Another Case of Plagiarism--This Time by a Journalist


Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.

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In early February Eric Black, a Minneapolis Star Tribune staff reporter, provided readers with two essays outlining the history of Iraq. The essays were long and detailed, containing numerous quotations from a number of well-informed historians. Any newspaper would have been proud to post them. They were far more thoughtful than the usual fare published by regional papers on topics related to international events.

A few weeks later, the Melbourne Herald Sun published two essays by Glenn Mitchell outlining the history of Iraq. They too were long, detailed and thoughtful. Another coup for another regional paper? Hardly. The articles are nearly the same word for word. Mitchell's essays seemed to have been taken directly from Eric Black's.

Eric Black:

In the centuries after the Mongol disaster, Iraq served mostly as a buffer or battleground between the great empires based in Turkey and Persia. During most of the period from 1538 to 1914, Iraq was dominated by the Ottoman Turks, who divided what is now Iraq into three provinces.

Glenn Mitchell:

For centuries, Iraq served mostly as a buffer or battleground between the great empires based in Turkey and Persia. From 1538 to 1914, Iraq was dominated by the Ottoman Turks, who divided what is now Iraq into three provinces.

In his piece Eric Black cited historian Renee Worringer, which was not unexpected. Worringer teaches in Black's backyard in Minnesota. But Glenn Mitchell, writing from Australia, also cited Worringer, though he omitted her academic affiliation, which Black had included.


Historian Renee Worringer, who teaches Mideast history at the University of Minnesota, said many Americans seem unaware of the degree to which Iraqi attitudes toward the United States are shaped by their previous experience with Western imperialism.


Middle Eastern historian Renee Worringer says many Americans seem unaware of how much Iraqi attitudes to the US are shaped by previous experience with the West.

The parallels go on and on, leading inescapably to the conclusion that Mitchell either plagiarized from Black or somebody played a bad joke on him, placing his name on Black's articles--and not once, but twice.

Eric Black wrote the paper in March to complain. He told us in an email in April, "The Aussie paper still has never replied. That troubles me for obvious reasons, but I haven't been losing sleep over it." In mid-May he finally got a response from the paper's deputy editor, John Trevorrow, who told him, "I am investigating the matter, and I will get back to you as soon as I can." Finally, in early June Trevorrow called to apologize, saying that "he had investigated and it was a clear case of plagiarism." (Email from Eric Black to HNN, 6-11-03.)

HNN's Alan Weisberg also contacted the paper, which brags on its website that it is "Australia's biggest-selling daily newspaper." The paper declined to respond. It is owned by Rupert Murdoch's media empire, The News Corporation. On June 11 HNN emailed a draft of this article to deputy editor Trevorrow. He promptly responded, but insisted that his response was "NOT FOR PUBLICATION."

So who is Glenn Mitchell? To find out we purchased a pass to archive material on the paper's website. (To gain access we had to agree to the publisher's terms, which included this statement: "All material on this site is subject to copyright.")

Up popped dozens of articles by Glenn Mitchell, most of them listed in the LIFESTYLE category. The first article gives you the flavor. It included this catchy line: "Melanie Symons turned sex bomb for the Logies, but now it's back to work."

Nowhere on the site are Mitchell's articles on Iraq. Had they been taken down since questions were first raised about them? Perhaps. But they remain listed on Lexis Nexis, where we originally came across them.

The Herald Sun told Eric Black that it has severely disciplined Glenn Mitchell. We do not know what form the punishment took. Was Mitchell reprimanded? Docked pay? Put on suspension? The Herald Sun refuses to say. He continues to write for the paper.

Perhaps one of our readers on a visit to Australia can stop in at the Herald Sun and talk with him. It would be interesting to hear what he has to say.

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Greg Tingle - 6/19/2003

Have you read this article before?

If you do a considerable amount of reading, you quite likely have!

Plagiarism is not a new phenomenon in the journalistic world, however, some will say it has run rampant ever since news media websites and “bloggers” became prevalent.

It seems everybody wants to be a journalist, but is afraid to put in “the hard yards”.

Bloggers, the Internet’s newest style of news media websites, are known to contain their fair share of plagiarists.

Plagiarism has recently hit the mainstream in a big way, with the “gray lady”; The New York Times, being at the epicentre of the plagiarism universe.

The former New York Times journalist, Jayson Blair, an aspiring, young and talented journalist; made front-page news not only in New York, but indeed, around the world, but this time is was about him, and the ghastly crimes he had committed.

Blair’s crimes included, but may not be limited to; plagiarism, falsifying diaries and documents, and plain old copying verbatim, of other people’s work, without giving credit. He even went so far as to say he was actually in parts of Iraq when reporting on the war, when in reality, he was on his home turf in the good old USA.

Shortly after Blair’s “demise”, other New York Timers have moved on, including former Managing Editor, Gerald M. Boyd, and former Executive Editor, Howell Raines.

One may ask the question, “why do journalists copy others’ work”? This is likely due to unrealistic deadlines put on them by stressed out editors, lack of imagination and original thought, lack of confidence, and lack of morals. It has long been regarded as the worst crime a journalist can commit.

The Riverfront Times (http://www.riverfronttimes.com) proudly proclaimed on their website, leading with the headline; RFT Hires Disgraced NYT Pinocchio: “Jayson Blair may be persona non grata in New York, but he'll be right at home here”. Upon examination of The Riverfront Times, it appears to be a website without any hardcopy newspaper, and contains a good amount of satire and “made up” stories.

RFT’s editor, Tom Finkel boasts, "We were looking for a writer who can get unbelievable scoops, and when the New York Times busted Jayson, well, it was like some killer-tasting barbecue sauce fell out of the sky and landed right on our plate of ribs."

Even so, it doesn’t make it clear that the story about hiring Blair is not true…unless they know something no one else does. At the time of writing, the RFT has not responded to e-mail queries from Media Man Australia, about the claims.

Perhaps some journalists and editors need to seriously consider going back to journalist school.

Then again, that may not be such a wise piece of advice nor the best cure.

If the journalism school is anything like Petersham TAFE in Sydney, Australia; the students who send their work to newspapers and news outlets with the view to getting published, may find that their work will be plagiarised, or “binned”.

Petersham TAFE student, “James”, recently wrote an article on an historical societies’ issues with the local council, in Sydney’s Hill’s district. He called the local paper to “pitch” the idea, as part of a TAFE assignment. The editor said, “sorry, not very interested, but you can send over your ideas if you like”. James asked, “can you give me some feedback on my work”? The editor didn’t. Some 4 weeks later the article appeared in the very same newspaper, with a different headline, and a limited number of changes. James had clearly done the work.

In the same classroom, Greg wrote a series of articles on the crime-wave going through his local suburb of Maroubra. He e-mailed and telephoned the major and local newspapers and news outlets. A few days later his article was on page 5 of a major Sydney newspaper, in a slightly re-written format.

Greg and James’s teacher says, “there is no bigger compliment than imitation”. Perhaps so, but payment for ones efforts and credit to the author would be a nice gesture. The TAFE teacher also suggested that some of the TAFE journalism teachers were “very well connected” and “switched into the newspapers”. One may draw ones own conclusions from that statement.

So, what tips can the “clean” journalist learn form this?

Keep copies of all your work, and extensive notes on who you make contact with, when and about what subject!

Like this article?

Perhaps to the extent that you may be tempted to “borrow” or “lift” a few of the ideas?

Don’t bother, someone probably already has.

Article by Greg Tingle greg@mediaman.com.au

Thomas Gunn - 6/17/2003

06.17.03 ~1405

An editor for the Herald Sun answers charges of plagiarism at his paper and in response to a prepublication article on HNN claims privilege? How Lame is That?

Good effort here Rick!