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Beast Owes Readers Better Plagiarism Explanation

Getting to this one a bit late. Tardy or not, though, it is worth at least 50 lashes with a pica pole ...

A Slate story last Friday reports Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner admitted to plagiarizing.

At the time, Posner, who is listed as the Beast's chief investigative reporter, said he lifted five sentences from this Miami Herald story and used them in a piece he was typing for the Beast -- though he is not sure how it happened.

When we went to Posner's story today to get the lowdown, confirmation, and any updates, this note was posted atop the story:

Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this article, five sentences were inadvertently copied from a Miami Herald report without attribution. The Daily Beast has removed the sentences and regrets the error. Two additional such sentences have also been removed.

So it looks like the admitted wrongdoing has widened in scope since last Friday.

There is no higher crime in journalism than plagiarism. It is stealing, pure and simple. In many places, it is a fire-able offense, though the Beast is sticking with its man, according to the Slate story.

Only Posner knows for sure if this was accidental (as he claims) or premeditated. While I find his admission heartening, his explanation is a bit implausible.

The way I see it, there are only two likely scenarios by which this could have happened:

One: If he cut and pasted the plagiarized elements from the Miami Herald and then manipulated them slightly for his own piece, he had to know he was using prose that wasn't his own.

Two: If he read the piece from the Miami Herald and then later typed his own similar version without realizing it, that kind of stretches the bounds of believability, doesn't it?

In this bit from the Slate story it quotes Posner as explaining the above, second possibility this way:

He said he had no memory of having seen the Herald story, describing himself as "absolutely sure" he did not see it before sending his own story to Beast editors. But that memory must be wrong, he said, because the similarities between the two pieces are too great, and the Herald's story was posted before he e-mailed his to his editors at 2:03 a.m. on Feb. 2.

"I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied." He regards the subtle differences between his copy and the Herald's as evidence of him "doing the rewrite" of what he thought was his copy.

First he is "absolutely sure" he did not see the Herald story, and then he "must have" seen the story.

Again, only Posner knows for sure whether what he did was intentional, but from what we know about this incident, I'm not sure it's prudent to just close the book on the whole thing, either.

Besides the 50 lashes, let's hope the Beast is looking through some of Posner's other copy to see if the guy is a serial plagiarizer, or just the lazy perpetrator of some one-off crime.

This quote in the Slate story from Daily Beast Executive Editor Edward Felsenthal is worrisome in this regard, though:

"I'm convinced this was an unintentional aberration in an extraordinary career breaking news and doing top quality journalism with high ethical standards," Felsenthal said.

Maybe, and I'm all for Felsenthal standing behind his guy, but he owes it to his readers to inform them of how it is he came to be 'convinced.'

If he hasn't already, he should do what he'd tell any good reporter to do: check it out.