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May 09, 2006

Sorkin of the NYT pulls a Ben Domenech

The New York Times admitted that four paragraphs in a business story in Monday's paper were lifted from the Independent's website without attribution.

The NYT claims that the replication was an accident that happened when writer Andrew Ross Sorkin appended some of his notes to his final story, which his editor mistook for Sorkin's original work:

"In preparing the article, The Times's writer consulted an online report from The Independent on Sunday ... which he appended to the end of his computer file for reference," the note, which ran on A-2, said in part. "Through an editing error, four short paragraphs of The Independent's report, about the history of Steve Forbes's political ambitions, were incorporated in the Times article. The Times regrets the error."
 
The Times, following its usual style, did not disclose the name of the writer or the editor. But a New York Post story on the incident published today identified the writer as Andrew Ross Sorkin. "An editor added the paragraphs into the story not realizing it was part of my notes," Sorkin told the Post. He called this a "stupid error." [Editor & Publisher]

Sorkin is pulling a real Ben Domenench here--he's blaming his editor for inadvertently running the text from the Independent.*  His excuse strains credulity. (The fact that he's tattling on his editor 
in the New York Post doesn't speak well for his collegeality, either.)

Here's a link to Jason Nisse's story in the Independent about Steve Forbes' search for outside capital for his media empire, dated May 7.

Presumably these are the "four short paragraphs" from the Independent that the Times says were accidentally submitted along with Sorkin's story on Steve Forbes' search for outside capital for his media empire, dated May 8:

It is expected that any deal will value the business - 51 per cent owned by the publisher-in-chief, Steve Forbes, with the rest held by relatives - at around $1bn.

The magazine was founded in 1917 by B C Forbes, who ran it until his death in 1954. His son, Bruce, was in charge until 1964, when he was succeeded by his son, Malcolm.

Steve, Malcolm's son, took over in 1990 and has used the magazine as a launchpad for his political ambitions, twice failing to win the Republican nomination for presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. His brand of right-wing, free-market politics includes an anti-abortion stance, and advocating a flat-tax system and an anti-United Nations foreign policy. [Independent]

Here's Sorkin's version as it appears online as of this writing:

The magazine was founded in 1917 by B. C. Forbes, who ran it until his death in 1954. His son, Bruce, was in charge until 1964, when he was succeeded by his son Malcolm.

Malcolm's son Steve took over in 1990 and has used the magazine as a launching pad to seek political office, failing to win the Republican nomination for president in 1996 and 2000. Besides his brand of untrammeled free-market politics, he has adopted an antiabortion stance, advocates a flat-tax system and is skeptical toward the United Nations.

He owns 51 percent of the business, with the rest held by relatives.  [NYT]

A side-by-side comparison of the Independent's article and Sorkin's piece reveals more similarities than one might suspect, given the editor's note. Here's just one further example, which appears in the middle of Sorkin's piece and the :

A spokeswoman for the publisher declined to discuss any specific plans but said: "Forbes, like many companies, has had discussions from time to time with potential partners." [Independent]

A spokeswoman declined to comment about any specific talks, except to say, "Forbes, like many companies, has had discussions from time to time with potential partners." [NYT]

Reading the two articles side-by-side, it is obvious that they share more than the four paragraphs. The two stories are nearly identical. Furthermore, the quote from the spokeswoman appears in the middle of Sorkin's piece and at the end of the Independent article.

Possibly, the editor incorporated the extra material and then reworked the piece heavily. That might explain the why the borrowed material isn't a contiguous block at the end of Sorkin's piece, as you'd expect if the Independent's words had been appended as a block and lifted by accident.

Regardless of whether there was accidental copying, the two stories are so similar as to raise suspicions of wholesale plagiarism. Furthermore, the fact that Sorkin may have borrowed a quote from the Independent as well as background material raises questions about reporting and fact-checking standards. Sorkin implied that he spoke to the Forbes official. If he didn't, his misstep is even more serious.

The New York Times and Sorkin have a lot more explaining to do. The paper should withdraw the article pending a full investigation.

*Interesting tidbit: According to his bio at on White Plains Library website, Sorkin started writing for the Times before he graduated from high school in 1995.

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Comments

Oh jeez, not again.

The words "blogger ethics panel" come to mind...

I hope the Times has sense enough to end any scandal before it starts by firing Sorkin. There's no crying betting in baseball and there's no plagiarizing at the paper of record.

And even if the Times' explanation actually provided adequate cover for the similarities between the articles, it hardly accounts for the minor and insubstantial differences:

Steve, Malcolm's son, took over in 1990 and has used the magazine as a launchpad for his political ambitions, twice failing to win the Republican nomination for presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000.

vs...

Malcolm's son Steve took over in 1990 and has used the magazine as a launching pad to seek political office, failing to win the Republican nomination for president in 1996 and 2000.

Inverted sentence structure and synonym swapping are the true calling cards of the plagiarist.

...Though, on second blush, I suppose that could actually just be the editorial hand at work.

Hi, Nice!

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