February 9, 2019

"But look, I was trying to write a seamless narrative, and to keep breaking it up with 'according to' qualifiers would have been extremely clunky. But in retrospect, I wish I’d done that."

Jill Abramson, caught and waffling.

Interviewed at Vox.
Sean Illing —Would you call any of this plagiarism?

Jill Abramson — No, I wouldn’t. This was completely unintentional. I mean, I have 70 pages of footnotes and I tried to credit everyone’s work as best I can. What we’re talking about here are sets of facts that I borrowed; obviously, the language is too close in some cases, but I’m not lifting original ideas. Again, I wish I had got the citation right, but it’s not an intentional theft or taking someone’s original ideas — it’s just the facts. But I’m owning it and I’m disappointed in myself for these mistakes.

Sean Illing — I grant that plagiarism is a fluid concept and it’s not always clear where the lines are.... [T]hose facts had to be collected and corroborated by the people you borrow from, so in that sense, you are stealing their labor, no?

Jill Abramson — I’m not going to get into a semantic argument about whether this fits some definition or not. I really think I’ve talked about this in full, and really would love to move on.
Sean Illing — ... Some of these passages that overlap with your source material have been tweaked just enough to avoid outright plagiarism, which suggests they were written self-consciously. Is that fair?

Jill Abramson — No, they were not.

Sean Illing — Maybe it would help if you could explain your process. How do you go about fact-checking and citing source material? How do you explain the multiple factual errors ...

Jill Abramson — I had a fact-checker and several people helping me with research, and I did many drafts of many chapters full of factual materials, and, you know, mistakes were made.
Wow. Funny that she came out with "Mistakes were made." I thought savvy people know that's a stock phrase that has come to mean the very thing it was invented to cover up — like "ethnic cleansing." Just as "ethnic cleansing" now just means genocide, "mistakes were made" means I fucked up.

"Mistakes were made" has its own Wikipedia article. (I love Wikipedia!)
The acknowledgement of "mistakes" is framed in an abstract sense, with no direct reference to who made the mistakes... The New York Times has called the phrase a "classic Washington linguistic construct." Political scientist William Schneider suggested that this usage be referred to as the "past exonerative" tense, and commentator William Safire has defined the phrase as "[a] passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it.".A commentator at NPR declared this expression to be "the king of non-apologies."....

U.S. President Richard Nixon used the phrase several times in reference to wrongdoings by his own electoral organization and presidential administration.

On May 1, 1973, White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler stated "I would apologize to the Post, and I would apologize to Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein" (referring to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post). He continued, "We would all have to say that mistakes were made in terms of comments. I was overenthusiastic in my comments about the Post, particularly if you look at them in the context of developments that have taken place." The previous day, White House counsel John Dean and Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman had resigned, as the Watergate scandal progressed.

On January 27, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan used the phrase in the State of the Union Address while discussing contacts with Iran in what came to be known as the arms-for-hostages scandal within the Iran-Contra affair. He said, in part: "And certainly it was not wrong to try to secure freedom for our citizens held in barbaric captivity. But we did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so. We will get to the bottom of this, and I will take whatever action is called for."...

On January 14, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, during his State of the State address, said "mistakes were clearly made" in reference to the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.

On May 12, 2015, potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush could not fully commit to an answer when asked if he would have voted to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, using the phrase "simple fact is, mistakes were made" on Sean Hannity's radio show. He was lambasted by both liberals and conservatives for his answer....
Wikipedia directs us to this unforgettable Matt Groening comic...
And I was not plagiarizing Matt Groening. That was fair use. And if you don't agree, then, in the scintillating words of Jill Abramson, I’m not going to get into a semantic argument about whether this fits some definition or no.

What can Jill Abramson do to atone? I'm going to say get Amy Klobuchar in here to throw a binder at her.

69 comments:

Lucid-Ideas said...

Former editor in chief at NYT. I'm shocked

Dickin'Bimbos@Home said...

"mistakes were made" = NYT Clintonian.

Achilles said...

She is one of the smartest journalists there are.

Rob said...

Clunkiness is next to Godliness.

Dave Begley said...

"This was completely unintentional."

So now there's a mens rea element to plagiarism? I don't think so. It is a strict liability crime.

Interesting that this weasel is using the same line of defense as her idol, Hillary. She is also the same nut that carried a Hillary "comfort doll" in her purse.

The whole world realizes that the NYT is a complete fraud. Fake News is composed by lying political hacks who are not very smart and lazy as hell.

RK said...

I could say, eh, it's Vox, well known fake-newsers.

Or I could say, this is what they do to women. The same thing that would be tolerated (or even celebrated) in a man is terrible in a woman.

Achilles said...

Does the right tail of the journalist bell curve stop in triple digits?

I am not convinced.

Fernandistein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hagar said...

I have no idea to what extent Jill Abramson transgressed, but I do think today's academe rather overdoes the footnote and non-plagiarism things. It does tend to "make the foreground go underground," so to speak, and makes for dry reading.

Fernandistein said...

"onk onk" ------------------------

Former editor in chief at NYT.

So the plagiarized stuff is fake?

I'm plagiarizing this so-called "Gettysburg Address":

1090 York Rd, Gettysburg, PA 17325

Ken B said...

You see, I don’t care. I am amused at how insular the plagiarism police are. Most of us know those passages are not creative work, they are simply lists in prose form. There are only a certain number of ways to really do that.
This is a (sub)culture thing. I was in software. No one in software gets their knickers in a twist over such stuff, sharing and collaborative creation are the norm. I have written emails my bosses just incorporated into reports or other mail. SOP. I have copied code and had my code copied.
When she passes off a cribbed story or a novel as her own, call me.

Jupiter said...

Much as I despise the Commie propagandist, she does have a point. None of the quotations I have seen was in any way memorable as a piece of writing. When it is generally agreed that "America put a man on the Moon in 1969", does it really make a lot of sense to require the next person referencing that fact to change it into "In 1969, a man from the United States landed on the Earth's only natural satellite."?

I guess maybe this should be a tort rather than a crime. If the author(s) plagiarized want to sue her, go for it. Itemize your damages. If she has a boss, he can fire her for trying to pass off someone else's work as original work done for him. But I don't really see what stake the rest of us have in the matter. Don't buy her fooking buck, already.

StephenFearby said...

AA concluded with:

"What can Jill Abramson do to atone? I'm going to say get Amy Klobuchar in here to throw a binder at her."

Absolutely delicious.

LOL.

Phidippus said...

Footnotes, babe, footnotes. Ever read a book that had those in them? Ever write a paper in college?

I went to Rutgers, not Harvard, and even we had to footnote our papers or have them returned to us unmarked (or worse).

Of course, that was a long time ago, in a different country.

Jupiter said...

Ken B said...
"I was in software. No one in software gets their knickers in a twist over such stuff, sharing and collaborative creation are the norm."

They write software on Mars? Who knew. Won't be long before the patent trolls put an end to that.

Jupiter said...

Phidippus said...

"Of course, that was a long time ago, in a different country."

And besides, the wench is dead.

traditionalguy said...

This elite asshole committed such blatant Plagiarism that I actually feel embarrassed by her.

Yancey Ward said...

Plagiarism happened.

Mary H said...

Dave Begley,

Actually, she carried a miniature Obama doll in her purse. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/why-no-carrying-a-tiny-doll-of-obama-in-your-purse-is-not-at-all-weird-why-do-you-ask

Achilles said...


Ken B said...
"I was in software. No one in software gets their knickers in a twist over such stuff, sharing and collaborative creation are the norm."

If Stackoverflow goes down software development comes to a grinding halt...

Yancey Ward said...

You rigorously use citations, quotation marks (in this day and age, blockquotes, and font formatting). If you are uncomfortable with "according to", then you change up the referencing phrase- there are many I can come up with in just a minute's thinking time. This isn't rocket science.

Amadeus 48 said...

According to an article in Politico, Jill was fired as editor of the NYT because of her inability to manage people in the newsroom and ultimately for lying to her boss. She hired someone without consulting the news team management, and then told her boss that everyone was on board when she made the offer.

Mistakes were made. What Jill Abramson needs is a good editor.

Ralph L said...

She ought to claim it was ghost-written by Obama.

tim maguire said...

Sometimes I think too much is made of plagiarism. If she had 70 pages of footnotes then she's trying to give credit where credit is due--having 2 sources and citing neither is a very different case from having 25 sources and citing 23. And I agree with her other point--the passages I've seen are fairly pedestrian renderings of simple facts. The order or choice of details is very suggestive that she got the phrasing from these other people, but it's entirely possible that the use was unintentional. Memory is funny that way.

hawkeyedjb said...

"Mistakes were made..." To which the only appropriate followup is: Who made them?

dbp said...

In case one were to get the false impression that the "mistakes were made" term is only used by Republicans--just because Althouse only chose 5 examples which follow that template, here are some Democratic examples of the user, some pretty recent.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/defeated-sen-claire-mccaskill-says-she-was-hurt-by-democrats-mishandling-of-brett-kavanaugh-accusations

https://www.wisn.com/article/baldwin-mistakes-were-made/5994308

https://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Mistakes-Were-Made-Says-President-Clinton-2856129.php



Laslo Spatula said...

To make a "seamless narrative" sometimes you need to cut away and discard narrative fabric.

The NYT's seamless narratives have the same essential utility as a turtleneck sweater with no sleeves.

I am Laslo.

EDH said...

Strange Justice?

rhhardin said...

"Little did he know" is its own famous phrase. A lit professor in Stranger then Fiction (2006) wrote an essay on it.

narciso said...

we forget what qualified miss Abramson, defaming Clarence Thomas again and again, with her partner in crime, jane mayer,

Howard said...

I'm owning it, fixing it and ready to move on. Wash, rinse, repeat

tcrosse said...

Maybe with advances in Artificial Intelligence some day those mistakes will make themselves.

narciso said...

the latter moved on to 'devils advocates' for enemy terrorists, and stigmatizing crimethink funders (citizens united) but not prog daddy warbucks,

mccullough said...

Jill is lazy and mediocre just like Doris Kearns and the rest of the plagiarists.

Check your own facts and write your own books. Problem solved.

These plagiarists just hire people to cut and paste bullshit and then put their names on it.

Their actual defense is “I didn’t write it I just put my name on it. I’m actually lazy and mediocre. The publisher doesn’t care.” But they are just liars.

More Trump

Mark O said...

The first interview on Fox devastated her. She appeared to be a stammering homeless person.
"I didn't mean to do it," is no defense under the New Rules.

reader said...

If only there was something, I don't know, like a program that could automatically double check your writing for plagiarism. Just think it could be used by high school and college students across the United States.

narciso said...

he seems to be part of the juicebox mafia 2.0

https://www.vox.com/authors/sean-illing

rehajm said...

An editor should be held to a higher standard on issues of things like, say...editing.

Earnest Prole said...

As I may have noted before, dial up some YouTube video of Abramson to hear her astounding Valley Girl from Manhattan vocal affect.

William said...

It does seem to be a thing among accomplished writers. Theodore Dreiser did it. It happens a lot. Maybe it's some kind of writer's perversion. The way people in show biz get off on masturbating in front of each other, writers derive a perverse satisfaction from lifting another writer's words.

johnhenry100 said...

I taught in an MBA Program for 30 years. My policy was that anything that wasn't the student's own words must be attributed. Anything else constituted plagiarism.

First offense F/0 on the assignment.

2nd offense, F/0 for the class and take it up with the school if you don't get a refund.

Explicitly spelled out in the syllabus, strictly enforced and supported by the school.

Plagiarism = lying. There can never be any excuse for it

John Henry

AZ Bob said...

So now there's a mens rea element to plagiarism? I don't think so. It is a strict liability crime.

Interesting that this weasel is using the same line of defense as her idol, Hillary.
--Dave Begley

See, this is how you should give credit when you take the idea of someone else and pass it off as your own.

cassandra lite said...

Feel free, Jill, to put the lines in quotes and attribute them in the endnotes. It's done all the time in books. I've done it three times. No damage to the narrative. But of course, the narrative isn't what you were worried about. You're just lying. Which is particularly ironic for a woman who claimed not to ever need a tape recorder thanks to a photographic memory.

Molly said...

I think there is some differences of opinion in these comments and elsewhere about what constitutes plagiarism.

Suppose you are writing about a situation in which X fired Y. In the process of researching this, you come across an apparently well sourced published account that says, "On February 5, 2016, As X was dressing for the day, he chose the fearful "yellow tie" -- the tie he routinely wore when he had bad news to deliver; the moroccan leather day-book calendar had a single entry: 10:30 Meet with Y."

If you in your own writing say "X fired Y on Feb 5, 2016," no one thinks you have plagiaraized.

If you in your own writing say "On February 5, 2016, As X was dressing for the day, he chose the fearful "yellow tie" -- the tie he routinely wore when he had bad news to deliver; the moroccan leather day-book calendar had a single entry: 10:30 Meet with Y" everyone thinks you have plagiarized.

But what if your own writing says: "There is evidence that the firing of Y was not a spur of the moment temper tantrum. X was wearing the yellow tie that he routinely wore when he fired people, and the meeting with Y was the only meeting planned in his Moroccan leather day-book calendar." This is not at all a clear case of plagiarism. I agree it would be best to link to a footnote with the original report cited, but especially in journalism, sloppy citation is the norm. The form doesn't lend itself to footnotes.

Ralph L said...

her astounding Valley Girl from Manhattan vocal affect.

I couldn't remember if that was Abramson or Mayer or anything they said in interviews about their book, but I'll never forget the voice.

Zach said...

This isn't the kind of plagiarism that stops being plagiarism if you put in quote marks. She was going through entire passages and slightly rewording each sentence to say the same thing using different words.

Choosing the actual words is only a small part of writing. Choosing what to write about, what details to include in what order, etc, is much harder. Rewording someone else's sentences is still plagiarising their reporting.

rcocean said...

Jill Abrams has always been a piece of shit. Go read her hit job on Clarence Thomas.

Like Doris Goodwin, she'll ride this out. Plagiarism is OK, if you're an establishment Liberal.

David Begley said...

She’s a 1976 grad from Radcliffe and Harvard, History and Literature.

Joan said...

Molly, the last example you give is plagiarism. It is expressing the same thoughts with only a slight change in words. It is easy to avoid, too, by saying, "As Jones remarked, the yellow tie was reserved for..." and "...Smith noted that there was only one entry in the day-book..." Getting into the meaning of the yellow tie and the fact that the journal was bound in Moroccan leather just makes the plagiarism easy to spot.

AND, why don't publishers run this stuff through plagiarism checkers? When I was working on my master's degree, I was required to run my papers through the online sites and there was a max percentage allowed. If I had a paper with a lot of citations, I had to take out the reference page itself because having 3 pages of APA citations would routinely put me over the limit... and the text that was cited as plagiarized was the APA citations! You'd think the software would be sophisticated enough to recognize that a correctly formatted citation is going to be exactly the same every time someone cites that source.

tim in vermont said...

Yeah, usually when I plagiarize, it’s because of the stylistic demands of sounding smarter than I am. That’s what I used to tell my profs anyways.

Two-eyed Jack said...

The plagiarism is ridiculous. It is just laziness, probably a reliance on an assistant who did not make clear what was copied and what was paraphrased. Embarrassing, but unimportant (but treated as immensely important by the Fake News Media (the Friend of the People)).

But listen to the woman:
https://northcountrypublicradio.org/news/npr/692409357/i-fell-short-jill-abramson-responds-to-charges-of-plagiarism-inaccuracies

A transcript does not do justice to how annoying Jill Abramson's voice is. I think she must have been fired from the NYT for slow-talking and vocal fry. I heard her on the radio and said "this woman has a nail lodged in her head."

Ken B said...

Molly
Exactly. Joan is wrong because under her standard no discussion of the same facts is ever possible.
Imagine you are writing a story that mentions Edgar Allan Poe. You don’t want to assume your readers know he invented the detective story. You write “Poe wrote the first detective story, Murders in the Rue Morgue, which features a series of seemingly impossible crimes”. You are now a plagiarist by Joan's standard. This is silly.

Molly said...

Joan: i'm not totally convinced that my last example is plagiarism. I don't think it's plagiarism to include easily verified facts (" with 22 game winner X on the mound, the Mets..." doesn't require a citation that X has/had 22 wins. But some verifiable facts may have been "discovered" by another writer "The Mets hadn't lost a day game in 3 years wearing their gray uniforms." Here, I'm really not so sure: if I independently discovered this fact I don't need to search the literature to see if anyone else had also discovered it? Or only if I read the fact in an article do I need to cite the article? Finally my original example had "facts" that were not possible to verify using public information (yellow tie, Moroccan leather); but do those facts "belong" to the original author? Where did that author get those facts? If the original author failed to cite an original source (or masked the sources in a common journalistic way) is the next author in line required to cite the secondary source (who failed to cite an original source)? In none of these examples is the "borrower" stealing ideas from the original source, but only the facts.

Ken B said...

AZ Bob
You did not credit that style of citation to the creator of that style of citation. By your own standard you are a plagiarist.

Silly right?

Pokerone said...

She can always join the cast of, "Morning Joe," sitting next to fabulist, Mike Barnicle, formerly of the "Boston Globe." I can't recall if he plagiarized too or just made things up. I'm pretty sure I've seen publicity shots of Mika Brzezinski in sleeveless turtlenecks too.

Jupiter said...

Molly said
"but especially in journalism, sloppy citation is the norm".

I have been pondering on this. There was once a very well-established style for newspaper stories, and one might even say that the goal of that approach to newswriting was that any reporter would file the same story for the same event. Who, what, when, where, how and why did not leave a lot of room for personal expression. My problem with Abramson is that she is a lying propagandist, not that her lies too closely resemble those of her fellow liars.

Tank said...

How do footnotes break up the narrative? 99% of people don’t stop for them, and you’ve given full (or enough) credit.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

"... but it’s not an intentional theft or taking someone’s original ideas — it’s just the facts."

Dibs on 2+2=4.

Amadeus 48 said...

"I really think I’ve talked about this in full, and really would love to move on."

I know you would, but what about me? I just have a few questions.

Joan said...

Ken B, Molly: Obviously we disagree. From my experience, I'm guessing there is a 99% chance that an online plagiarism checking website was used to find all these instances where Abramson lifted someone else's prose. Sure, it is a fact that X only wore the yellow tie on important days, but unless that was personally known to Abramson, because she knows X and he told her that, how else would she know that bizarrely specific item without someone else having written about it? The same goes for the Moroccan-leather-bound day book and it's single entry. How did she know about these things? Unless she was the original reporter, she shouldn't be talking about them as if she is.

Ken B., your example is absurd. The fact that Poe invented the mystery story is well-documented. It's not the facts themselves, it's the phrasing that was used to present them that damns Abramson's behavior here.

narciso said...

they can bring fantasist, joe ellis who made up part of his cv,

https://www.mediaite.com/online/behind-the-scenes-its-clear-chicago-media-and-police-doubt-jussie-smollets-story/

Ken B said...

Joan,
If my example is absurd so is yours, for they are the same example. They are a simple narration of facts. That is exactly the point.

As for the software. That a program flags what it calls plagiarism does not prove that what it flags is plagiarism. To argue that is circular. A program flags a passage with certain similarities, and we must judge if those constitute plagiarism or not. The program would certainly flag my example about Poe.

As for how she would know things. From research. The research might involve the person who claims to have been plagiarized, and in this case almost certainly did. But the writer doesn’t own those facts. That is why I say your standard makes a simple recitation of facts into plagiarism.

Finally, simple factual narration should be written for its readers. We do not need the paraphernalia of notes and circumlocution. Those are appropriate in certain, mostly academic, contexts. This is not one such.

MB said...

She probably thinks that this is obscure stuff that nobody would care about if it weren't for her. She did those people a service by using their work. They should be thanking her. She's a busy person, it's time to move on now.
She must be a great author, since she steals.

Zach said...

I'd say that Molly's third example is at least a little bit of gray area.

The correct way to write the paragraph would be "The New York Times reported that X wore his yellow tie on the day he was planning to meet with Y. This was significant because yellow was his "firing color," indicating that he planned to fire Y at the meeting."

If you got the facts from the New York Times, you should cite the New York Times. If you got the fact at the same place the New York Times got it (like a press conference, or a trial transcript), you don't. But it's entirely possible to plagiarize someone's reporting without using a single word in common.

Zach said...

Two pet peeves of mine:

Reporters who rewrite press releases as though it's their own reporting. (Many press releases are written specifically to make this easier.)

Book authors who hire uncredited "research assistants" to dig up all the quotes and put together an outline, which the "author" then slightly rewords to form their own draft.

The Doris Kearns Goodwin style of plagiarism usually involves research assistants. The named author doesn't realize they're slightly rewording another source, because they never read that source in the first place. They think they're rewording the work of their assistants!

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

Any idea or discovery is new only once. After that ... it's EDUCATION.

Tina Trent said...

So I read one "science" article by the Vice reporter who Abramson allegedly "misgendered" and plagarized.

It contained dramatic lies in the first two paragraphs. The entire premise of the article is a lie.

Hookworm is not a new and "tropical" disease in Alabama. It was a scourge in the early 20th century.

If you don't keep your septic tank properly drained, it is not the government's fault.

None of this has anything to do with global warming: it's lazy people refusing to take care of their septic tanks, also lots of third world illegal immigrants simply crapping into pipes they run out their back yards. It was a big problem in Hillsborough County with the illegals. The county gave them free septic systems with fines they levied on the rest of us for minor code infractions. I got that from a code enforcer who was furious about it.

Republicans didn't create the problem in Alabama. It's not mysterious: call the honeytruck and be done with it.

And science reporters should know the difference between X and Y chromosomes.

Maybe if Abramson hadn't stomped on Clarence Thomas' youknowwhat, he could have helpd her explain rural poverty and speric tank maintenance to this Vice POS.

Terry Vance said...

Her book is really interesting. As a reader, I don't really care whether she plagiarized (if she did) or got the color of someone's hair wrong or the day a meeting was held. I recommend Merchants of Truth highly to people who want to learn something about media over the past 15 years.

Kirk Parker said...

Ken B, that's a purely work-for-hire situation and things are different in the media -- even for employees -- where things like bylines and attribution come into play.

And contra Jupiter and Tim: if it were a matter of just a single sentence, I would agree with you; but it's not, so I don't.