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Times Answers WSJ’s Complaint About Apparent Plagiarism

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The New York Times issued a correction yesterday acknowledging apparent plagiarism by reporter Zachery Kouwe of an article written by Wall Street Journal reporter Amir Efrati.

The Times also mentions that there are other possible incidents of plagiarism by Kouwe.

The issue came to light after Robert Thomson, editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote Times executive editor Bill Keller that “a significant proportion of an article by Wall Street Journal reporter was used verbatim, or near verbatim, in a story by the Times’ Zachery Kouwe, both online and in print.” His letter was published in The Times on Friday.

Once sentence that was apparently lifted (Example 6 below) carries the same typo in the word “accounts.”

Here is the correction, and below is Thomson’s letter:

In a number of business articles in The Times over the past year, and in posts on the DealBook blog on NYTimes.com, a Times reporter appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations.

The reporter, Zachery Kouwe, reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment.

The Times was alerted to the problem by editors at The Wall Street Journal. They pointed out extensive similarities between a Journal article, first published on The Journal’s Web site around 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, and a DealBook post published two hours later, as well as a related article published in The Times on Feb. 6.

Those articles described an agreement on an asset freeze for members of Bernard L. Madoff’s family, in a lawsuit filed by a court-appointed trustee. In the Times article and the DealBook post, several passages are repeated almost exactly from the Journal article.

A subsequent search by The Times found other cases of extensive overlap between passages in Mr. Kouwe’s articles and other news organizations’. (The search did not turn up any indications that the articles were inaccurate.)

Copying language directly from other news organizations without providing attribution — even if the facts are independently verified — is a serious violation of Times policy and basic journalistic standards. It should not have occurred. The matter remains under investigation by The Times, which will take appropriate action consistent with our standards to protect the integrity of our journalism.

Here is Thomson’s letter:

Dear Mr. Keller,

I’m writing to alert you to a case of apparent plagiarism in the New York Times. As you’ll see from the text below, a significant proportion of an article by Wall Street Journal reporter Amir Efrati was used verbatim, or near verbatim, in a story by the Times’ Zachery Kouwe, both online and in print. There was no general news release about this particular story and the Journal’s coverage was informed by original reporting and a meticulous review of legal files related to the case of Mr. Bernard Madoff.

Mr. Efrati’s Wall Street Journal story, titled, “Madoff Sons, Brother, Niece Being Sued by Trustees for Victims” was published on Dow Jones Newswires at 12:25 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5, and was published on WSJ.com shortly thereafter. At 2:31 p.m., Mr. Kouwe published a related, in fact, a remarkably related story. The examples below show the striking similarities.

Example 1:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff’s December 2008 arrest.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff’s arrest in December 2008.

Example 2:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

The family members agreed not to transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of the trustee.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Under the agreement, the family members cannot transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of Mr. Picard.

Example 3:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses.
The defendants also will provide the trustees with an accounting of their expenditures, the orders say.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses.
The defendants also will provide the trustee with an accounting of their expenditures.

Example 4:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Last year Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee’s $45 million lawsuit against her.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Last year, Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee’s $45 million lawsuit against her.

Example 5:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

According to the trustee’s lawsuit, son Andrew Madoff invested just under $1 million into his Madoff investment accounts yet withdrew $17 million through “brazenly fabricated transactions.”

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

According to the trustee’s lawsuit, Andrew Madoff placed just under $1 million into his Madoff investment accounts yet withdrew $17 million through “brazenly fabricated transactions” over the years.

Example 6:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Peter Madoff invested $32,146 into his ccounts but redeemed more than
$16 million in similar fashion, the trustee said.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Peter Madoff invested $32,146 into his ccounts but redeemed more than
$16 million, the trustee claims.

The extensive use of such similar phrases, without any attribution, is extraordinary. This is not a case of involving a columnist with apparently perfect recall or a case of cryptomnesia, but one of fundamental journalistic integrity.

Clearly, we expect that The New York Times will run a correction and publically acknowledge the source of the published material– that source being The Wall Street Journal.

Yours,

Robert Thomson

CC: Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Larry Ingrassia, Business Editor
Philip Corbett, Deputy News Editor

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Written by newscycle

February 15, 2010 at 11:34 pm

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