The other day, my friend Mark Evanier had a story on his wonderful blog about a remarkable theatrical event in Los Angeles. The stage musical of "Mary Poppins" is playing in L.A. currently, and the other night there was a surprise guest appearance -- Dick Van Dyke recreated his small, supporting role as the old bank president. The audience, by all accounts, went justifiably wild.
Mark linked to a story about the event in the London Daily Mail. It was absolutely fascinating.
Not the story, mind you. That isn't what was fascinating. I mean the writing of the story.
You see, in the article from January 23, bylined by Chris Johnson, it includes mention of a story in the L.A. Times -- so figuring that that local Los Angeles piece would have more details in it, I did a search and found the original. And what I discovered, what leaped out, is that the London paper plagiarized the Los Angeles Times. I don't mean that they were sort of close and generally said the same concept of things. I mean cut-and-paste.
The London paper does provide a single quote from the original Los Angeles story, but it only comes late in the article. And because there's one quote, the implication is that that's all they've quoted, that everything else is their own ace reporting. But when you read the original L.A. Times story, it's clear that almost everything before that single quote -- without the slightest attribution -- is from the Los Angeles paper, most almost word-for-word.
So, let's take a look.
After describing the event in the first paragraph, Karen Wada of the Los Angeles Times notes of Van Dyke:
"Instead he reprised his other (and less well known) screen role -- Mr. Dawes Sr., the crotchety bank president and boss of Poppins' boss, Mr. Banks."
And Chris Johnson phrases it:
"Instead the American actor, 84, took on the role of the lesser known character he also played in the 1964 movie -- that of crotchety bank president Mr Dawes."
Okay, honestly, not horrible. Some blatant, inappropriate steals, but nothing to raise a red flag -- if that's all it was. But it's not. Because the rest of the paragraph in the original Los Angeles Times continues:
"Van Dyke had to cajole Walt Disney into giving him the part because Disney thought Van Dyke -- then in his 30s -- was too young to be the ancient moneyman. The actor reportedly won him over by acing a screen test, agreeing to portray Dawes for free and making a donation to the California Institute of the Arts, which Disney co-founded."
And what the Daily Mail wrote was:
"Van Dyke had to persuade Walt Disney into giving him the part in the movie because bosses thought he was too young to play the ancient financier. At the time he was only in his thirties.
"But the actor reportedly won them over by acting a screen test, agreeing to portray Dawes for free and making a donation to the California Institute of the Arts, which Disney co-founded."
In the plagiarism biz, this is not good at all. A direct steal. (The funniest thing, though, is that the British Johnson apparently didn't know what "acing" a test was and "fixed" it, seemingly thinking it was a typo for "acting").
But it gets worse, and continues.
In her original article, Karen Wada begins the next paragraph:
"Van Dyke had a much easier time getting the chance to play the tottering, doddering banker at the Ahmanson."
In the London Daily Mail, Chris Johnson writes that Van Dyke "played the tottering banker at the Ahmanson Theatre...."
And then the L.A. Times goes on in the original:
"After seeing the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of 'Poppins' when it opened here in November, he volunteered to join the cast for a cameo. Dawes -- a character not included in the stage musical -- was written into a pivotal scene in which Banks finds out whether he's going to lose his job."
And this is what the Daily Mail has:
"After seeing the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of Poppins after it opened there in November, he volunteered to join the cast for a cameo.
"The character of Mr Dawes was not included in the stage musical -- but was written into a scene so Dick Van Dyke could reprise his role.
"It is in a scene where Mr Banks, Mary Poppins's boss, finds out whether he is going to lose his job."
Almost word-for-word. Much of it exactly word-for-word.
I know Mary Poppins sang, "Every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake" -- but this is carrying it beyond extremes.
You can read the full stories for yourself.
Here's the link to the L.A. Times story.
And this is the London Daily Mail.
You must understand, editors and publishers really hate this sort of thing. A lot. (Their lawyers, too.) All that any news organization has to offer is trust -- trust that they are telling the truth, that their reporters are accurate. This is true for newspapers, TV, online ezines, blogs, everything. And when a reporter claims to have written something he or she didn't, that trust begins to crumble. When you're not telling the truth about your own name, it's pretty hard to support anything that comes after.
But forget that it's theft of someone else's property. Forget, too, that plagiarism is illegal. Forget even that it's not just shoddy journalism, it's shoddy, period. Taking credit for work you didn't do. Not giving credit to those who did do the work.
Because mostly, Mary Poppins wouldn't approve.