Washington Post Suspends Pulitzer Prize Winner For Plagiarism

March 17th, 2011 at 3:57 am | 1 Comment |

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The Washington Post reports:

The Washington Post suspended one of its most seasoned reporters Wednesday after editors determined that “substantial” parts of two recent news articles were taken without attribution from another newspaper.

Sari Horwitz, a longtime Post investigative reporter, was suspended for three months for plagiarizing sections of stories that first appeared in the Arizona Republic. The stories concerned the investigation of and legal proceedings for Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona man accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others in Tucson in January.

Horwitz copied two paragraphs from a Republic story that described provisions of a federal civil rights law when she wrote an article that was first published on The Post’s Web site March 4. A second story, first appearing online on March 10, included 10 paragraphs from a Republic story about a search of Loughner’s home. Both stories appeared in the newspaper the day after they went up online.

Plagiarism has long been one of the most serious ethical violations in journalism. Reporters often cite other news sources for information that they haven’t gathered themselves, but the standard practice is to paraphrase the material and attribute the information to its source.

Some news organizations, including The Post, have fired reporters for copying another journalist’s work and presenting it as their own. “For a long time, it was viewed as an excommunication sin, beyond mortal sin,” said Bob Steele, a professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University. “But nowadays, editors try to look at the full context of what happened and why it happened” before rushing to punish. He added that digital technology and increased competition via the Internet make such errors of judgment more likely.

The Republic’s editor, Randy Lovely, alerted Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli to the similarities in the Republic and Post stories in an e-mail Monday. Brauchli reviewed Horwitz’s work and agreed that material had been used improperly.

The Post issued an apology to readers on its Web site Wednesday and is running an editor’s note on A2 of Thursday morning’s newspaper.

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