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Times Reporter: The Latest with the Wrong Stuff

In the wake of the second high-profile case of plagiarizing in two weeks, there has to be loads of nervous news executives out there right about now.

If not, there darn well should be.

Plagiarizing, probably the highest crime in journalism, seems to be on a bit of a spree these days. Lest there is a full-blown outbreak, it better be brought under control, but quick.

A week after The Daily Beast suspended its ace investigative reporter, Gerald Posner, for lifting copy from The Miami Herald without attribution (Posner admitted to this), it looks like The New York Times business reporter, Zachery Kouwe, did the same with "language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment."

That last bit is part of an editor's note presumably written by The Times' top editor, Bill Keller. It lead Sunday's corrections column of the newspaper.

In the note, The Times is answering an allegation from Robert Thomson, The Journal's editor-in-chief. Thomson and The Journal believe that Kouwe plagiarized copy from its reporter, Amir Efrati, on a story about Bernie Madoff that went on its wires Feb. 5.

The New York Observer's John Koblin does a nice job of breaking the whole thing down here.

Essentially, Thomson cites six examples of similarities between Kouwe's copy and Efrati's copy. Frankly, the evidence looks indisputable. And while Keller and The Times also seem to think as much, I found it interesting that they never used the word 'plagiarism' in their editor's note.

Maybe it was just an innocent omission, but let's just call it like it is: Plagiarizing.

It's wrong, it's a very serious breach of professional conduct, and as I typed here last week, is a fire-able offense.

Mostly, it needs to be brought under control NOW.

When I filed my posts in this spot on Posner last week, a colleague of mine supposed that 'probably over 90 percent' of journalists don't plagiarize.

Which means in his opinion probably upwards of 10 percent might. This is beyond chilling if even close to true. I have to believe his estimate is high. I mean I have to ...

I do think he properly hypothesizes that the advent of the web has made "a lot of reporters sloppier and less vigilant" -- that the ability to "copy and paste makes it so easy to lift stuff."

And there's a lot of "stuff" out there.

For instance, after reading Koblin's piece on this latest case of plagiarizing, I did a Google search typing the words "Zachery Kouwe plagiarism" to see what else was being reported.

I had intended to make the point that there was a lot of (too much?) "stuff" available on the Internet these days. I was going to count all the entries and report the number to you.

I was forced to quit at 100, or before my eyes started to bleed all over my keyboard. There was seemingly an endless supply of "Zachery Kouwe plagiarism" stories sprawled all over the Internet.
Much of the "stuff" was redundant, yes, but it was just crazy how much there was to read about this singular event.

Which gave me another thought: If a reporter is found to have committed journalism's highest crime, it will be impossible to cover up. It's the stain that will never wash out of the perpetrator's resume.

Maybe that's just the "right stuff" to clean up this filthy mess?

(Got a tip, a gripe, or some kudos? Send 'em along.)