Friday, September 23, 2011

Quoting People We Didn't Speak to and Anonymous Sources

The Arcadian editorial writer leads with the shop-worn announcement: “There are many strange laws contained within Florida statutes,” and helpfully adds, “including one within the Florida Constitution ...”

Ignoring the technicality that the constitution does not contain statutes, readers are whisked directly to the news that a state representative (from a district 200 miles east and north) wants to repeal a statute regarding cohabitation. The editorial never again mentions the other lead about the strange statute, “the one within the Florida Constitution.”

To which we will return in a moment. The editorial presents problems larger than mere incompleteness and incoherence.

The news that Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne) wants to repeal an antiquated cohabitation law went up over at the Sun Sentinel website in mid-afternoon, August 31. That report contains all the quotes (and facts) the Arcadian editorial relies on without one word of attribution.

Frankly, we believe the editor copied -- an act often called plagiarism -- the Sun-Sentinel reporter’s quote from Dennis Baxley.

The belief is based on two inferences.

The first inference is identical wording. Speakers don’t normally use the exact wording they used three weeks ago. If the wording comes from press release, Arcadian editors neglected their professional and ethical duty to say so.

The second inference is the unimaginable likelihood that the local Sun-Herald/Arcadian writer contacted the state lawmaker from Ocala, soliciting comment on a bill filed by the lawmaker from Melbourne in order to write an editorial enlightening Arcadia’s good readers about a capitol kerfuffle in a congress that is out-of-session until early 2012.

After finishing with the plagiarism, the editorial writer goes on to explain the editorial's brave "maybe-maybe not" position rests on not one but two anonymous sources.

The Arcadian editorial quotes “a prominent defense attorney,” but never names him or her. It quotes “a local radio DJ,” but never names him or her.

So, the evidence of plagiarism, of quoting people not actually interviewed, reliance on anonymous sources -- what's left? Oh, yes, that statute contained "within" the state constitution. Although the editorial writer can't be bothered to identify the allusion, one might infer a reference to Article 10, Section 21 requiring the humane treatment of pregnant pigs.

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