WaPo Rips Off Two Stories; Media Writer Says it Doesn’t Matter

This weekend WaPo ripped off two media stories from other media outlets without crediting those sources. One was the MSNBC Keith Olbermann suspension story, which was broken by Politico‘s Simmi Aujla on Friday morning. Mother Jones, the Christian Science Monitor were among a variety of publications to cite Politico. The second WaPo steal was our story breaking the news that General Manager Jim Brady was leaving TBD. WaPo‘s Melissa Bell posted online about Olbermann’s suspension Friday without citing Politico. WaPo ran both the Olbermann and TBD stories in Saturday’s print edition with first-day ledes a day after the stories broke.

FishbowlDC asked Paul Farhi, who wrote WaPo‘s Saturday TBD story: Does the Post have a policy of not citing the actual publications that break the stories?

Farhi’s reply: I saw the news on Fishbowl and wrote in my story that Fishbowl had broken the story (because I assumed you had). The credit, however, was removed at the desk; my editor wasn’t sure that you HAD broken the news, and I couldn’t really say I knew for sure. Since there was no time on deadline to investigate the matter, we decided to take the mention of Fishbowl out. Sorry.

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. I’d also say that while reporters surely like to see their work credited (I know I do, but no longer really expect it after the past 10,000 instances), I would guess that it’s entirely irrelevant to readers who reported what first. They just want accurate, fair and comprehensive reporting. The egos and tender feelings of other reporters are probably just another thing that causes them to roll their eyes about our profession.

In response to Farhi: It’s easy to cry “tender egos” when you’ve rewritten another publication’s story as your own and tried to excuse it. FBDC has clear time stamps on the site. Even TBD had the grace to confirm over Twitter that FBDC had broken the news. This is not about the ego of being first to break a story. Farhi is a media reporter. He and his editors had an obligation to say where the story originated whether it was the NYT, the GW Hatchet or SodaHead.com. There are times when a publication unintentionally fails in this area and doesn’t realize another has broken a story. In this case, they just didn’t bother. This is about maintaining integrity in the profession and having readers be able to trust your words and reporting. This extends well beyond the basic courtesy that all publications desire and deserve when they break a story. For the sake of everyone in Washington to whom this happens on a regular basis, it matters.

When asked why crediting is important, a longtime Washington editor told me,  “Because that’s why they keep score in sports. That’s why they count votes. Competition to be first. No matter how journalism changes, one facet won’t: the race for the exclusive. Giving credit is not always essential for every little thing but in certain cases, a must.”