Another One Bites The Dust

New Year…same old crap.

Baltimore Sun columnist Michael Olesker has been let go by the paper for plagiarism (or the P.C. term: “attribution issues”). Olesker claims his gaffes were never intentional. “That would be professional suicide, unethical and immoral. I’m sick over what happened.”

Intentional or not, Sun Editor Timothy Franklin said “there was a distinct pattern of a lack of attribution in his columns. There were four separate instances we know about in the last year and a half.” The Baltimore City Paper first brought attention to Olesker’s attribution problems.

Most interesting about this case is that it represents one of the first plagiarism firings that is not black and white and which does partially fall in a gray area for journalists. Tom Rosenstiel, from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, explains:

    “[T[his does not seem like a clear-cut case” of plagiarism, since most of the examples involve “background factual material rather than descriptive narrative that is in the author’s voice,” and that Olesker’s language was “not identical.” He said it is “not uncommon practice to take background material from clippings.”

When are certain phrases common-use and, therefore, not plagiarism? Anyone want to bet that tons of reporters, writing up the Jack Abramoff plea agreement, used the phrase “in a federal corruption probe” or “pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges”?