Margaret Wente & Carol Wainio: Debating sloppy journalism vs plagiarism

Margaret Wente: Credit Toronto Star

In the case of Margaret Wente and the allegations of plagiarism noted on some 26,700 entries on this Google page, I believe she is responsible for sloppy technique but not actual plagiarism. However, that said, there is definitely another point of view.

For example, read this summary by John Gordon Miller, as well as this one on Paynter by Craig Silverman. Each discuss the entire Wente situation and blogger Carol Wainio’s analysis at Media Culpa.

Wainio is not any basement blogger, as some imply, or as guest columnist Dan Delmar writes  in today’s National Post about those who would complain, a squawking parrot.  Hardly. Rather, she is a visual arts professor at the University of Ottawa and would know as much about plagiarism as I do.

But, that is the thing about dialogue between academics, no matter what discipline we are in. We can debate each other as long as we use sources to support our argument. I definitely disagree, but only about terminology and definitions. Wainio did, afterall, spend years keeping track of Wente’s writings.

So, regarding what is or is not plagiarism, Delmar writes:

“She [Wente] erred in not properly attributing the quote in question, from one Robert Paarlberg, and deserves some form of reprimand. But this isn’t plagiarism in the popular sense of the term; in journalism, it implies dishonesty and theft…Careless and sloppy, definitely.”

The problem is that if what Wente is alleged to have done is plagiarism, then 99.9% of university students would fail and/or be charged with plagiarism. I mean, virtually all students in the first year of their undergraduate programs make mistakes about attributions and footnoting sources. Either they are using the wrong method (e.g., APA instead of Turabian or the MLA Style sheet) or they forget to differentiate between their ideas and the sources. In reality, there are only so many ways to say the same thing.

So, while I disagree with Wainio’s allegations that what Wente did is an example of plagiarism, it certainly was, as Delmar suggests, sloppy and unprofessional.

Which reminds me of a sign a relative once told me about. He was in radio and told me that posted right in front of his mic was the phrase: “Be good or be gone.” In this instance, no matter how long Wente has been a journalist, sloppy is not good enough and there should be consequences — which seems to be happening given the Globe and Mail is finally taking disciplinary action.  Check out this link, as well as this one.

In the meantime, some kind of consensus needs to be established about what is or is not plagiarism.  We can’t go through this every time a journalist makes a mistake or even a series of mistakes. I mean, there are 29 million Google entries for the term plagiarism.

Plagiarism.org defines it as the passing off the ideas and work of another as ones own without crediting sources. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says plagiarism is wrongful appropriation or close imitation of the words of others. The former is the broader view and my interpretation, namely when someone steals someone else’s ideas wholesale, while the latter is a much narrower interpretation and probably closer to Wainio’s view.

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Hat Tips:  CC, CC & JNW # 2

Update: The CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi has posted that Wente is no longer on the Q media panel.

4 thoughts on “Margaret Wente & Carol Wainio: Debating sloppy journalism vs plagiarism

  1. Pingback: Sandy: Debating sloppy journalism vs plagiarism re Margaret Wente | Jack's Newswatch

  2. Credibility. You either have it, or you’re finished. Wente appears to have deliberately given hers away. I won’t be reading her again. Ever.

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  3. Relayer, I am not sure “deliberate” is the right descriptor but the result is the same. I agree that you either have credibility or you don’t. There’s no sometimes because readers will never know what to trust. And, that is a pity!

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  4. Pingback: York University video on avoiding plagiarism & 9 tips to success | Crux of the Matter ►

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