Yesterday, we published two stories about the methods used by Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT business reporter, to produce her new book, "The Capitalist's Bible."
Our reporting revealed that numerous passages in Morgenson's book were virtually identical to sections in a 2004 book, "Encyclopedia of Captitalism," published by Facts on File.
Ordinarily, such wholesale copying would be considered plagiarism, and cause for a public media scandal, especially given Morgenson's prominence in the profession.
In this case, it's not -- but only because of a subtle deception by Morgenson and the publishers, who apparently didn't want readers to know that much of the new book was copied wholesale from the earlier work.
Here's the tick-tock:
In 2004, a company called Golson Media recruited numerous academics from around the country to write entries for a book called "Encyclopedia of Capitalism," to be published under the imprimateur of Facts on File -- but with the copyright held by Golson.
The three-volume set -- which gave individual bylines to all contributors, and included, in many cases, detailed bibliographies to support the research -- was published and sold primarily to libraries.
Writers' agreements gave full rights to all material to Golson, to do with it what it wished.
And that, apparently, gave Golson an idea: what if it re-purposed the encyclopedia as a mass-market book for a new, general interest audience? To do so Golson would need to recruit a famous brand-name writer to put on the cover. The company specializes in this' its website brags of using "Pulitzer Prize-winning authors."
And that's where Gretchen Morgenson -- winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting -- came in.
J. Goeffrey Golson, the company's president and editor, recruited Morgenson to be the editor of his new project -- a "rewrite" of the 2004 book, to be published for a mainstream audience by Harper Business. She came on board, and with the help of Golson staff writers and newly-recruited academics, the new book was born.
In September of 2009, "The Capitalist's Bible" was published, now under the copyright of Harper Business.
Unlike the previous encyclopedia, the new book contains no individual bylines. It has no bibliography or source citations. The only name on the book is that of Gretchen Morgenson, identified on the cover as a "New York Times journalist" and the editor.
But given that the book is more than 300 pages long and that Morgenson has a full-time job at the NYT, it's clearly unlikely that she wrote -- or necessarily even edited -- a significant portion of the book.
The process by which the book came together is explained only in a short acknowledgement in the very back of the volume, more than 300 pages in, which says only that it was "produced using some rewritten text from the Encyclopedia of Capitalism, published by Facts On File for the library reference market."
No mention of Golson.
No mention of individual writers.
No mention of source material.
No mention of the fact that in many, many instances, the material wasn't rewritten at all -- but, rather, copied verbatim from the earlier book.
In her defense of the new book, Morgenson insists that it was Golson's legal right to do whatever it wanted with the original material. It owned all rights.
"The copyright to the Facts On File encyclopedia is held by Golson Books, Ltd., which has permission in writing from Facts On File to use the material in "The Capitalist's Bible," Morgenson told The NYTPicker. "Facts On File does not have, nor did it seek, approval rights for the rewritten material."
Okay, so Morgenson is right: technically, legally, Golson could do whatever it wanted with the words of others.
But is it right to take another person's words and lift them into another volume, without credit or admission?
Is it legitimate to call it "rewritten" when it's copied?
Is it being open and straightforward with readers for Morgenson to bury the explanation of her methods in the back of a 5,490-page book, in a single, incomplete paragraph?
Morgenson is a journalist who, on a daily basis, demands openness and honesty from the corporations and individuals she covers.
If a company attempts to bury its significant disclosures in the back of an S.E.C. filing, Morgenson will call them on it.
If a business tries to justify an action that appears wrong -- like stealing -- by pointing out that it has adhered to the letter of the law, Morgenson will rightly note that dubious distinction.
Yesterday, in response to several followup questions from The NYTPicker about the verbatim lifts of passages -- in which we asked about credit, about her reference to the process as "rewriting," et cetera -- she sent us this four-word email reply:
"The acknowledgement is appropriate," Morgenson wrote us.
Would Morgenson have been satisfied by a one-sentence reply from a company that ignored the essence of her questions?
Would Morgenson have considered the matter over and done with, because the company told her they had a signed document allowing them to commit an act that, on the face of it, appeared to violate some of the industry's most fundamental tenets?
In this case, Morgenson's only defense against a charge of plagiarism is a piece of paper whose existence wasn't even publicly known until yesterday. Even if that document entitled her to copy the words of others into her book -- eliminating only the authors' names from the mix -- it doesn't justify it.
Morgenson owes her readers -- and the writers whose work she has rewritten and copied -- a fuller explanation of what happened than the incomplete and misleading acknowledgement buried in the back of her book.
CORRECTION: The commenter who pointed this out is right -- "The Capitalist's Bible" is 320 pages, not 5,490 pages. We've corrected the number in our post. The NYTPicker downloaded the book to our Kindle for iPhone app, which doesn't include page numbers and inaccurately gave that as the book's page count.
EARLIER: Portions Of Gretchen Morgenson's New, "Rewritten" Version Of 2004 Book Were Copied Verbatim, Without Credit.
EARLIER: Two-Thirds Of New Book Edited By Pulitzer Prize-Winning NYT Reporter Gretchen Morgenson Rewritten From Someone Else's 2004 Book.