--My own correction to an error... for some reason I thought Mr. Jack Stokes was the ombudsman, he is AP's Director of Media Relations. Sorry for the confusion, still trying to locate the big O. For some reason I thought we had, but now I realize that Mr. Stokes is in fact with the HQ media relations office. In any case, for what it is worth, the story is accurate, just the title of the person was in error. ---
There are many things that bother me about plagiarism, but nothing irks me more than when a mainstream reporter (or organization) with all of the resources of a small nation at their disposal lifts from the small press, freelance journalists, and bloggers.
AP vs. Raw Story
Case in Point is my article on the new guidelines for security clearances. The process of how I put this story together is important as it provides a brief glimpse into the amount of work and time I put into this research.
I got a tip in the form of a 2005 document that was issued "quietly" out of National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's office, in which guidelines for issuing security clearances as well as access to government information had been updated from the Clinton administration's version.
I had to contact officials at the State Department, experts at think tanks, and several intelligence agencies to find out if a). the document was authentic, and b). if there was anything glaringly wrong with it (aside from the obvious bizarre sexual behavior parameters). I did authenticate it, but most people I spoke with thought it was largely unchanged from the previous set of guidelines. I wondered what the two documents side by side might show and what, if any, differences there were.
The 2005 Hadley document, as it turns out, is a revision of the 1997 "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information," and the differences, while subtle, are fascinating. But what is important about the differences in terms of my issue with the mainstream press is how long it took me to catalogue those differences.
In order to identify changes, I had to put the 1997 and 2005 documents side by side and go line by line, noting in a spreadsheet the text of one and the other, and then noting what the change was, if any. This was a long, tedious, and frankly boring task.
Once I had concluded my initial comparison, I sent my work to another writer and asked them to compare as well, in case I missed anything. My findings were supported by the other writer's own comparison. I then sent everything to my editor, who had one of our researchers do a quick overview, also supporting what I found. My editor and I then co-authored an article, after nearly two weeks of work, about the Hadley changes. The piece covered and overview of the most questionable changes, as there were many subtle changes in general. One key area we focused on was what appeared to be the relaxing of sexual discrimination guidelines.
The article can be found HERE.
In response, several GLBT groups contacted us and issued a statement. We gave the advocacy groups our notes and article, which they then took to the AP and demanded that the story be covered. The AP was given our article and maybe our notes.
On March 14, 2006, the AP did their own article, left out any attribution to me or my publication and lifted not only my research but also whole sections of my article for their own (making cosmetic changes of course).
We contacted an AP senior editor and ombudsman both and both admitted to having had the article passed on to them, and both stated that they viewed us as a blog and because we were a blog, they did not need to credit us. What we are or are not is frankly irrelevant. What is relevant is that by using a term like blog to somehow excuse plagiarism, the mainstream press continues to lower the bar for acceptable behavior. It need not matter where the AP got the information, research, and actual wording from. What matters is that if they use it in part or in whole, they must attribute properly. A blog or a small press publication or grads students working in the corner of a library all equally deserve credit for their work, period.
Unfortunately this is far too common and has happened to me and to other writers and bloggers far too frequently. This time, however, we made a point of tape recording the AP apparatchiks admitting to taking our work and using it without attribution, stating "we do not credit blogs".
While they will not credit us in any way; they will instead credit advocacy groups, as though that somehow excuses them from having to attribute rightfully. This is what their first article on the documents' said: "Lesbian and gay advocacy groups recently found the change in an 18-page document distributed by National security adviser Stephen Hadley on Dec. 29, without public notice." Yes, the groups had found it in my article, which they gave to the AP.
Yet, even after the advocacy groups reminded the AP of where they got the information, the news organization would not provide attribution.
I had hoped to resolve the quietly and privately, but the AP's refusal to make a correction has become almost secondary to the real outrage of what is occurring in the mainstream. The argument is astounding really if not entirely antithetical to journalistic standards. What the AP and others are saying essentially is that, while "your work" is good enough for us to steal, you are not credible enough to cite.
We do not credit blogs!
Never mind that plenty of journalists have blogs or that Raw Story is not a blog, or that the mainstream will cite blogs such as the Huffington Post while inexplicably not cite smaller blogs that have become heroic in the world of journalism for what they have uncovered. I have a nagging feeling that this random sourcing is less about freelance journalists or blogs or any other label de jour, but rather, it has everything to do with who can afford to take legal action. Clearly, they have pegged me correctly as not in any position to take on a major news organization.
----HAT TIP Moment----
Some examples of the not credited or not nearly credited enough:
-ePlurbis Media, which uncovered the whole Jeff Gannon story
-Democratic Underground, which has one of the best organized research forums online
-The Left Coaster's erieposte, which has put together perhaps the best Niger forgery research there is
- Next Hurrah's emptywheel who has done some fantastic research into the Plame leak
-Brad Blog's Brad Friedman, who has exposed Diebold's election tampering more than anyone else
- Luke at Wot is it Good 4, who has researched the Sibel Edmond's case so closely and tracked things so accurately (using nothing more than open source), that in my opinion and in terms of what I understand regarding the case, he is closer than anyone to the truth of it (minus some things and reorganizing other things).
These are but a few examples of blogs that rival if not surpass the MSM. There are many more and I am sorry if I have left anyone out, but there are too many to list.
I will say that the we contacted several publications syndicating this story and only the Washington Blade ran a correction attributing us: So thanks WB!
All of that said, what type of press do citizens of a democracy want and what type of press do they deserve? Does a democracy want a self-indulgent, politically infiltrated, corrupted, and willfully lazy press or do we deserve that kind of press because we do not rage against it?
The corporations have their press and they will protect their writers despite egregious violations of journalistic standards. Need I remind anyone of "DMS is old news" talking point every mainstream organization took on after having falsely led us into war with bogus reporting to begin with?
You want a free press? Protect your small press writers/journalists (also those in MSM who have the guts to do their job), bloggers, editors, and publications. Protect them not only from such unethical behavior as demonstrated by the AP, but also from all manner of assault in which either political motivations or greed, if not both, are more important than the truth. Gary Webb may have had a job had the mainstream political attack dogs not driven him into darkness and into taking his own life. Judith Miller may not have had a chance to author lie after lie, had she been fired and exposed from the beginning. Helen Thomas would not be making news for simply asking questions, had the corporate owned media actually been doing its job, namely asking those same questions all along.
How many more honest journalists have to be driven out because they can no longer afford to pay their bills? I don't want to know. Do you?