Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Margaret Wente: Do as I say

“When I was a kid…if you were caught plagiarizing, you got a zero”. Margaret Wente, as quoted in the blog Mea Culpa by the "anonymous blogger" Carol Wainio.

See what I did there? It's called attribution.
I attributed the quote to the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente, but since I got it from Carol Wainio's blog, I double-attributed it.
You can't be too careful these days in journalism. It's easy to get caught.
Before I was doing this non-paying gig, I wrote for one of these lifestyles blogs for which I got paid a cent a word. Even in that rinky-dink operation, you found yourself in hot water if you quoted  verbatum a piece that was available on Internet. This happened to me a couple of times, but in my case, I was quoting my own writing. The software picked it up and rejected my work as plagiarism.
In this day and age, it's hard not to get caught cribbing from other folks, especially when you are a national columnist for the Globe and Mail and especially if you're a columnist who pisses people off on a regular basis.  
According to Wainio, plagiarism is a regular pastime for Wente. (I don't know this to be true, I'm just paraphrasing Wainio, as I understand her, so please, no lawsuits.)
The fact is, the evidence is as plain as the nose on Wente's face and yet she and her public editor Sylvia Stead took a page from the playbook of Canada's military. When caught, deny, deny, deny. If that doesn't work, take a page from Stephen Harper's political playbook and attack, attack, attack.
Wainio has a vendetta against Wente.
We don't understand why the attacks against Wente are so personal.
And if that doesn't work, try this.
I make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes.
Trouble is, plagiarism is not a mistake that journalists make at the pay rate of Margaret Wente. You don't just cut and paste another journalist's work, then put it in your own column and claim you didn't mean to do it. What you do, if you cut and paste, is make sure you put the selection in quotations in your research and cite the source. It's what any tenth grader has been taught what to do.
Perhaps Wente didn't make it to tenth grade
At the very least, it's shoddy, sloppy journalism committed by somebody who knows better.
Okay, what's done is done.
So where do we go from there? Well, first, the Globe and Mail needs to apologize to Carol Wainio for the many personal attacks made on her. Second, Wente needs to apologize properly to her readers, which she has yet to do. She did on Monday night write a half-baked mea culpa, but then backhanded Wainio for being a stalker, and then simply repeated that her mistakes were unintentional.
This is not acceptable.
Today, days after the crap hit the shoe, the Globe's John Stackhouse finally went into damage control and made a statement that Wente's shoddy journalism was unacceptable and that she has been disciplined. (The Globe then refused to say how she would be disciplined.)
Again, not acceptable.
Here's why.
Let's say something similar happened to a political staffer on Parliament Hill. Writing a speech for the minister, the staff stole material from, say, David Frum without attribution. No doubt, the opposition and the media would pile on, the government would obfuscate, deny, attack and finally admit the mistake -- we hope -- and ultimately the staff would be removed and sent to the party office to make photocopies. In some cases, the staffer would be fired.
In academia and medicine, a writer for a learned journal who committed plagiarism would be ostracized, shamed within their community and never allowed to write a piece for that or any other journal again.
Meantime, the high-horsed Globe and Mail would be calling the plagiarism a firing offence and call for the resignation of the political staffer or the writer for the learned journal.
So somehow the strange case of Margaret Wente seems to be a "do as I say, not as I do" sort of affair.
Pretty cavalier for a paper that sells its wares by claiming it operates at the highest standards of journalism in Canada, wouldn't you say?
The underlying message coming from the Globe is, well, it's Margaret Wente, you know how she is. Yadda yadda. And Stacks seems intent on letting her blorg on with no public consequences. I'd love to know what the discipline is: a spanking in the backroom? Revoking her parking pass?
Perhaps the Globe will follow the example they set with Jan Wong who was secretly hounded out of her job like some kind of character in a Grisham novel.
What would I do if I were John Stackhouse?
Demote her.
Make her write obits.
Better yet, send her back to journalism school for a refresher course.
Just make sure you tell the world about it.

1 comment:

  1. High Rosey:
    Brilant piece thanks for writing it
    Till the day my body completely shuts down will consider myself a photojournalist and "love" our profession.
    This doesn't blind me to the dumbing down of news/24hr news cycle or even an American election being run on hot air and flush..or outright lies.
    Had big debate with young videojournalist at the small paper where my career started. She is blogging the news beat she covers and really serious breach in my view as she leaves herself open to claims that news stories are slanted. Her editor hasn't got time or the will to change the situation.
    Take care Rose really enjoy your work
    Doug P