Saturday, July 25, 2009

Another Reporter Plagiarizes Press Releases -- and Dear Abby

The blue circles marked onto the clip of a story bylined Mary Margaret Staik, right center, are not the parts she plagiarized. They are the 45 or so words she didn't plagiarize. The rest of the story -- about veteran's benefits for surviving spouses whose partners die of Lou Gehrig's disease -- starts with Staik's word-for-word pickup of two paragraphs from a Dear Abby item published in her boss's paper last Saturday. The rest of Staik's story is cut-and-paste from two press releases, one from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the other from the ALS foundation.

Staik's plagiarism even taints her local source, a veteran's affairs officer in Lake Placid, into whose mouth she stuffs a quote lifted directly from the "Dear Abby" piece.

The art is too small to read, so the whole sorry mess, including links to the original Web sources, is printed below the fold.

Veteran Services Office Helping Clients, Widows With ALS Claims
By Mary Margaret Staik

On Sept 23 2008, Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, became a presumptive condition under the VA guidelines for all veterans who served in our armed forces for at least 90 days. The result of this change means that the widows of those veterans who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in years past are eligible for the VA widows’ monthly benefit. [this is the section that's word for word from a July 18 Dear Abby column printed in this and other newspapers.]

“From the number of telephone calls our office is receiving”, reports Joseph A. Dionne, Director Veteran Services, “many people are not aware that a veteran’s death due to this disease is now considered service connected”. [the second part of this "quote" is also lifted from the Dear Abby writer and simply attributed to a local spokesman. Except for the parts where Staik leaves the period outside the quote marks.]

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a national registry of veterans with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The registry helps to identify veterans with a diagnosis of this fatal, neurological disorder, regardless of when they served in the military, and track their health status. Word for word from the Feb. 18 2003 VA press release.

ALS kills the brain and spinal cord cells that control muscle movement, resulting in gradual muscle wasting and loss of movement. It is estimated that only 20 percent of ALS patients live beyond five years, and affects as many as 30,000 Americans. The disease usually strikes those between the ages of 40 and 70. There is no known cure, though science is continuing to find better treatment and a possible cure. Word for word from the ALS organization’s press release dated July 10 2003.

In preliminary findings announced by VA in December 2001, ALS was nearly twice as prevalent among veterans who had been deployed to the Persian Gulf region in 1990 and 1991 than among those not deployed. The incidence was especially high among Air Force personnel who served in the conflict
. The VA again

Other research on veterans of Desert Shield and Desert Storm has confirmed they are at higher risk for a mysterious cluster of symptoms known as Gulf War illnesses, involving chronic fatigue, musculoskeletal problems, asthma, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, memory loss and other problems. More from the VA press release.

For the surviving spouse of a veteran who dies with ALS, DIC benefits may be available. Please contact the Veteran Services Office, 402-6623, for an appointment.

Maybe Copying is Better ....

In the same paper in which Mary Margaret plagiarizes, her editor, George Duncan, writes this:
Many conservatives and almost all Libertarians believe the bunk of the federal government is involved in programs and policies that, in effect, it has no constitutional authority. [...Immigration ...] is another indication that the federal government has made a mess of things. So who does anyone want to allow the federal government to handle health care in this nation. Patients will be dying like flies. ...

And basic literacy and logic are on life support.


  1. No one on this paper's staff ever got fired for plagiarism. There's a pervasive culture of "We don't give a sh**" regarding copyright infringement, photo pilfering, and all the rest. A culture of cheating fosters cheating.

  2. Stealing from press releases at the Sun has been going on for years. It's no big deal there. But from Dear Abby? That's a new low.

  3. JournalismThruTheLyingGlassFri Jul 31, 06:34:00 PM

    I-75 Reader, It's been a while since I've commented. I enjoy your comments because I suspect the depth of your knowledge as I also have, comes from firsthand experience.
    Mary Margaret Staik role at the paper is not clarified. Is she a "staff writer," "contributing writer" or a "plagiarist-in-residence"?
    However, she may have two relatives at the paper. I did not confirm whether Pamela Staik,staff writer or Tom Staik,editor are related to Margaret, however they are employees of SCMG according to the company Website.
    If they are related and live in the same house, I have a question.
    How many Staiks does it take to plagiarize a story?