Plagiarism or Bad Editing?

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Investment adviser Gabriel Wisdom was fired from both NPR, where he was a freelance contributor for “Marketplace”, and his local radio station, KPBS, over a plagiarism controversy regarding his use of quotes from a story by Daniel Gross of the online magazine Slate.com.

Wisdom, however, says that the incident is being blown out of proportion.

In an article regarding his firings, Wisdom claimed to the Washington Post, the newspaper which first broke the story, that he twice credited Michael Panzner, who came up with the theory that’s the subject of both pieces, but had his attribution edited out.

” ‘Marketplace’ edited out my attribution to the person who came up with this theory, and they admitted that,” he said. “I don’t have any opportunity to hear the final cut before it goes out (on the air). Had I heard that cut omitting the credit to this guy, I could’ve done something about it, but I wasn’t given and have never been given that opportunity.

“I’m sorry all this happened. I’m not a journalist. I relied on ‘Marketplace’ to do the proper editing.”

Though it’s rare for plagiarists to outright admit that they were wrong and excuses are very common, this is one time the story makes sense and is very plausible. Almost all journalists, regardless of field, don’t get to see their final product. They crank out their work and send it up the chain of command to bounce from editor to editor without them getting a second glance at it until it actually runs. Editors, often under time and space pressures, often make stupid decisions.

In the end, it could be exactly what happened.

Even though I’m happy to see that NPR and KPBS take plagiarism seriously enough to fire an employee caught doing it (even though he was an unpaid employee), this might be a rush to judgment. His original work, not the finished product, needs to be compared to the article in question to see what really happened.

If it is a case of lobbed off attribution, then NPR should be the one apologizing, not Mr. Wisdom. Because no matter how much time you have to save or how much material you have to cut, there’s no excuse for cutting off attribution. It adds a trivial amount to a journalistic work but prevents so much trouble.

This is a matter that should definitely be looked into deeper as it raises some very interesting questions regarding the role editors have in preventing plagiarism in their various media.

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