Did Columbus Dispatch cartoonist lift from humorist Borowitz?

Romenesko Misc.
Andy Borowitz reminds his Facebook fans that he wrote a piece last Thursday headlined, “New Study Finds iPad is Cure for Adultery; Owners ‘Stop Noticing Other People Altogether.” He then points to Columbus Dispatch editorial cartoonist Jeff Stahler‘s drawing three days later that shows a group of people staring at their phones and has this caption: “New study: Smart phone users are less likely to commit adultery, since they’ve stopped noticing others around them.”

I’ve emailed Stahler and Dispatch editor Ben Marrison for comment and will post what they have to say. || UPDATE: Marrison says the paper’s investigation found that the similarity “appears to be a coincidence.” [This post was modified to remove a comment from a Borowitz fan on Facebook.]

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  • http://www.facebook.com/alfred.ingram Alfred Ingram

    Even if, this was not a coincidence, copyright extends to the particular expression of an idea, not the idea itself, 

  • Anonymous

    Borowitz also has a Schwarzenegger “sperminator” joke on his page.    Two-time Pulitzer winner Mike
    Luckovich is one of several cartoonists and comedians who also did the “sperminator” jokes   Will Andy be 
    accuse them of plagiarism next ? 

    Stahler says he came up with it Wed,submitted it Thurs and it ran Sun.  It’s not unusual for cartoonists
    working for major dailies to sit on ideas for several days before they get in the paper. I’ve had ideas sit on my drawing board for weeks before I get a chance to get them in the paper depending on the news
    flow. And if Stahler is working like I and other editorial cartoonist work, he may be  submitting more than one idea to his editor to choose from.     

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656789006 Derf Backderf

    Borowitz’s column was published Thurs. Stahler contends he drew the cartoon Weds for a Thurs preprint of the Sunday Opinion section. I hate to pull the plug on a good snark fest, and I’m not a huge fan of Stahler, the most bland of cartoonists, but that is completely plausible.  Most newspapers still use that antiquated preprint schedule. Fact is, it’s not that great an idea. Gee, people are so involved with their screens they stop noticing each other and forget to have sex. Really? Wow, how did you ever dream up THAT one??? 

    I did a cartoon about 15 years ago on “Virtual Foreplay,” where a woman is panting in satisfaction, wired up in computer headgear, while her husband sits next to her in bed reading a Sports Illustrated. Did Borowitz rip me off? Of course not. But his idea isn’t exactly a fresh one. Hell, it wasn’t fresh when I did it back during the Clinton presidency!

    Look, I like Andy’s stuff. But he obviously wants to ride this for free pub, as much as he’s tweeting and facebooking about these Poynter posts. When I posted this comment on his Facebook page, he removed the comment within minutes and de-friended me. Ha. It’s like being airbrushed out of an old Kremiln picture! Guess he’ll casually accuse someone of plagiarism, but won’t tolerate even the mildest rebuttal. 

    Call Stahler obvious, or a lazy humorist, or unoriginal. Of course, you can call Andy those things, too, at least in this instance. In my experience, if several humorists come up with the same idea at the same time, it wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bbarrie Brian Barrie

    The timing is awfully suspect. A couple weeks ago thousands of people all came up with the same “Trump wants to see Osama’s Death Certificate” joke… one of them was first, but it doesn’t mean any of the others plagiarized it. The issue here is that there wasn’t any sort of unifying event that would account for the timing leaving it unlikely — but not impossible — that it’s just a coincidence. Of course that doesn’t mean it was intentional. He could have overheard something in passing or, like someone suggested, skimmed a headline. I have my own humor blog (theDiscust.com) and I’m constantly worried that I’m going to inadvertently come up with the same premise that someone else has already used. You just have to try to be original, not go for the obvious, and hope for the best.

  • Anonymous

    Jeff Stahler is obviously a plagiarist.  A sincere apology would be nice, if he has the cojones to admit.

  • http://twitter.com/FrankH3 Frank Hartge

    I followed Borowitz’s funny tweets yesterday on this matter, but am disconcerted today to find they have disappeared from his twitter page. I can’t help but think the Dispatch legal team must have leaned on him!

  • http://twitter.com/FrankH3 Frank Hartge

    I followed Borowitz’s funny tweets yesterday on this matter, but am disconcerted today to find they have disappeared from his twitter page. I can’t help but think the Dispatch legal team must have leaned on him!

  • http://twitter.com/BrandonEMSavage Brandon Savage

    I think it’s conceivable – but unlikely – that this is sheer coincidence.  The problem, however, would be proving it one way or the other.

  • Anonymous

    Pretty obvious to me that the answer is even more embarrassing for the Dispatch: The cartoonist must have seen the Borowitz Report story, only skimmed the title and assumed it was a real story, and then came up with the same joke that Borowitz did. Why else would the cartoon refer to a fictional study which never actually happened?