Following accusations of plagiarism levelled at Wente on the blog Media Culpa — and an explosion of criticism in the Twitterverse — the Globe columnist apologized on Friday for not being clearer about where she got her material for a 2009 column.
In a note to readers penned by the Globe's public editor Sylvia Stead, Wente, who has made a career out of being divisive, offered a rare mea culpa, explaining her rationale for inadequately crediting a 2009 book by Professor Robert Paarlberg, which provided the inspiration for the piece.
“My intention was to synthesize Mr. Paarlberg’s argument for readers and, of course, give him credit for them. I made it clear that the thesis was his but in hindsight, I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer that some paraphrasing came from his work,” she is quoted as saying.
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Prof David Doorey
Prof David Doorey
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The allegations began last week when Media Culpa accused Wente of lifting phrases and ideas without proper attribution from several sources.
The blog post provided a detailed run-down of the offending components, maintaining that Wente’s column, titled "Enviro-romanticism is hurting Africa," relied too heavily on Paarlberg, as well as an earlier column written by the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner.
After conducting an investigation into the charges, Stead said “there appears to be some truth to the accusations but not on every charge.”
As a result, the Globe has added an editor’s note to the column, indicating that it contains paraphrasing which is not always clearly attributed.
"The Globe and Mail investigates all complaints, although sometimes it takes a little time to properly look into these matters," said Stead.
As the allegations against Wente fuelled debate on social media, Toronto Standard managing editor Sabrina Maddeaux bemoaned the lack of attention other media outlets were paying to the Wente controversy, particularly following the recent outrage prompted by plagiarism charges against CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.
Zakaria was suspended by both Time and CNN.
Prominent writer and author Jonah Lehrer also recently faced a firestorm of criticism over self-plagiarism, attribution issues and invented quotes. Lehrer resigned his position at the The New Yorker and was fired from Wired.
In her Standard piece, Maddeaux attributed the silence in the Canadian Media about the Wente plagiarism allegations to the fact that "Everyone is scared shitless," maintaining that traffic now trumps originality in the era of numbers-driven online news, when copy editors and fact-checkers are all but extinct.
"Numbers that come from quick, timely content — it’s about being the first to pontificate about an issue, the first to publish those photos, and the hopeless pursuit of beating Twitter to the scoop on just about anything,” she said. "This has all inevitably led to a lot of embarrassingly bad journalism and, probably, a lot more plagiarism and other ethically-questionable-meets-sloppy conduct than we dare guess."
Regardless of the underlying cause, if the reactions on Twitter are any indication this story may not be finished yet.
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