Monday, February 15, 2010

Does The NYT Still Employ A Plagiarist? NYT Doesn't Come Clean In Zachery Kouwe Plagiarism Case, Leaving Many Questions Unanswered.

Earlier today, the NYT's Business editor, Larry Ingrassia -- who only 15 months ago bragged to his staff about his decision to hire the "nimble competitor" Zachery Kouwe from the New York Post -- told the department's staff in an internal email, obtained by The NYTPicker, that Kouwe's acts of plagiarism "do not diminish" their accomplishments.

But in keeping with the NYT's frequent closed-mouth policy when pertaining to its own embarrassments, Ingrassia told his reporters nothing about the specifics of the situation involving Kouwe. He didn't even go so far as to tell his staff whether Kouwe was still employed by the paper or not.

The NYT owes its readers more information than the sketchy and inconclusive Editors' Note it published today -- one that didn't even dare to utter the word "plagiarism," even though that was the act it clearly described.

The NYT needs to come clean -- and soon -- about what it knows, and what it doesn't.

It needs to admit to readers, without parsing words, that a reporter committed repeated acts of plagiarism in its pages.

The NYT also should quickly disclose its decision about Kouwe's fate. Have they allowed Kouwe to remain an active, salaried member of the NYT staff in the wake of these allegations? Have they suspended him? Did he quit? What is Kouwe's explanation for his actions?

The paper needs to assure readers that it will make public the results of its investigation, at least disclosing every instance of plagiarism it's able to document -- and soon.

We don't hold the NYT responsible for Kouwe's actions, but we do feel the NYT owes its readers a full, thorough account of its handling of the case. For the NYT to act behind a wall of "no comment" -- and to only speak to its staff, and the public, in generic platitudes about integrity -- does a disservice to the NYT's reputation and position.

Ingrassia's email has continued the NYT's information stonewall, echoing the Editors' Note reference to "improperly inappropriated" passages in Kouwe's work, and its implicit suggestion that his actions aren't those of a plagiarist.

"The cases that we have found so far involve the copying of background and related material from elsewhere," Ingrassia said.

The Editor's Note likewise chose not to use the word "plagiarism" to describe Kouwe's actions.

NYT reporters have been kept in the dark on all specific aspects of the case, and it's not known whether Kouwe has been relieved of his duties -- temporarily or permanently -- or has resigned.

There does remain the possibility that Kouwe continues to be actively employed by the NYT as a reporter. His name still appears, as of tonight, as a reporter on the Dealbook masthead, prominently displayed on the blog.

Kouwe had a NYT byline as recently as Saturday, the day after the paper got a letter from WSJ managing editor Robert Thompson accusing the reporter of plagiarism.

On Sunday night, after spotting the Editor's Note online, we emailed NYT spokeswoman Diane McNulty the following questions:

"Will Kouwe continue to work as a reporter while the investigation referred to in the Editor's Note take place? What is his current status with the NYT?"

"Can you be any more specific regarding the number of instances -- articles, blog posts, etc. -- that you have discovered, as of now, with passages lifted without credit from other news organizations?"

McNulty's full response, emailed to us 12 hours later: "We don't comment on personnel issues and the investigation is ongoing."

Readers of the NYT deserve a better answer than that, and soon.

Meanwhile, here is the full text of Ingrassia's internal email, sent under the heading, "A Note From Larry to the BizDay Staff":

You probably have read by now the disappointing news in this morning's paper and on the Web that we've discovered repeated instances in which one of our reporters, Zach Kouwe, appropriated passages appearing in articles from other news organizations. The cases that we have found so far involve the copying of background and related material from elsewhere, and the inclusion of that material in Times stories and postings without appropriate attribution.

This is truly unfortunate, given the excellent and groundbreaking work that Business Day has been doing and the highest standards that all of you hold yourselves to, day in and day out. Our track record of delivering first-rate news and enterprise has been built over years and years, and the regrettable actions of one reporter do not diminish what we have accomplished and will accomplish in the future.



Anonymous said...

The contrasts between this case and its internal handling and the Jason Blair case are pretty damn striking.

Anonymous said...

There are big differences between this case and the one where Blair just made up facts and pretended to visit places. At least as far as I can tell, Kouwe had the good taste to grab text from quality sources so the information in the NYT was top notch! :-)

The DOJ had press conferences to denounce Blair's page one reporting and the NYT was forced to stand behind it's reporter until the truth came out.

I'm not defending Kouwe, but there are huge differences and it has nothing to do with the colors of their skin.

smidely said...

i'm as willing as anybody to beat up on the nyt but in this case it doesn't seem fair to compare this reporter to accuse sounds more like an explanation given by some source, like a lawyer or da, to both reporters.

it MORE sounds like a simple case of pr being pushed by fox/wsj.

Re: 'The DOJ had press conferences to denounce Blair's page one reporting" said...

If you're referring to the Washington sniper coverage, that was not where the huge problem was, as the recent execution in Virginia bears out. Much of the hulabaloo was from Ashcroft's anger over making it clear why the legal proceedings were being moved from Maryland.

The problem was with the coverage of the returnees from Mideast wars.

Anonymous said...

The Times has a habit of demanding that the federal government always come clean and do it fast. The Times is still demanding the gross out photos of some Iraqi interrogations. But when it concerns matters inside the Times itself, the Times is slow and it uses dragging out techniques that the most lethargic federal bureaucrat could learn from. The editor's note reminds of something a skilled appellate lawyer would use in defending a client. It does matter if you steal the words of another reporter in your "background" part of your artilce or in the meat of your article. If you are an ethical reporter, you don't steal. Period. For the Times' editors to attempt to make such a silly distinction is embarassing to the times. As a shareholder of the Times, I have a right to know what the Times is doing with my money. And by the way, isn't it time for the NY Times to return Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize?

Roberto said...

"... told the department's staff in an internal email, obtained by The NYTPicker, that Kouwe's acts of plagiarism "do not diminish" their accomplishments ..."

Laughable. Of course plagiarism diminishes the worth of reportage. If it did not, we'd be content to read reports sourced off the evening TV news and/or Twitter.

Ingrassia neglects to mention (or consider?) that we readers cannot know which Times reporters are doing their jobs properly and which are not.

The result is – for the few of us who care – that the legitimacy of the paper's reporting and writing becomes suspect. Perhaps not enormously suspect, but news as a commodity is valuable only if it is believed to be true. Possibly true or partially true news is much, much less valuable.

Anonymous said...

The interesting contrasts with the Blair case have nothing to do with the supposed "quality" of the information. Theft, i.e. plagiarism, is a form of make-believe every bit as pernicious as pure fiction writing. The interesting thing is the politics of accountability of the top editors here. One case brought down a regime. The successor regime has learned its "lesson" and fire-walled this matter in the Business staff, and allowed Ingrassia to obfuscate and dissemble in the best Nixonian tradition.

Anonymous said...

The New York Times is using what Nixon used to call the "limited modified hang out" during the Watergate days. The Times business editor seems to think it is a huge distinction that his reporter did not reprint the entire WSJ articles but only those portions that were in the "background" portions of the articles. That is a meaningless distinction. If you steal the sentence structure and the nouns and verbs of another newspaper's reporter, that is the theft of intellectual property. It is like saying: "Yes, I stole the cigar box but I left the cigars". Stealing is stealing is stealing. Apparently, this regime is trying to ensure that it can contain the damage, unlike Howell Raines, who could not control the flood.

Jesse said...

OK, help me out here.

So far I have seen one sentence that looks like it was copied. That's the one where he has the reference to Madoff. But the wording -- well, if I were told to put that in X number of words, how the hell else would you do it? Until and unless I see instances where you have massive lifting of passages, I am not convinced.

I mean look, if I am doing a story about a shooting, how many ways are there to say "X was shot on Wednesday?"

Now, I am biased. I happen to know the man, a wee bit. I knew one of his supervisors back in the day. (Pre J-School). Never had a problem, as far as I know.

Jesse said...

By the way, I want everyone to understand that I do think plagiarism is not something any reporter, myself included, should do. But one sentence that describes something in a simple, straightforward way, doesn't do it for me. I would want to see more, is all. A whole paragraph. Several of them. Framing the quotes in an identical way, that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

This is not the first time the Times tolerated "borrowing" from non Times writers . Let's not forget how Maureen "Mo" Dowd borrowed material (I believe from the Huffington Post). Then there was Gail Collins repeating an old Jay Leno joke about how men love the Three Stooges and women dislike the Stooges, without giving Jay any credit.At the Times it's all the news that's fit to borrow.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't we be demanding answers on how long the Dealbook editors knew about how Kouwe copied facts from other journalist and did not source them.
Greenwich Time did

nytpicker you are doing a great job of asking tough questions keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jesse here. One sentence isn't worth ending a career. Heck, three or four sentences aren't. Once upon a time, I was all hot and bothered about what Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Maureen Dowd etc did, but now I can understand how it can just be an honest mistake. These frickin computers make it so easy to cut and paste our way into trouble.

This doesn't mean he shouldn't be punished, but within reason of course.

Anonymous said...

Shining the light shows just how arbitrary and willful the managers are in applying vastly different standards for each case.

Anonymous said...

Roger Cohen's column in today's NY Times about Iran and software seems to be "borrowed", shall we say, from the PBS Frontline article on its legal page on the internet dealing with how the Obama administration has not been using software and information in the Iran conflict. Yet Roger Cohen does not even acknowledge the frontline article that is readily available on the web site on Dec. 31, 2009. The frontline authors did incredible work and superb journalism in doing this piece. Cohen should at least have given the pbsfrontline writers some credit for their ideas and their research. Not giving them the credit is morally wrong.

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