May 1, 2019

A dirty word

2.8 min read| Published On: May 1st, 2019|

By Chris Gerbasi

A dirty word

2.8 min read| Published On: May 1st, 2019|
Illustration: Megan Mericle

Some journalists refuse to say it: plagiarism.

And now, with stories ripped from today’s headlines and then taped back together, here’s “Deadline” with your host, Ted Kapoppel.

Ted: Tonight, we examine ethics in media in the internet age. Recent reports have detailed allegations of plagiarism in a book about journalistic ethics written by the former editor of True or False magazine, based—where else?—in Florida. In an exclusive interview, we have the woman at the center of that firestorm, Laverna Gutenberg. Welcome, Miss Gutenberg.

Laverna: Thank you, Ted. I look forward to your barrage of attacks and the chance to defend myself.

Ted: Tell us about your book, “Brokers of Facts: How the Media Remains Ethical in the Insta-News Age—No, Really We Do, I Teach an Ethics Class So You Have to Believe Me.”

Laverna: I explain how today’s stories are researched and presented by news outlets from mega-conglomerates to mom-and-pop weeklies, and how the quest for facts often blurs the line of ethics.

Ted: That’s an admirable premise, however, you face accusations of using excerpts from other writers virtually word for word without any attribution to those sources.

Laverna: There may have been some oversights that have since been corrected.

Ted: Oversights? Bob Woodward said you used part of a Watergate story. 

Laverna: The classics are timeless.

Ted: Here’s an entire page written in all caps, made-up words, and exclamation points that is clearly in the style of columnist Dave Barry.

Laverna: Now wait one second. Dave Barry didn’t get a copyright on all caps and exclamation points—even though he tried. Can you believe he won a Pulitzer for that stuff?

Ted: Well, here’s a page that Joseph Pulitzer’s descendants say came from an 1882 editorial that he wrote.

Laverna: Statute of limitations! Statute of limitations! That’s what my lawyer always says.

Ted: You’re also accused of duplicating little Britney Summerville’s recess report from the It’s Elementary newsletter at Littleton Elementary School in Littleton, Colorado. And I quote, “Mikey pushed Suzie. Mikey is a doody-head.”  

Laverna: If it’s a crime to write like a third-grader, then I’m guilty. I’ve sent Britney a pen and pencil set as a token of my esteem. Keep up the good work, Britney.

Ted: How did these plagiarized passages reach print?

Laverna: Ooh. Careful, Ted. I don’t like the “P” word. I prefer to call them “oopsies.” Regrettably, I had a head cold throughout the editing process and some bad antihistamine caused memory lapses. But I was meticulous in my sloppiness.

Ted: Shouldn’t a book about ethics be free of ethical errors?

Laverna: I’m not saying this is a bible.

Ted: What about this unattributed quotation, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That’s from the Bible.

Laverna: I wasn’t aware. I’m an atheist.

Ted: I now refer to your writer’s bio, which reads, “Laverna also is an accomplished singer who has sold more than 100 million albums, won a Grammy Award for ‘Lemonade,’ and received worldwide praise for her 2016 Super Bowl halftime performance.” That sounds a lot like Beyoncé.

Laverna: She’s a very inspirational woman. Are you saying I can’t aspire to be like Bey?

Ted: You also were sued over your book’s original title, “50 Shades of Grey.”

Laverna: That was a typo—according to an undisclosed settlement.

Ted: Don’t you think it’s time to ’fess up to your lies?

Laverna: It’s not a lie if you believe it, Ted.

Ted: That’s chilling, Laverna. I’ve heard serial killers say the exact same thing.

Laverna: Everything I’ve said is true or my name isn’t Christiane Amanpour. I mean, Laverna Gutenberg.

Ted: That’s all the time we have. Thank you, Miss Gutenberg, and good luck with your new teaching position at the Journalism ’R’ Us Academy. I leave you, viewers, with one final thought. It’s not original, I’m paraphrasing, but I will credit the source. As Lord Byron wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”


About the Author: Chris Gerbasi

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