There are many things that bother me about plagiarism, but
nothing irks me more than when a mainstream reporter (or organization) with all
of the resources of a small nation at their disposal lifts from the small
press, freelance journalists, and bloggers.
AP vs. Raw Story
Case in Point is my article on the new guidelines for
The process of how I put this story together is important as
it provides a brief glimpse into the amount of work and time I put into this
I got a tip in the form of a 2005 document that was issued
"quietly" out of National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's office,
in which guidelines for issuing security clearances as well as access to
government information had been updated from the Clinton administration's
I had to contact officials at the State Department, experts
at think tanks, and several intelligence agencies to find out if a). the
document was authentic, and b). if there was anything glaringly wrong with it
(aside from the obvious bizarre sexual behavior parameters). I did authenticate
it, but most people I spoke with thought it was largely unchanged from the
previous set of guidelines. I wondered what the two documents side by side
might show and what, if any, differences there were.
2005 Hadley document, as it turns out, is a revision of the 1997 "Adjudicative Guidelines for
Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information," and the
differences, while subtle, are fascinating. But what is important about the
differences in terms of my issue with the mainstream press is how long it took
me to catalogue those differences.
In order to identify changes, I had to put the 1997 and 2005
documents side by side and go line by line, noting in a spreadsheet the text of
one and the other, and then noting what the change was, if any. This was a
long, tedious, and frankly boring task.
Once I had concluded my initial comparison, I sent my work
to another writer and asked them to compare as well, in case I missed anything.
My findings were supported by the other writer's own comparison. I then sent
everything to my editor, who had one of our researchers do a quick overview,
also supporting what I found. My editor and I then co-authored an article,
after nearly two weeks of work, about the Hadley changes. The piece covered and
overview of the most questionable changes, as there were many subtle changes in
general. One key area we focused on was what appeared to be the relaxing of
sexual discrimination guidelines.
The article can be found HERE.
In response, several GLBT groups contacted us and issued a
statement. We gave the advocacy groups our notes and article, which they then
took to the AP and demanded that the story be covered. The AP was given our
article and maybe our notes.
On March 14, 2006, the AP did their own article, left out
any attribution to me or my publication and lifted not only my research but
also whole sections of my article for their own (making cosmetic changes of
We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsmen both
and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated
that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to
credit us. What we are or are not is frankly irrelevant. What is
relevant is that by using a term like blog to somehow excuse
plagiarism, the mainstream press continues to lower the bar for acceptable
behavior. It need not matter where the AP got the information, research, and
actual wording from. What matters is that if they use it in part or in whole,
they must attribute properly. A blog or a small press publication or grads
students working in the corner of a library all equally deserve credit for
their work, period.
Unfortunately this is far too common and has happened to me
and to other writers and bloggers far too frequently. This time, however, we
made a point of tape recording the AP apparatchiks admitting to taking our work
and using it without attribution, stating "we do not credit blogs".
While they will not credit us in any way; they will instead
credit advocacy groups, as though that somehow excuses them from having to
attribute rightfully. This is what their first article on the documents' said:
"Lesbian and gay advocacy groups recently found the change in an 18-page
document distributed by National security adviser Stephen Hadley on Dec. 29,
without public notice." Yes, the groups had found it in my article, which
they gave to the AP.
Yet, even after the advocacy groups reminded the AP of where
they got the information, the news organization would not provide attribution.
Here are again, links to both articles: Raw
Story, March 13, 2006 and AP,
March 14, 2006 (mind you, this is syndicated, so the plagiarism is
I had hoped to resolve the quietly and privately, but the
AP's refusal to make a correction has become almost secondary to the real
outrage of what is occurring in the mainstream. The argument is astounding
really if not entirely antithetical to journalistic standards. What the AP and
others are saying essentially is that, while "your work" is good
enough for us to steal, you are not credible enough to cite.
We do not credit blogs!
Never mind that plenty of journalists have blogs or that Raw
Story is not a blog, or that the mainstream will cite blogs such as the
Huffington Post while inexplicably not cite smaller blogs that have become
heroic in the world of journalism for what they have uncovered. I have a
nagging feeling that this random sourcing is less about freelance journalists
or blogs or any other label de jour, but rather, it has everything to do with
who can afford to take legal action. Clearly, they have pegged me
correctly as not in any position to take on a major news organization.
----HAT TIP Moment----
Some examples of the not credited or not nearly credited
which uncovered the whole Jeff Gannon story
Underground, which has one of the best organized research forums online
Left Coaster's erieposte, which has put together perhaps the best Niger
forgery research there is
Hurrah's emptywheel who has done some fantastic research into the Plame
Brad Blog's Brad Friedman,
who has exposed Diebold's election tampering more than anyone else
Luke at Wot is
it Good 4, who has researched the Sibel Edmond's case so closely and
tracked things so accurately (using nothing more than open source), that in my
opinion and in terms of what I understand regarding the case, he is closer than
anyone to the truth of it (minus some things and reorganizing other things).
These are but a few examples of blogs that rival if not
surpass the MSM. There are many more and I am sorry if I have left anyone out,
but there are too many to list.
I will say that we contacted several publications
syndicating this story and only the Washington
Blade ran a correction attributing us: So thanks WB!
All of that said, what type of press do citizens of a
democracy want and what type of press do they deserve? Does a democracy want a self-indulgent,
politically infiltrated, corrupted, and willfully lazy press or do we deserve
that kind of press because we do not rage against it?
The corporations have their press and they will protect
their writers despite egregious violations of journalistic standards. Need I
remind anyone of "DMS is old news" talking point every mainstream
organization took on after having falsely led us into war with bogus reporting
to begin with?
You want a free press? Protect your small press
writers/journalists (also those in MSM who have the guts to do their job),
bloggers, editors, and publications. Protect them not only from such unethical
behavior as demonstrated by the AP, but also from all manner of assault in
which either political motivations or greed, if not both, are more important
than the truth. Gary Webb may have had a job had the mainstream political
attack dogs not driven him into darkness and into taking his own life. Judith
Miller may not have had a chance to author lie after lie, had she been fired
and exposed from the beginning. Helen Thomas would not be making news for
simply asking questions, had the corporate owned media actually been doing its
job, namely asking those same questions all along.
How many more honest journalists have to be driven out
because they can no longer afford to pay their bills? I don't want to know. Do
article originally appeared on Larisa Alexandrovna's Huffington Post blog.
She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.