Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lake Placid, like Diogenes, Searches for One Honest Editor

Last week, it was three paragraphs.* Today, it begins with one sentence. And like a stray thread on a cheap sweater, Old Word Wolf pulled -- and the whole thing unraveled. The cheap sweater is George Duncan's column, Random Thoughts, bottom of page 7 of The Journal, which hit the streets and newsboxes in Lake Placid this morning.

From a blogger comes this account of a ruling by Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Judge Brown does what millions of taxpayers have always wanted to do - she zapped the IRS. She vividly starts the majority opinion in Cohen v. United States this way: “Comic-strip writer Bob Thaves famously quipped, ‘A fool and his money are soon parted. It takes creative tax laws for the rest.’ States Rogers: “In sum, the IRS unlawfully expropriated billions of dollars from taxpayers, conceded the illegitimacy of its actions, and developed a mandatory process as the sole avenue by which the agency would consider refunding its ill-gotten gains. (The Journal, Aug. 12, underlining in mine)

Since Duncan doesn’t name the blogger, OWW did a word search. The phrase “She vividly starts with the majority opinion in Cohen v. United States this way” ran in an Aug. 7 blog staffed by McClatchy News, Miami Herald owners. Duncan used the line, word for word, and then he used the blogger's quotes of the original document (I'm betting, but I can't really be sure. Maybe Duncan did go to the court decision -- it's on the Web -- and extracted exactly that quote. Somehow, though, I doubt it.)

"She vividly..." etc., is a one-liner, but it’s someone else’s one-liner. Duncan did manage to choke out “a blogger,” so he earns partial credit. But the newspaper editor hasn’t mastered using quotation marks around words he didn’t write, and he seems to have forgotten whatever he knew about using phrases like “said Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy News Service’s Washington Bureau.”

The unraveling begins. The editor’s one-line transgression prompted OWW to take a closer look at the rest of his column. In his column's second Random Thought, Duncan reports remarks made by a congressman who opposes the national healthcare bill. Duncan offers a blanket attribution at the outset: “National Review online details this story about Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, R-New Orleans, who studied to be a Jesuit priest ...”

Google returns 456 places that used Cao's “I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,” starting with The Examiner, wandering over to Politico, the Daily Mail, Catholic News Agency and a bunch of religious, right-to-life and right-wing nut sites. Not one hit is returned for National Review Online.

However, nearly every site that uses the congressman’s remarks tips a hat to the original source, the August 1 edition of The Times Picayune. A few sites even go so far as to name the hardworking reporter who cornered the hometown congressman and took the trouble to write down his words: Times Picayune Washington Bureau writer Jonathon Tilove.

Duncan wasn’t one of the hat tippers. Duncan appears to make no use of the miracle of the World Wide Web and his desktop browser to even try to credit the primary source. He apparently has relied on a report of a report – a source that he can’t remember and blithely tosses off to the NRO.

In fairness, perhaps National Review Online does carry word of the congressman's stand buried so deep that Google can't find it, so Old Word Wolf used NRO’s own search engine repeatedly, trying with the terms “Cao,” “being a Jesuit,” and “death of my political career.” Nothing found by NRO searching its own archive search feature.

OK, so Duncan didn’t source an interview that he didn’t conduct, and he didn’t accurately remember where he got the iinformation from. Could it get any worse? That’s a rhetorical question and the answer is yes.

Duncan’s an editor and he’s allowed to editorialize. He can make relevant (or even irrelevant) observations about the news that reflects his opinion. Here’s his opinionizing about congressman Cao’s willingness to commit political suicide:

Cao’s remarks call to mind the famous scene in A Man for All Seasons where Thomas More confronts his betrayer Richard Rich, who was made Attorney General for Wales for falsely testifying against him: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?”

This fine bit of editorializing ran word for word in a blog posted last week in The Weekly Standard. The association between the famous play and current event came to the mind of columnist John McCormack in his blog post titled "But for Wales."

The fruits of McCormack’s thoughts were harvested by George Duncan and secretly grafted onto Lake Placid’s cheerful little journal -- presumeably for personal aggradizement and ego gratification rather than a journalist's motivations to uncover the truth or inform readers.

George Duncan closes his paragraphs on Congressman Cao by noting that Cao is a man of morals and integrity. Duncan wraps up the whole column by remarking that Diogenes searched for one honest man.

Lake Placid readers are still searching for one honest editor.

* of plagiarism, that is.

And there's more unraveling below the fold:

OWW hadn't looked into The Journal's news editor when he was hired last year. If she had, she would have found out that the man who calls himself a writer and journalist, runs a personal blog that features "Science Fiction, Faith, and Golf." The logo's centerpiece is The Good Book.

Duncan's works of fiction -- and we're not refering here to his newspaper editorials -- are prominent stock among several Christian book clubs. And, like so many hypocrites before him, Duncan promotes himself as holier-than-the-liberals and a family-values kind of moralist.


  1. JournalismThruTheLyingGlassThu Aug 13, 05:23:00 PM

    Excellent job, OWW.

    We always expect that from you.

    I would love to see if you could get an interview with David Dunn-Rankin and the ME of the Charlotte Sun to discuss why they believe these things happen.

    I suspect they would decline your request for an interview.

    Having been inside the "Death Star" of journalism, I must say that lack of regard for accuracy, the plagiarizing of material and all the rest are disregarded as if it is not a problem. That is my opinion based on observation.

    There are no repercussions for these actions.

    Love to see DDR and others at SCMG comment on why they believe this happens and continues to happen at their newspapers.

  2. I've heard what editors at the Sun think of readers who criticize them and no, it's not nice. There's a comment somewhere on this blog by one of them that pretty much sums it up. The owners don't care as long as they make a tidy profit. Most with any amount of talent don't stay unless they drop standards and drink the company punch. Others are run off or treated like dirt until they leave.

  3. Anonymous is very precise and accurate about how it works.
    Upper management never draws a correlation between declining circulation and the declining quality of content due to loss of talented and professional journalists.
    They blame the economy.
    They are correct it is the economy in that only the best of breed companies will survive.
    SCMG doesn't even make the sour milk list.