The New York Times "reported the hell out of" their scandal, why can't the Globe and Mail?
The Globe and Mail yesterday disciplined Margaret Wente for acts of plagiarism committed in a 2009 column and the editor of the Globe afforded Wente print space with which to defend herself in today's paper. Wente is the subject of over sixteen months of plagiarism accusations compiled by Carol Wainio, a University of Ottawa professor who posts criticisms of Canadian media at her blog Media Culpa.
The Globe's response to Wente's actions, and Wente's defense of them, fell flat.
The Globe has addressed one of several concerning allegations that Wainio has put forth. It is unclear if any investigation the paper has made into the allegations against Wente was conducted with any degree of competence.
Indeed, the only individuals who appear to have reviewed the allegations in any official capacity for the Globe are its editor, John Stackhouse, and its public editor, Sylvia Stead. Stackhouse runs the paper and Stead has worked there for eleven years longer than I have been alive (I was born in 1986). Stead, the Falstaff of this whole affair, today wrote a new online piece to Globe journalists that effectively reads: "Hey everybody why don't you focus on doing your fucking jobs because I don't have the fucking will to do mine." Her actions during the Wente controversy, including a confused and nonsensical statement on Friday that the Globe itself has disowned and the National Post's Chris Selley dismantles here, are laughable.
"Well, the idea seems to be that since Wente has pled guilty there's no call for more investigation," said Colby Cosh, an assistant editor at Maclean's. "But by saying 'I'm not a 'serial plagiarist,' Wente has given this new life."
"The details are a little fuzzy at this remove, but we reported the hell out of [the Jayson Blair story] and I'm confident we talked to everyone and examined everything relevant to the plagiarism and fabrications we documented," said Adam Liptak, the New York Times' Supreme Court correspondent who was one of the reporters on the paper's landmark, 7000 word investigative piece on plagiarism committed by one of its own writers, when VICE asked him if the Times contacted the authors Blair was suspected of plagiarizing from.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Steven Pinker, the Canadian-born professor of psychology at Harvard University, when we presented him with Wainio's allegations that Wente borrowed from his own work. Irwin Cotler, the member of parliament for Mount Royal and former Minister of Justice, confirmed through his office that he has not seen Wainio's allegation that Wente ordered quotes in one of her columns in a similar manner to a piece he wrote for the Montreal Gazette.
Pinker is diplomatic and forgiving: "I’m not particularly upset, and would not press the Globe and Mail for a retraction. The rewordings are close but not exact, and [Wente] gives me plenty of credit, so this is borderline plagiarism at worst, more likely falling into the grey zone."
And Pinker is right. Not all of Wainio's allegations will stand up, but there is no way of knowing which ones will unless a proper investigation into the matter is conducted by real journalists without an agenda to protect the Globe's brand.
At this point, one thing is clear: the New York Times is the United States' paper of record. The Globe and Mail is Canada's. Faced with mounting evidence of plagiarism by one of its writers, the Times sent out seven staff members to report on and deliver its eventual verdict on Blair. In a similar situation, the Globe has, so far, had two individuals with a deep attachment to the paper look at the allegations. At the Globe, no substantive disciplinary action has been taken. Blair, mind you, was ordered to clear out his desk.
And if the Globe is incapable of a transparent and objective analysis of its own product, it has another way out.
During the Jonah Lehrer controversy earlier this year, Wired recruited NYU journalism professor Charles Seife to conduct an independent investigation into Lehrer's work for the magazine. "I did not speak to any of [the writers whose work was suspected of being copied]," said Seife, on the phone from his office in New York. "It seemed to me like a red herring. What if the writer you're contacting is a friend of the plagiarist? I think you should be able to judge whether something is plagiarism on its merits. And some writers might draw different distinctions at what is and what isn't allowed when borrowing text."
Seife did make judgments of Lehrer's work on its own merits and Lehrer was fired by Wired.
The Globe has two choices. Until it takes up one of them, it is not a credible newspaper.