WP reporter who ‘borrowed’ from Miami Herald in 1991 was fired

Seattle Times
A former Washington Post reporter encouraged Romenesko to look at the case of Laura Parker, who “was summarily sacked back in 1991,” and compare it to the way the Post handled Sari Horwitz‘s plagiarism. “I do think it’s worth a discussion,” writes the journalist, who asked not to be named. “Have standards changed in 20 years? Has the Post changed since then? Are there different standards for Pulitzer winners?” Feel free to post a comment.

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  • Anonymous

    I’m appalled at the tolerance for plagiarism in this profession. It should be real simple: You plagiarize, you’re fired. Period.

    Plagiarism is one of the few things in life, I think, where there can be a bright-line test. I recall, many years ago, a panel discussion on plagiarism in Seattle that featured one of Stephen Glass’s bosses as well as an editor at a Boston newspaper where there had been a plagiarism/made-up sources scandal. The Boston guy’s story and explanations were utterly depressing. The columnist who was caught had a history of making stuff up. She’d done it a prior job, where she fabricated an Elton John concert review. Wasn’t hard to catch her–there were, after all, tens of thousands of witnesses who knew what the performer wore and did. She wasn’t fired, she was moved, IIRC, to the copy desk. Then she moved on to the Boston paper, where her supervisor, the guy who participated in the discussion, got suspicious and required her to give him true names and contact information for everyone she quoted or mentioned in her columns. Then he got promoted, but never told the columnist’s new editor that she could not be trusted. Finally, it all blew up.

    In my opinion, the editor who participated in the panel discussion should have been fired along with the columnist who cheated. There is just no excuse, not with so many talented, honest people out there looking for jobs. That there is as much tolerance as there is disgraces us all.

    That’s just my opinion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=785273441 Philip Meyer

    Standards are different in the Information Age. Consider this from a 1938 journalism text:

    “The main purpose of the rewrite man is to write an item which will sound as though it had been written upon original information. In other words, the source of the material (the original article, report, handout, etc.) is concealed.”

    When information was scarce, plagiarism was more acceptable. In the Information Age, we have the luxury of higher standards. And the plagiarist is more likely to get caught.

    Morality is socially defined, society changes its mind, and we don’t all learn about it at the same time. So we have to undergo a period of confusion while it all gets sorted out. We have been in that state since the mid-1990s.

  • Anonymous

    Having known and worked with Laura Parker it occurs to me that he disagreeable personality may have also played a part in her firing.

  • Anonymous

    Having known and worked with Laura Parker, her disagreeable personality may also have had something to do with her being fired.

  • Anonymous

    You raise a terribly interesting question. I was at The Baltimore Sun during a time when several people were fired for plagiarism. I never had the stomach for it and wondered if a career death sentence was really the only option. Still, I appreciated living in that ethically binary world. It was similar to the newsroom’s refusal to consider the dictates or concerns of advertisers when it came to news. We would have been offended if the question was even raised. I don’t believe most newsrooms are allowed that sort of ethical purity anymore, not when there’s money on the table. And I’m wondering if with plagiarism, we’re seeing the same sort of degradation. I hear the defense that the Internet, its speed and ubiquity, makes transgressions like this more common. That too, is a fascinating question. If true, it would seem a condemnation of the drive to keep making reporters do more with less. Post, blog, twitter, file, get audio, shoot video. If the powers believe the new world of journalism inevitably worsens journalism, they should stop heaping unrealistic demands on journalists.
    Mike Ollove

  • Anonymous

    This issue has raised the following questions overall among my journo colleagues.

    Does a Pulitzer give one a pass for plagiarism?

    Are there varying degrees of severity of plagiarism in terms of meting out punishment at the Washington Post?

    If so, what type of plagiarism constitutes a fireable offense?

    And if such a venerable institution as the Post suspends a star journalist what kind of precedent does that set & message does it send to other journalists?

    It would be interesting to see if the Ombudsman would tackle these issues publicly or if the management will address them internally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelDavidSmith Michael David Smith

    I vote for choice B, the Washington Post that has changed since then.

    I’m interested in how this suspension compares to the 30-day suspension that the Post gave sports columnist Mike Wise last year for falsely claiming on Twitter that he had a source who told him the NFL would suspend Ben Roethlisberger for five games. I think both that suspension and Horwitz’s suspension are examples of lighter punishments for infractions that, a couple of decades ago, would have resulted in termination.

    When I was in college at the University of Illinois in the 1990s, a couple of journalism professors were former Post staffers, and they would talk frequently about the high standards of the Post, and how journalists who violated those standards simply wouldn’t be tolerated. That’s just not the case anymore.

    If anyone wants more detail about Mike Wise, here are a couple of things I wrote about that situation:
    http://www.aolnews.com/2010/08/31/washington-post-suspends-mike-wise-for-a-month/
    http://www.aolnews.com/2010/08/30/washington-posts-mike-wise-fabricates-a-story-to-prove-a-point/

    Michael David Smith