtz or attempted to do any critical thinking and analysis of facts knows what they say is factually true. Building a case for plagerism, proves to me and should also prove to others, that he has become enemy #1 to the CSA, and is a very dangerous man who opposes their form of government!
    The CSA and its insatiable greed used every means available to corrupt the heatrs and minds of my fellow Amreicans. Their revolution against the USA and its citizens appears to be complete!

  28. EmilianoZ

    Plagiarism is a serious problem. But I have read the whole TNR piece, and if that’s all they have on Chris Hedges, then it’s next to nothing. CH has authored 10 books and hundreds of articles. So, if the TNR’s list is exhaustive then that probably represents something like 0.00000001% of CH’s output (I’m sure you can add many zeros).

    The TNR article is such an obvious hit piece. Let’s examine the few pathetic pieces of evidence they struggled to gather.

    1) The Harpers piece. Well, we cant even talk about this one since Harpers wont release CH’s draft. We don’t know if the problem concerned 5% of the manuscript, 10%, … We dont know. A lot of the alleged plagiary seems to relate to some interviews. I actually don’t find it hard to believe that some interviewees said the exact same thing to CH and Matt Katz (the plagiaree). Nowadays there’s no such thing as a candid interview. Every organization has its PR department. I used to work for an institution which I believed never needed a PR department. To my amazement I learned during a training session that they had one. I was instructed to go to them in the lottery unlikely case I ever had to speak to the media. They would probably have taught me a few bland sentences that could never in a 1000 years be used against the organization.

    2) The Hemingway plagiary. That’s laughable: 3 lines out of a whole book. I happen to have read CH’s “War is a force that gives us meaning”. It’s a very good book. There are a lot of observations much more interesting that those 3 lines. I couldn’t even remember those 3 lines. I hope that’s not the best of Hemingway. I suspect this is a case of involuntary reminiscence. Nobody creates nothing out of nothing. We all have something called a memory and it’s imperfect. I’m pretty sure I have occasionally unconsciously paraphrased Yves or some regular commenter here because I agree so much with them.

    3) The Bartosiewicz plagiary. That’s the most serious case they have against CH. He seems to have lifted whole paragraphs from Bartosiewicz. But it’s not like he didn’t cite her. He did but he didn’t say the paragraphs were from her. Here he bizarrely behaved like a thief who left his address on the crime scene. Here I would agree with Working Class Nero that CH was probably being lazy. He had a bad day. It was Sunday, he had to turn in something by Monday, he had nothing, he took a short cut. He who has never jaywalked cast the first stone.

    4) The Neil Postman plagiary. This is similar to the Hemingway case, blame it on unconscious paraphrase. I’m pretty sure that ever since “1984” and “Brave New World” were first published, thousands of people have tried to compare the 2 books.

    5) The Naomi Klein case. This is my favorite, the most ridiculous of all claims. So, CH lifted a few general background facts about global warming from Naomi Klein. What was he supposed to do? Invent some new general counter-factual facts about global warming? Let’s take another example. Just take any scientific publication on say a subject like osteoporosis. In every one of them, the first few sentences in the introduction will state a few boilerplate generalities about the disease: that it affects post-menopausal women, that it is characterized by low bone mass, that it can lead to fracture, …It’s all plagiary. What can you do? It’s just customary to state a few background generalities in the introduction. Osteoporosis is osteoporosis. CH did the same about global warming. The very fact that they had to include this absurd plagiary claim tells me how desperate they were. This is the signature of hit piece against someone that’s near unassailable.

    To sum it up: all they were able to conjure up against CH was 5 miserable cases, most of which are laughable. It’s a tempest in a thimble put through an electron microscope.

    I have no idea why liberals are so expert at splitting hairs. It’s like the other guy (I can’t remember who) said: the right always looks for converts, the left always looks for traitors.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks for the non-tribal point-by-point. I’ll address two points. First, “5 miserable cases.” Professionals disagee. I’ve given example in the post where one was taken seriously; the codes of ethics in the NOTE don’t specify a number, and I did check with a professional editor before I even posted the link. I also feel that since the initial sourcing is a Harper’s fact checker, that’s hardly “miserable,” but grounds for a prima facie case. Second, on Hemingway in War is a Force. I personally felt that one was weak. I didn’t add this material to the post, since what really ticked me off was the “no big deal” view of some Pro-Plagiarists, since I feel that could be highly damaging to NC. However, since you bring it up, this from 2003:

      I also made the case that Hedges’ plagiarism was inadvertent to my former student, Lt. Col. Ted Westhusing, who teaches at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His frank reply raises a crucial question:

      ” ‘Inadvertent plagiarism’? Inexcusable, especially from a New York Times commentator, reporter and author. Do you know what this would garner Hedges in the circles I run in? If truly ‘inadvertent,’ and if Hedges were a cadet, he might be lucky to garner only a 100-hour ‘slug.’ That is, he spends 100 hours of his free time marching back and forth in the hot sun in Central Area under full dress uniform pondering the consequences of his failure (a slug). If intentional, Hedges would get the boot. Kicked out. Gone.”

      Westinghus, readers may recall, put a bullet through his head over corruption in Iraq, so might be regarded as having a level of expertise in these matters….

      [Added more to the quote to say who Westinghus was.]

      1. ScottW

        How do you define someone as a “pro-plagiarist”? If I conclude the alleged plagiarism by Hedges is flat out wrong and inexcusable, but continue to read and respect his work, am I “pro-plagiarist?” Does that mean I excuse his plagiarism by continuing to read what he writes? Is a true “anti-plagiarist” someone who concludes that copying someone else’s work warrants immediate dismissal from the world of acceptable prose? Is it a bright line test that concludes if you lift a single sentence without attribution you are banned from future consideration, no matter the context, or totality of your work? And I fully understand, what is alleged here is more than a single sentence. But if you are a purist–anti-plagiarist to the bone–does it matter whether it is a single sentence, or more, for it it does, than you aren’t you treading into that area of excuse making until your personal line is crossed?

        I understand there is a justifiable sensitivity amongst those who make their living off the written word that the rest of us cannot fully understand. As I stated in an earlier post, I have represented hundreds of journalists, and many were justifiably outraged when someone stole their article, or sections of it. I defended them to the hilt and frankly, would not give the time of day to the trashy sites in which they were most often copied.

        I just part ways with people who conclude that because Hedges engaged in plagiarism (assuming he did), he should be cast aside never to be cited again in NC. Does that make me a “no big deal” person?

      2. jmh

        Because appeals to supposed authority are logically definitive, in some universe or other

      3. Everythings Jake

        Really, I beg you all, go watch just one or two YouTube videos of Hedges on the same tour (or not on the same tour), or more, since I think the evolution of his thinking is worth taking in. This is a man who understands (at least theoretically) the tenets of rhetoric, one or two classes shy of divinity degree. He’s friends with the like of Jeremiah Wright, who is a first class speaker (agree or disagree with his points). Hedges makes a conscious and continuing choice to disrupt the flow of his speech with a bibliography that one can barely keep up with. It drives me insane on the one hand, I want to scream “stop killing the momentum,” but on the other hand, I respect the reporter’s ethic and his choice to note source and am glad to be acquainted with so many authors I may never actually find the time to read. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be prone to error, that wouldn’t be human of him. But in a voluminous body of publicly available work (not just literary, but numerous talks and radio interviews), this is a man who takes extraordinary pains to make attribution. The reported instances represent a very slim percentage of that, and given the larger context of available evidence, human fallibility is as likely an explanation as not. Ketcham, whose disclosure of self-interest does not necessarily un-cloud his judgment, seems to find correction itself evidence of intent, which is simply a very odd leap. By the way, I say this as an ardent fan of Ketcham, who increasingly (in other contexts) spins phrases as lovely and moving and breathtaking as those crafted by Stegner.

        1. Everythings Jake

          By the way, for falling in love with Mr. Ketcham (a post I made at TNR as well for those keeping track of self-plagiarism): “An experiment of the last few years: I go to a cabin in Utah where there is no Internet, no telephone line, no cellphone signal.What happens with only the wretched self and the empty page? The attention span accords with the desert sky, wide and widening, and there is a gigantic increase in productivity. Thousands of words – good words, worth keeping – are written in a few days of deep concentration where it would have taken weeks to produce the same amount exposed to the fool’s continuum of constant access to the hive mind and the blinking screen.”

          I want a novel.

        2. lambert strether

          For whatever reason, I didn’t list being a fine and productive writer and speaker under “Extenuating Circumstances.” You, I take it, disagree. The issue comes when we to do define “fine,” for which “on our side” or “useful at least for now” are operational definitions that I, at least, regard as problematic; see the FDL comment thread.

          1. Everythings Jake

            No, I don’t think I said that, unless I misunderstand your point. What you seem to posit as an extenuating circumstance (i.e., a reason to punish less harshly), I actually offer as evidence against the charge. I think he’d be a better prophet (which I think is a fair characterization of late Hedges) if he were less devoted to making such pains to cite a attribution (sometimes multiple references) in the middle of making his point, leading me to believe these claims are instances of mistake, not purposeful theft.

      4. Everythings Jake

        Re Westinghus: Without meaning to detract, that is also evidence of an inability to recognize and accept human fallibility and frailty.

    2. JTFaraday

      Maybe nobody wants to admit they weren’t anywhere near where they were alleged to have “reported.” This would seem to have come in the wake of the Jayson Blair case, who basically got axed for not being where his reporting implied he was–(doesn’t the NYT have a travel budget?) Hedges doesn’t care about getting fired at this point, but maybe Katz does.

      Anyway, I once saw an ESL grad student expelled for “plagiarism” for ineptly paraphrasing a press release in English, her second language, when the real problem was probably that the director of the program shouldn’t have admitted her in the first place.

      oopsie. But that’s just the way some people roll.

      #2, the other day I was writing and a phrase from a Beatles song popped into my head. I looked up the rest of the lyrics and it was ridiculously relevant, and the relevant part wasn’t even the part that popped into my head. I’m not even a particularly big Beatles fan.

      re: fact checkers. This is a junior position. It would be naive to think that established writers are held to and hold themselves to the same standards that they piously preach to students as the professional standard. I was once reading something by the late Ellen Willis, NYU Journalism professor (no stealing!), when lo and behold she obviously cribs something from the sociologist Arlie Hochschild without any attribution I could discover. It turns out, the whole idea of “Think, Don’t Smile”–starting with the title– appears to be an apparently unacknowledged riff on Hochschild.

      Whoooo, who does she think she’s foolin’?

      I also wouldn’t overlook the political hit job angle. I practically can’t hear “Chris Hedges” without thinking “Chris Hedges… …out, Paul Berman and Peter Beinart in.” This was only underscored for me during Occupy, when there were no fewer than three “men of the left” involved in some way with the occupation who are known to have crossed political and/or financial nasties, and lost jobs in the process. This is really a coincidence? This is just what I happen to know—maybe these people should all get together and have tea.

      Or Hedges could just offer his mea culpas already, the same way Beinart retracted his incessant Iraq war mongering and–appeasement!– intimidation of his fellow journalistic professionals from his perch at The New Republic just in time to get himself hired into a tenure track job teaching the liberal students in the brand new Journalism program at CUNY.

      This way we can all safely look forward and not back.

      1. JTFaraday

        Oops, I cut off my first line when I cut and pasted. My first line said:

        re: #1, maybe Hedges and Katz were working off the same press release.

      2. lambert strether

        There is a whole set of issues regarding quoting press releases without attribution; some of Jonah Lehrer’s plagiarisms fell under that heading, IIRC. Context probably enters in, but I don’t think we want a New Yorker science writer slamming gobbets of corporate PR into his columns without attribution.

        1. JTFaraday

          Let’s don’t be coy. It’s called a “press release” for a reason.

          In this case, we wouldn’t be talking about a technical journalist not checking the facts in a corporate press release (that they’re probably not qualified to check anyway, and so you can conclude what you like about that). In this case, we would be talking about interviews with people– I don’t know what people, because TNR helpfully doesn’t tell us– that perhaps neither Hedges nor Katz actually had.

          It’s just a theory on how they could both mysteriously have the same quotes, without having literally copied their neighbor’s work, (I guess we’re in grade school now). The press release people want you to copy their work.

          I have no idea, of course.

  29. Kurt Sperry

    Just because an accusation might have some basis in fact doesn’t exclude it being used in or as a hatchet job.

    How about a writer’s app that g**gles each sentence written to it in quotes and won’t let you enter any sentence for which a previous usage can be cited without giving correct attribution? Or better, how about filter the whole internet at the NSA nodes and only content that passes this test is allowed through? That giraffe might ukulele be narwhal cool.

  30. Glenn

    Here I engage in “self-plagiarism”. Is plagiarism plagiarism if I declare it to be plagiarism? If Facebook claims ownership of all I write in its terms of service, is self-plagiarism theft of service? This seems to be a claim on a par with muting commercials when watching TV.

    “Eliot Spitzer was slammed in the media and in court because of his personal failings. I don’t like Eliot Spitzer’s politics. I don’t like Eliot Spitzer. I do, however, like the actions he took against Wall Street corruption. Spitzer was able to separate his personal life from his public performance of office and I was also able to separate his personal life from his public life.

    When public actions are judged only in the context of the author’s personal failings, the public loses. Some things are true no matter who says them.

    The nature of all things in the media is that they are advertisements, and the flawed nature of people is that they require an advertising package for effective delivery. Even a warning by FAIR about plagiarism is an advertisement by and for FAIR because by deploring a plagiarist they advertise that they are opposed to plagiarism, and by doing so imply they never would plagiarize, asserting their own higher moral standard. I agree with their self-evaluation but this statement is an advertising promotion none the less.

    A persuasive article in a magazine is not a finding of fact, and neither is a finding of fact in a court necessarily a fact.

    If I were to measure the truth of the New Republic relative to Chris Hedges on a moral basis as proposed, I would ask what reporting serves a greater public service, the revelation of possible plagiarism by Hedges before he has had a trial, or the case brought by Hedges against the Obama administration for their NDAA suspension of Habeas Corpus, which, in the “fairness” standards of the court, it could not guarantee that Hedges would not be targeted by this law for repeating the type of reporting he has previously done?”

    1. lambert strether

      Apples and oranges, basically. Boils down to “Good guys get more latitude” and that boils down to “My tribe uber alles.” Not buying it.

  31. Geoff

    Thinking about this as a programmer who’s adopted the object oriented model and the open source paradigm, the mantra is reuse, reuse. As someone who likes to exercise creative license and flatter the unfamous obscure geek by imitation…sometimes the attribution is unfathomable.

    In the big picture, the question is the code robust and efficient? Or, to paraphrase Erdos, Is it from The Book? Also, is it well documented and easy to understand? Inside the computer architecture machine, it may be a handful of bytes only the computer architecture machine can understand and which we can communicate to one another with a single, agreed-upon symbol.

    The rub seems to be with who gets paid, huh?

  32. JTFaraday

    ” ‘Rachel Does Science’ blogs…”

    Eh, as a NYU journalism student–where “stealing, is stealing!”–she may be too young to know this, but I think she’s supposed to credit a certain notorious high art film from the 1970s for that:

    Although, I have also heard it said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

    Anyway, I blame Twitter. Every time I look at that thing, I can’t tell who is supposed to have said what. Also makes me think of how Facebook buried its hard to discern privacy controls in its appallingly user-unfriendly design.

    I can’t figure out how either one of these things ever got off the ground, (but here we are).


    > I make my living as a writer these days. And it is damned hard to make a living as a writer.
    > Stealing my work IS a big deal. Period. If I found someone had stolen entire paragraphs and not attributed it, I would call them out on my blog as a plagiarist.

    So, let me get this straight. Other people, who produce for the society, are usually trashed in this blog, but you are some way sacrosanct. You expect the rules for private property to be different for you than what you and your readers preach for others.

    1. lambert strether

      “let me get this straight” is always a tell. I can’t imagine why people still use it.


        Just today I read in your blog that Detroit should have raised water tax and other tax instead of filing for bankruptcy. Tax is a form of theft of private property, which you guys are happy to advocate. However, when even a small amount of copying from your blog is a ‘horrible, horrible crime’.

        Why can’t you consider plagiarism a form of tax on your work for the cause of social justice? If everyone has to check for every attribution, they could not have done great work to uplift the society like the American left is doing.

        Of course, if anyone from Right plagiarizes, it should be considered a crime. They are bad people and should not get any benefit of doubt.

        1. Yves Smith

          Tax is the price of civilization. I live in high-tax New York City and do not resent the taxes I pay. I am frankly disgusted by petty-minded people like you who think they should enjoy an advanced economy lifestyle but not pay for it.

          You always have the option of emigrating to tax free paradises like Somolia.

          And did you manage to miss that this issue is that Hedges is from the left and the issue is that the left is running to his defense rather than taking a look at his behavior and deciding what to make of him as a writer?

          And you didn’t read the Detroit post either. The issue was the role of finance in Detroit’s bankruptcy, such as lousy swap deals entered into by corrupt officials (the one who did the swap went DIRECTLY to the firm that profited from it). Detroit has also been revenue-starved by a hostile state government that steered revenues under various programs away from it, as well as a general underlying collapse of its local economy.

          I started out at Salomon as a summer associate. Salomon was a bond shop. Lenders understand that it NEVER gets better than the original loan, that all you have is downside from that. Until the crisis just past, bad loans were restructured because it was widely recognized that the lender was at least, if not more, culpable than the borrower if a loan went bad (except if the borrower had defrauded the lender in some demonstrable way). Borrowers are always naive and optimistic, and a lender is expected to correct for that in his lending decisions. So bankruptcy, which is a legal process that facilitates the restructuring of loans under a court’s jurisdiction, is one of the ways we have for trying to work through these financial train wrecks.

  34. Klassy

    What I would like to know is how Doris Kearns Goodwin got away with plagiarism. Is there no way to stop her from cranking out those books?

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