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  • Re: Plagiarism and infringement
    • Brendan Wolfe
      Posted Feb 15, 2010 5:06 AM

      I think you make a good point, David, and provide some helpful perspective. Let me take a stab, though, at providing some counter-perspective. I think this article has always been considered important because it is the only known interview of Bix Beiderbecke, and now we know it to be a fake. That is not to imbue the piece or even the discovery of plagiarism with "depth" or "gravitas"; it is just to acknowledge that something we thought we might know about Bix, we now know we don't know.

      But the article -- regardless of how quickly it was put together -- was not merely "sloppy, with details filled in or improvised after the fact to meet a quick deadline." It was lifted, almost whole hog. The "details filled in" were stolen from Henry Osgood and from an earlier Democrat story and used to ornament a story that was already itself stolen from Louise Garwood's profile of Abbe Niles. I have been told that in the 1920s plagiarism was common and difficult to catch, and that the professional standards guiding ethical journalism today largely did not yet exist. Still, I find it hard to believe that it was common or accepted practice to take the verbatim words and ideas of a scholar and put them into the mouth of a local celebrity. And I'd be surprised to learn that this is how the trade show dailies worked in the eighties.

      One last point: It is true that the Democrat is neither the Times nor Esquire. It is also true that the paper was not aspiring to hard-hitting journalism, even if its words weren't largely stolen. But the Times, you'll notice, is also packed full of interviews with local celebrities, families, businessmen, and other residents. Sometimes they're well done, other times less so. No reason to think differently about the Democrat. Aside from the fact that it was a fake, the Bix interview -- which did not appear on the news pages or the society pages, but on the front of the arts section -- was pretty smart and rich in ideas. Niles was a somewhat transgressive figure for the time, going against the tide of critics who summarily dismissed jazz and who were patronizing to its African American roots. It does not read to me like a "quickie local 'puff piece.'"

      Maybe I overreach in my defense of the Democrat when, in fact, it committed the indefensible. I simply think that some of us put Bix the man on a pedestal that is way too high while at the same time too easily dismissing Davenport. The two, I think, are related.
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