Principles

by Brendan Wolfe

Albert,

It's nice to find areas of agreement. Thank you. I must admit, however, that it can be difficult arguing with you when you reject the definitions offered and refer instead to "living principles" or, in this case, "my own ethical principles." I'm happy to give you your living and ethical principles, as I'm sure you'll give me mine. But for the sake of talking about plagiarism in a world that is bigger than just yourself, it helps to find definitions we all can agree on. Otherwise accusations of plagiarism don't make sense. For journalists -- since we're talking about journalism -- plagiarism consists of using, as your own, words you don't own. And regardless of whether you approve, we do not always own the words that we write. (I have been a writer and editor -- of words -- my whole career, so I say this with authority.)

Anyway, this wasn't an issue in the Bix interview. The story wasn't bylined, and the paper can "borrow" from itself all it wants. On the other hand, the paper took words from Agatha Beiderbecke's mouth and put them in the body of the story, as if they were not, in fact, spoken by someone else. This is not a capital crime, but it does suggest a certain fuzziness about attribution that for some people raised questions about the article in the first place. And of course it absolutely was plagiarism when the Democrat "borrowed" from the NEA Syndicate. (It's a closer call when it comes to Henry Osgood's words. They are unmistakable allusions, and might warrant a slap on the wrist from a teacher. But I'm not sure if they add up to plagiarism.)

One last point: It's worth bringing up your informant's suggestion that the Beiderbeckes and Adler cooperated to keep Bix's arrest out of the paper.

1) Your informant speaks as if this were true. Is it?

2) If it is, why should we believe that Mannie Adler was simultaneously so ethical he would have immediately fired any plagiarizer and so unethical as to keep legitimate news out of the paper based only on his personal connections?

I'll be the first to admit that people are complicated, and righteous fury can coexist alongside some pretty shady dealings. But we're not talking about what we know or don't know about the man. We're talking in the abstract about what he would have done. In this case, such a contradiction topples the entire argument about what he would have done.

Finally, if it is, in fact, true that the Beiderbecke family arranged to keep Bix's arrest out of the paper, does it not become easier to believe that they also arranged some kind of deal to end the case, also using their connections? I am not suggesting that this is what happened because I don't presume to know what happened. But some have argued quite vehemently that this last scenario wasn't possible. If your informant is correct, then I think it very much is possible.

Posted on Mar 1, 2010, 12:22 PM

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