March 21, 2017

Staffers at Independent Journal Review accused Benny Johnson of plagiarism in 2015, just a year after BuzzFeed fired him for copying dozens of other sites, according to a story published Tuesday by Business Insider.

Johnson, who joined Independent Journal Review in 2015 after being let go from BuzzFeed for 41 examples of plagiarism, was accused by his colleagues in November 2015 of copying part of an article about U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), according to the story.

The article cited ‘GOP sources’ who said she was a possible candidate to succeed John Boehner as House speaker. Johnson, sources said, had lifted a portion of the Washington state representative’s biography for the story.

The content in question was discovered and scrubbed after the story had been published, a source familiar with the matter said. A vague editor’s note at the bottom said the story had been updated.

Business Insider also included a screenshot of a instant message conversation between former IJR Editor-in-Chief Bubba Atkinson and an IJR staffer whose identity was redacted in which Atkinson asked about the plagiarism allegations.

“Tell me about Benny’s plagiarism and why I’m just now hearing about it,” Atkinson wrote, according to the screenshot.

Neither Johnson nor Atkinson responded to emails seeking comment Tuesday.

Johnson, Viral Editor Kyle Becker and Content Editor Becca Lower were all suspended from IJR after the site published a story last week that implied Barack Obama’s recent trip to Hawaii had something to do with a federal judge’s decision to block President Trump’s immigration order, according to Business Insider. IJR eventually retracted the story, but congressional reporter Joe Perticone still resigned out of concerns that it had damaged the site’s credibility.

IJR, a center-right website that aspires to be a major Beltway media player, saw its fortunes soar under the Trump administration before the recent public turmoil.

Johnson landed a high-profile scoop in January when he reported, ahead of every other outlet, that President Trump was about to nominate Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court.

IJR was also the only news outlet permitted to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his recent trip to Asia, an exception that rankled press freedom advocates.

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Benjamin Mullin was formerly the managing editor of He also previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow,…
Benjamin Mullin

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