Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Yeah, right, a 'witch hunt'

More like a "which" hunt -- as in "Which story can we find by Nada Behziz that doesn't have plagiarized material in it?" At least that's what one comes away with after reading the Bakersfield Californian's review of the now-fired Behziz's work. (reg. required)

Internal probe finds plagiarism, other problems in more than 35 stories written by the ex-staffer, says the headline. That's out of 96 bylined stories she did for the newspaper. The list of corrections goes on for nine pages printed from the Web. It runs the gamut, from material lifted from other publications and wire services without attribution to apparently making up sources and then attributing lifted material to them.

But wait, Johnny, there's more: Misstatments on Behziz's resume about her former jobs (some were internships, though she allegedly listed them as regular positions) and about a supposed degree from San Francisco State University (went here, but never got the degree, the school told Bakersfield reporter Gretchen Wenner).

Behziz has hired a lawyer, and her response to the newspaper's request for comment sounded more like she's auditioning for a White House job: This is a witch hunt. Too bad your news organization is not this vigilant in pursuing true wrongdoers.

No, Ms. Behziz. If what the paper says is true, you are the true wrongdoer, having wronged every reader who ever looked at one of your stories. And since you wrote about health -- a truly life-and-death matter for some who might have made decisions based on your words -- you effectively pointed a loaded verbal gun at every one of those readers.

The only "witch" hunt here is figuring out which job flipping burgers you're even qualified to get now. Maybe serving up Whoppers?

On second thought, let's keep you away from the grill just to keep from tempting you to try to pass off that soyburger as the real thing.

(Quick editing notes: Bakersfield has put together a nice package, complete with a nice graphic showing one of the stories and the original from which material supposedly was lifted, the main story, the corrections list, Executive Editor Mike Jenner's column in which he promises more thorough background checks on new hires and a system of auditing accuracy, and links to previous stories, including one detailing how the paper blew it when a doctor complained months earlier about possible plagiarism.

Two jarring errors in the first few grafs do mar it a bit for a copy editor: "The piece centered around a supposed local deaf man's experience with cochlear implants ..." [read: centered on. Things center on or revolve around]

"Nearly 200 of the 850 words in Behiziz's story -- including the first sentence -- is plagiarized ..." [make that "are' plagiarized. Those words really aren't acting as a unit; they can be counted].

It also concerns me that Behziz's response was left until the last three grafs of the story. I've just always been of the school that in fairness you get the other side's response up high. Putting it that low after two pages of piling on, comes across, I fear, as merely tossing it off. The public senses such things.

But overall, a nice piece of work.)


At 11/17/05, 1:32 AM, Blogger Super Reporter said...

Good points all around. I never thought about my words sbeing a "loaded verbal gun."

At 11/18/05, 6:38 AM, Blogger Phillip Blanchard said...

Of course I wonder how so many errors got through a copy desk. A lot of them should have been caught routinely. For example:

Comments published in a July 13 interview with Chorost in U.S. News & World Report were attributed by Behziz to Michael Gispen, identified as a language professor at UCLA.
But UCLA information officers Judy Lin and Meg Sullivan confirmed the university doesn't employ a Michael Gispen -- nor has any UC campus in the past five years. A Google search of the name also turned up no matches. The university has no "language professor" title, the officers added.

The Google search should have been the first thing the copy editor tried and apparently it would have raised a red flag.

At 11/18/05, 12:36 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

A well-taken point. Unfortunately, from what few studies have been done, the work routine on a lot of copy desks puts such checking in the "frill" category (a case study of a mid-sized copy desk by Glen Bleske is a good example). That may be something we at ACES need to really address.

At 10/24/13, 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anthony said...

Does anyone have working links to what you're trying to source? they're broken....

At 10/25/13, 1:52 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Unfortunately, no. This post is 8 years old, and, unfortunately, link rot is endemic, especially on media sites.


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