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Do Famous Authors Get Special Treatment?

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on May 3, 2016 10:17:29 AM

Though not well known in the United States, Margaret Wente is a prominent conservative columnist in Canada. Her regular column with The Globe and Mail has been a fixture at the paper since 1992 and she also makes regular TV and radio appearances.

However, over the course of her career, she has had more than a few run ins with plagiarism. The first happened in 2009 when observers noted that a column she wrote about cell phone drivers bore a close resemblance to an earlier one written by Maureen Dowd at the New York Times.

Then, in 2012, blogger Carol Wainio claimed that at least three of Wente’s columns had plagiarism and/or other ethical issues. Those allegations prompted a response from the paper’s public editor, Sylvia Stead, who said that, while there were issues with the work not all of the concerns were valid. She appended an editor’s note to the columns with problems and Wente was disciplined for the infractions (though no details of the discipline were made available).

Now, four years later, Wainio is at it again, publishing on her blog yet more allegations of plagiarism by Wente. This time, Wainio targets Wente’s most recent column claiming it has copied passages and similar anecdotes without citation to the original work.

This too prompted a response from Stead, who outlined Wainio’s allegations, promised to publish corrections for any errors and printed a statement from the paper’s editor-in-chief saying, “This work fell short of our standards, something that we apologize for. It shouldn’t have happened and the Opinion team will be working with Peggy to ensure this cannot happen again.”

As with the 2012 story, the 2016 story has many claiming that The Globe and Mail is falling far short of their duties and are not responding appropriately. As Ann Rauhala, an associate professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism told The Star, “The reaction that I hear in the sort of broader journalistic community is, ‘oh no, not again,’ followed by a variation of ‘Gee, how is it that she still has a job as a columnist?’”

To be fair, at least one of the victims, American scientist Jesse Ausubel, feels the situation is being handled well. He told The Star that much of Wente’s column is not based on his work and the link that’s being provided lets people find him. He sees much of this as coming from people who simply dislike Wente and her work.

And, to a degree, that may be the case. Wente is a very controversial figure in Canada and one with many ideological opponents that would love to tear her down.
Though Wainio claims to have not followed Wente’s works regularly, the motivation isn’t important because Wente should know that her fame and strong political stances will make her a target. If it hadn’t been Wainio this second time, it could have just as easily been another of her ideological foes.

However, as with the 2012 case, the disappointment isn’t just with Wente’s missteps, but with the response of her paper. Though the public editor and editor-in-chief have admitted mistakes were made and issued corrections, they’ve also worked to shield Wente from the scandal.

The public editor’s column only mentions the word “plagiarism” when quoting from the paper’s code of conduct and seeks to minimize the issue while saying that they take it seriously.

All of this begs a simple question: Would a less-famous reporter receive the same forgiveness and leniency as Wente? While it’s impossible to say, it doesn’t seem likely.

Still, Wente and her editors should be especially careful for a while. After three rounds of plagiarism allegations, it’s safe to say that the world will be watching to see if there’s a fourth.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.