Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shabbat Plagiarism

It's Saturday morning. The Charlotte Sun has hit the driveway. We slip it from its sleeve and carry it to the breakfast table where the coffee is strong and the danish is sweet. Deep inside the newspaper's local section, Rabbi Solomon Agin tackles a current moral problem.

The teacher examines public intrusion via newspapers and such into private lives (of indiscreet politicians, for example) using the Scales of Justice where wisdom's fulcrum balances Torah on one side, and on the other -- another rabbi's blog.

Yes, Rabbi Agin has turned to Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg's Blog and copied his June 11 sermon, representing it to Charlotte Sun editors as his own words of wisdom.

A couple of red flags would alert any reasonably awake newspaper editor. The first unfurls during the exercise of actually reading the copy: The sermon ends in mid-exposition. A genre that promises a lesson ends with the puzzling and arcane: "And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite woman."

Is this all there is? Yes and no. Yes; this is all the space the Charlotte Sun has for a Shabbat sermon. Cut it from the bottom. But why would a writer submit an article that requires four times the space allotted to discuss?

So, no, this is not all. The remaining 1,600 words are available on the Internet from the man who actually did the theology and exegesis, not to mention the blogging.

The second red flag is the desk itself, the desk of the newpaper's "religion editor" (or whoever pretends to this noble task).

The item comes from the word processor of a moral leader in the community. However, Charlotte Sun's religion editor should know by now that a man of god cannot be expected to translate the seventh commandment, "Thou shall not steal," to real-life journalism. And why should the local editor be expected to know this? Because Sun Coast Media Group's religion desk has a nationally recognized track record -- see left rail -- for hosting holy plagiarists.

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