Readers of this morning’s Gazette were greeted by a front-page note from Editor Jeff Thomas that announced the firing of a summer intern for the grave sin of plagiarism.
According to Thomas, the unpaid “employee” had plagiarized parts of four different stories which had run in the paper. In the single example cited by the editor, an entire paragraph had been swiped from an article that had appeared in the New York Times during 1999.
Thomas fired her – fair enough. He followed up by naming her in an indignant, front-page piece in which he referred to the Gazette’s obligation to cover the news fairly and accurately. No quarrel with that – but why did he choose to call her out by name?
A joke that used to circulate in the former Soviet Union described workplace life in mordant terms: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.” And Grenadians are wont to say “T’ief from t’ief make God laugh!”
The Dixie Chicks, in their hit song “Wide Open Spaces,” sang of a young woman’s need to find “room to make big mistakes.” Those spaces have disappeared for the young Gazette intern – now, her mistakes, big and small, will follow her forever.
That’s why I think a little more compassion and a little less editorial wrath might have been appropriate.
The intern’s plagiarism was glaringly obvious – just as obvious as Pulitzer prize-winning columnist’s Maureen Dowd’s pilfered paragraph in a recent piece.
In a column published on May 17, Dowd lifted about 40 words directly from a column by Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. Called out, Dowd admitted the theft, made some lame excuse and moved on.
She apologized. She repented, and Marshall was gracious – and she’s still a highly-paid columnist.
I suspect that the G’s former intern will find a career better suited to her than journalism, one in which plagiarism is no vice and originality is no virtue (recognize the plagiarized paraphrase?). That would be politics, of course-and her role model would be Vice President Joe Biden who, twenty years ago, stole an entire speech from an obscure British pol.