Juan Williams Gets Caught Plagiarizing
“Has the intern made me do it” replaced “the dog ate my homework” as the new go to excuse?
Juan Williams, the Fox News commentator and columnist for the Hill, was caught plagiarizing by Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon. Language in his column for the Hill on February 18 was copied almost word for word from a report by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Williams’ excuse? He didn’t mean to plagiarize CAP, he just was plagiarizing his researcher.
Seitz-Wald elaborates on what happened:
In a phone interview Thursday evening, Williams pinned the blame on a researcher who he described as a “young man.”
“I was writing a column about the immigration debate and had my researcher look around to see what data existed to pump up this argument and he sent back what I thought were his words and summaries of the data,” Williams told Salon. “I had never seen the CAP report myself, so I didn’t know that the young man had in fact not summarized the data but had taken some of the language from the CAP report.”
Hugo Gurdon, the editor in chief of the Hill, told Salon on Thursday evening that: “CAP drew the similarities between Juan’s column and their report to my attention and I spoke to Juan about it. He went back and looked at the two and spoke to me having had a look and acknowledged there were unacceptable similarities.
“And he gave me an explanation, which I found satisfactory. And I believe there was an honest mistake and it related to the transfer of copy and the use of a researcher and it was completely inadvertent. He was very concerned to set the record straight.
“All parties — CAP, the Hill and Juan — were satisfied that we had not dramatically changed the column after the fact to conceal what had happened.”
Williams told Salon that the researcher has submitted a letter of resignation, but that he has not decided whether to accept it. “I just feel betrayed,” Williams said.
But he also defended the thinking behind the column: “It’s not the start or ending of the column — it’s not the theory of the column. It’s just the data.”
Williams’ excuse making is unacceptable. All he can say to defend himself is that he meant to plagiarize the researcher that he was using as an uncredited ghost writer and didn’t know the researcher’s work was flawed. And for Williams, these types of journalistic errors wouldn’t be a one off. Williams has a long history of taking journalistic shortcuts as chronicled in this 2012 Vanity Fair article about NPR, Williams’ former employer, and an accompanying article about Williams himself.
Taking someone’s work without attribution is never acceptable. But what makes Williams’ case noteworthy is that the excuse is worth than the crime. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes and it’s easy to see how research can get mixed in with notes. But that isn’t Williams’ defense. Instead, it’s that someone else made that mistake and he simply copied them.
What Williams did is a major journalistic sin and his rather lame apology is unacceptable. Athletes and movie stars may not always be expected to write everything (or even read everything) that appears under their byline but Williams is a journalist. He should be held to a higher standard.
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