Roundup of plagiarism & fabrication cases

When it comes to deciding how to handle a plagiarism or fabrication case, there are a variety of factors that news organizations might consider.

We don’t have enough data to identify trends in sanctions, but a look at some plagiarism/fabrication cases from throughout the years shows the range of actions news organizations have taken and some of the factors they’ve considered when making these decisions.

For more on this topic, you can read our related story here.

Recent examples of plagiarism & fabrication, how they were handled

Sun-Times’ Paige Wiser (June)

  • Fired after implying she was at a concert for its entirety when she wasn’t. Was trying to take care of sick kid at the concert and ended up leaving early.
  • Worked at the paper for 17 years.
  • She said: “What I should have done was written that I had to leave early, but I didn’t want to let the paper down, so I tried to make the review seem complete by including the encore ‘Friday’ that I’m familiar with. Big mistake. I didn’t see it there, so it was a lie.”
  • Editor Donald Hayner told readers: “Accuracy and honesty in reporting are essential parts of the promise we make to our readers. We regret the incident and apologize.”

Denver Post’s Woody Paige (June)

  • Plagiarized three quotes that had appeared in a SportsBusiness Journal article.
  • Not fired or suspended. Paper ran a correction and added a note to the column saying the piece had been updated to include an attribution.
  • Longtime columnist
  • He said: “We’ve agreed that the columns would be shorter, and my column was about six inches too long. So I cut six inches — and in the final column I turned in, I improperly, incorrectly and unprofessionally cut the attribution to the SportsBusiness Journal. … “It was not done maliciously or to take credit for something I didn’t do.”

Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz (March)

  • Suspended for plagiarizing parts of a story about the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. Post ran an apology to readers.
  • At the paper for 28 years and a Pulitzer-Prize winner.
  • She said: “Under the pressure of tight deadlines, I did something I have never done in my entire career. I used another newspaper’s work as if it were my own. It was wrong. It was inexcusable.”
  • Editor Marcus Brauchli told Post reporter Paul Farhi: “ ‘We [took] action that we think is appropriately severe and reflects the seriousness with which we view this transgression.” Brauchli also said that editors reviewed dozens of Horwitz’s stories and didn’t find any other plagiarized work.

Village Voice freelancer Rob Sgobbo (January)

  • Told he could no longer freelance for the Village Voice after fabricating characters in a story about for-profit colleges.
  • Younger journalist, recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
  • New York Daily News also terminated its relationship with him: New York Daily News Spokeswoman Jennifer Mauer said: “The Daily News has terminated its relationship with freelancer Rob Sgobbo. He has assured us he never fabricated anything that appeared in the Daily News; however, we are reviewing his stories for any inconsistencies.”

ESPN’s Will Selva (January)

  • Suspended for lifting parts of a newspaper column and using them in a script without attribution.
  • Has been a broadcast journalist for 15 years & at ESPN for three years.
  • He said: “I made a mistake and I’m deeply sorry. I did not live up to my high standards or ESPN’s. As I often do, I research local stories to use as background for writing my script. In this case, I cut and pasted the story with every intention of writing my own. I simply forgot and I completely understand why this is a major problem. I sincerely apologize for my sloppiness …”

Notable cases of plagiarism/fabrication from years past:

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd (2009)

  • Lifted a paragraph from Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall’s blog.
  • Dowd was not fired or suspended. Her column was updated with a reference to Marshall and a note about the lack of proper attribution.
  • In an email to The Huffington Post, she explained her mistake, saying: “I was talking to a friend of mine Friday about what I was writing who suggested I make this point, expressing it in a cogent — and I assumed spontaneous — way and I wanted to weave the idea into my column. But, clearly, my friend must have read Josh Marshall without mentioning that to me.”

Detroit Free Press’ Mitch Albom (2005)

  • Wrote a column that made it seem as though he was at a Final Four game when he really wasn’t. Said two college basketball players were there, even though they never attended the game.
  • Briefly suspended, along with four editors.

USA Today’s Jack Kelley (2004)

  • Found to have fabricated parts of at least eight major stories.
  • Kelley resigned, and USA Today conducted an internal investigation.

New York Times’ Jayson Blair (2003)

  • Ripped off material from other news organizations, used phony datelines, fabricated quotes.
  • Resigned from the Times.
  • The Times ran a front-page story about Blair’s fabrication and plagiarism, saying the scandal was “a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”

Boston Globe’s Mike Barnicle (1998)

  • Lifted jokes from comedian George Carlin’s book, “Brain Droppings.” Several other columns were thought to have included fabrications.
  • The Globe suspended him, then asked him to resign.

Boston Globe’s Patricia Smith (1998)

  • Made up characters in her Boston Globe columns.
  • Forced to resign. ASNE rescinded her 1998 award for distinguished writing, even though none of the columns that won were found to be fabricated.

New Republic’s Stephen Glass (1998)

  • Fabricated more than 25 stories for The New Republic, George and Rolling Stone.
  • Fired from The New Republic after Forbes reported that Glass had fabricated a story called “Hack Heaven.”

Washington Post’s Janet Cooke (1980)

  • Wrote a Pulitzer-Prize winning story about an 8-year-old heroin addict. Story turned out to be untrue.
  • Cooke resigned, and was stripped of the Pulitzer.
  • The Post devised a system to look more carefully at reporters’ resumes, and editors were asked to be more deliberate about checking the authenticity of characters and sources.

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  • Nan Erwin

    A SW Florida writer has documented 70 cases of plagiarism in a regional daily and posted the evidence,documentation and discussion at http://www.oldwordwolf.blogspot.com   To my knowledge, no one was fired and the publisher has never commented to his readers about the on-going problems in this area.

  • Nan Erwin

    One SW Florida blog is devoted to local plagiarism in a regional daily.   You can read the evidence of approximately 70 separate instances since 2007.  www.oldwordwolf.blogspot.com