The Dog That Ate the Media’s Homework

Cultural norms don’t change easily.

Last week WaPo published two analysis stories on the forced resignation of Politico‘s Kendra Marr due to plagiarism. Neither credited the outlet that broke the story.

Wasn’t it Paul Farhi who roughly one year ago said citing the original news source didn’t matter? Here’s what he told us at the time: “Personally, I believe it’s a courtesy to credit the original news source of a story, but I don’t think it’s a requirement or even important. All news originates from somewhere (a neighbor, a whistleblower, a government official, a press release, a wire service, whatever) and it’s a reporter’s obligation to check and verify the original information (which in this case it certainly was). Unless one is taking someone else’s work without attribution (that is, plagiarizing it) any news story should stand on its own and speaks for itself as an original piece of work.”

Clearly that view still holds. His newish colleague Erik Wemple has followed his lead despite openly disagreeing with Farhi’s remarks at the time. Wemple was heading up TBD when he wrote this under the post: “When a news organization writes a news story that is already ‘out there’ without giving proper credit to the origin, then it’s creating the impression that it is breaking the news. If indeed another outlet already reported that news, that is a false impression. Or a lie, if you will. So if you’re a news organization that doesn’t credit outlets that break something and act as though you are writing the exclusive, you’re committing an offense that’s tantamount to misleading your readers. And that’s not something that news organizations should be doing. If you care about honesty and transparency, you over-credit.

Does anyone else see the irony of Washington media falling all over themselves to cover a story on a woman being forced to resign for not properly citing other publications and then not attributing to the outlet that broke the news?

Tale of the Tape…Last Thursday night FBDC broke the story of Marr’s resignation. Some might argue that Politico themselves broke the news on the website but newsflash: a publication cannot formally break its own news. What they did was the equivalent of sending out a mass press release. At 8:34 p.m. editors posted an editorial note but not the internal memo. They offered no public accounts of the aftermath. Associated Press rolled in later. No time stamp. No attribution. HuffPost? Basic recap. Nothing new. No attribution. The following day WaPo turned around their typical half a day later analysis stories by Farhi and Wemple. Reuters ran a story by Lucas Shaw of The Wrap: Nothing new. No attribution. Poynter: No attribution, but at least they offered new news. NYT‘s Media decoder blog came in with an embarrassingly late story sans attribution Friday afternoon by Tanzina Vega. Pretty odd considering that a NYT scribe first discovered Marr’s plagiarism and brought it to the attention of Politico brass. Finally, Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan offered a ray of hope akin to kicking a horse when it’s down. “You messed up bad, Kendra. But it only takes five years to be forgiven for anything. Good luck in your next career.” Again, no attribution.

Those who offered citations on how the story first broke: Mediaite, Yahoo! News‘ Cutline Blog, The Weekly Standard. A note to The Weekly Standard’s “Scrapbook” from the latest issue: Why not hold the editors responsible for Marr accountable? I stand by what I wrote: Marr was a solid reporter who didn’t intend anything malicious. This was most prevalent in conversations with newsroom sources at varying levels of power within the publication. Marr’s plagiarism wasn’t an “aberration” as you said I intended with my post. She bears enormous responsibility here. But to say this began with Marr in a vacuum is shortsighted. It was a culture that prompted it, pushed it, even willed it to happen. You make a valuable point on her future and the 25-year-old landing on her feet sometime soon — many hope you’re right.

But all of this begs the question of whether you, Scrapbook, spoke to anyone within Politico’s ranks before writing “Plagiarism Watch.” My money’s on no.

(See what The Weekly Standard had to say after the jump…)