Vice’s irony and the new plagiarism of Fareed Zakaria

For those who don’t know, there’s a new, trendy news company on the block. It fancies itself younger, cooler and all around better than the boring, uncool mainstream media (MSM.) It even goes so far as to describe the MSM as mostly being “old, white cowards” based on a recent survey showing journalists are “older, whiter, and better-educated than they were a decade ago—and more timid than ever before.”

With such a proudly non-timid and anti-mainstream brand, you might expect that Vice is really something new and bold, but their HBO-series’ story on the Texas drought, which aired on May 9th, is nowhere close to matching their description of being a “series featuring startling, groundbreaking stories.”

Years of Living Dangerously (YoLD), a new show on HBO’s competing network ‘Showtime,’ which also covered the Texas drought (but began filming over a year ago and aired their drought episode a month before Vice/s) has many striking similarities in their drought reporting.

Similarities between the shows include:

  1. the overall narrative of conservative faith and politics vs. climate science and a liberal, but modest reporter.

  2. the emphasis on the same meatpacking plant closure and resultant ‘prayer run’ in the small town of Plainview, TX (in the context of a multi-billion dollar drought, which caused fires that burned more homes than the total amount of jobs lost in this plant and devastated many other industries.)

  3. using the same sole scientific source (Dr. Hayhoe.)

  4. the resounding lack of belief by conservatives and Christians (except Dr. Hayhoe) in climate science.

  5. filming churches praying for rain.

  6. Showing governor Perry denouncing global warming.

Its understandable that more than one show would cover the issue of faith vs. climate change – its a big issue. And the Texas drought is also a big issue – but why would Vice cover the same plant in the same small Texas town when the drought caused an estimated 5.2 billion dollars of damage in 2011 alone? Why not cover the fires that destroyed as many homes as jobs were lost in the Cargill plant closing – or the timber industry which lost billions?

Why use the same climate scientist as their sole scientific source? Why cover the same prayer run – all without mention of YoLD, who did a nearly identical story a month ago (YoLD also did the same thing as Vice by not mentioning the NYT story on the plant that was printed the month before celeb-reporter Don Cheadle was in Plainview, and which also mentions the prayer run. At least YoLD was adding video to a print story though – and they found their own scientist source and developed their own narrative.)

Enter Fareed Zakaria.

Mr. Zakaria, who was caught plagiarizing in 2012, recently said of his new position at Vice “What I have tended to do is always try to focus on the spine of the story. It’s great to have color, it’s great to have juice, it’s great to have attitude. You also want to couple that with a narrative or analytic spine that’s coherent and intelligent, and that’s what we’ve focused on.”

So the kids are bringing the color/juice/attitude, and Fareed is bringing the narrative – which is arguably the main part that is plagiarized. YoLD has already laid out a nice, neat story of TX’ climate change butting up against it’s religious fundamentalism, complete with location (borrowed from NYT) and sourcing, which Vice then adopts.

(To Vice’s credit, they also briefly tied in fracking to Texas’ water supply issues, as it uses a lot of water. And they had a lot of shots of shrinking Texas’ bodies of water. And they didn’t copy YoLD’s (accurate) number of people laid off in the Plainview plant, saying it was 2,000 instead of the correct 2,300 . And Vice doesn’t let the climate scientist explain the science behind the issue like YoTD did. So Vice wasn’t completely unoriginal.)

You might think that Fareed’s fellow journalists would keep an eye on him more closely and not let such a “mistake” happen again, but no one at Vice seems to have a strong journalistic background. Vice even describes itself as a “leading youth entertainment company” – entertainment having little to do with journalism. Bill Maher, one of the  “group of clean-shaven, middle-aged adults to supervise” Vice’s young team , is a comedian. Tom Freston is an ex-CEO of Viacom, and the other hygeinic adult listed by Huffington Post is Fareed, the one person who seems to have a bit of journalist credibility – who has recently been caught plagiarizing.

Whether Vice didn’t mention YoLD intentionally is debatable. Whether someone at HBO heard about Showtime, their main competing network, having an expensive new show with lots of huge names that covers a similar issue as Vice, is pretty hard to debate though. Which means they probably knew that they were doing a very similar story but failed to mention it in any way, which allows them to feign originality as well as ignorance.

Vice exists in the same environment as all the other mainstream media venues – surrounded by the rich white men who have entrenched interests in and an affinity for the status quo system that made them rich. Vice may say they have a “fearless approach…like nothing else on television,” but that fearlessness doesn’t extend to their owners or their owners friends (see their coverage of 5% Vice owner Rupert Murdoch.) No organization reports against their own best interests, and Vice by way of it’s ownership and branding, has many interwoven and elitist interests which promote money over truth. Even Vice’s leader Shane Smith says “Money runs America, money runs everywhere.” A real journalist would hopefully put a little more emphasis on the power of knowledge and an informed public.

This typical, non-journalistic environment and the resultant mild effort at serious reporting on big topics is bound to lead to big problems for Vice. Not to mention it’s not helping an already almost universally hated news industry by making even the self-proclaimed innovators look like the same untrustworthy tripe.

This quote from Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time magazine (where Fareed works and Dr. Hayhoe was interestingly recently awarded by Don Cheadle of YoLD), seems to sum the situation up nicely :

There’s a hunger for international news done in a different way. And when you’re trying to tell a story in this kind of world, you have to push it. I don’t know that you can ever go too far these days.”

Going “too far” might end up being HBO’s biggest ‘vice’ though, judging by the quality of this show and the lengths they let that show go to feign journalism – much like how Vice’s daddy Maher feigns debate on his HBO show.

And what is the purpose of all of Vice’s slop masquerading as journalism?

“I want to build the next CNN – it’s within my grasp” – Shane Smith, Vice Co-founder and CEO.

…so they can feign journalism (like CNN) on a larger scale and ironically become the mainstream that they proclaim to despise.

UH Super-Easy-Exam Scandal Update

I just clicked a link in my old blogpost about the easiest class I’ve ever taken – a journalism class taught by a public relations person – to see if the link still worked. To my surprise, not only did the link to his plagiarized lesson still work – but this plagiarized gem was made available by Mr. Higginbotham.

Some think that if they change a few words, they are not guilty of plagiarism or copyright infringement. That, of course, is false. The idea cannot be copyrighted, but the words can, so to use that information and avoid infringement, it would be necessary to extensively rewrite the copy in your own words.”

Click to see where this professor, who was warned about plagiarism recently, oh-so-ironically-and-stubbornly plagiarized the paragraph from:

Notice he didn’t bother to change any of the words.  Nor did he bother to cite  the site that he stole the previous paragraph, as well as much more, from.

My guess is the professor, when faced with my accusations via the dean, asked himself what they expected for $3,000 per course.  Or maybe he just thought they don’t really care.  After all, UH doesn’t mind using public relations (anti-journalism) experts to teach senior level journalism courses, even after they are caught not attributing the sources from their hastily compiled course ‘lessons’ and not making exams above a 6th grade level.  So why should they care much if he plagiarizes someone’s explanation of plagiarism?

More UH Propaganda

Here we have another misleading claim by the University made on the UH Facebook account a few weeks ago.

Maybe this is minor, but I think it deserves a quick going over as it reflects a common problem at UH and society in general: logrolling.
Some website creates a mediocre list of higher-ed admins who use Twitter, and, perhaps, in exchange for them putting the most PR-oriented admins at the top of the list, they get free publicity when those image obsessed admins brag about how they’re at the top of the list on this website.
Nevermind that the list isn’t a ranking (Khator isn’t #1 as her Facebook suggests – she was just at the top of the list), that 3 out of 6 comments on the list website are pointing out misspelled names of 3 different admins, or that the descriptions of why the admins should be followed are all pretty bland/similar:

” shares updates about school events, research, and even a few tidbits about his personal life”

“shares great higher ed news, Houston updates, and, of course, information about Rice”

“uses her feed to talk not only about Webster but about higher ed in general.”
The poor quality, arbitrary listing arrangement, and obscurity of the site ( it’s just a blog published by one person (and now a guest writer) are no match for school’s hunger for good publicity.

With mutual itches being scratched at UH and this education blog, and  the trusting students high on school pride, it seems like no one is hurt.  A minor truth merely suffered minor abuse.

This example still serves as one of many that speaks to too often overlooked issues (something lacking in the media) of public relations’ tendency to bend or break the truth, as well as how businessmen may use subtle marketing techniques, such as utilizing publicity seekers’ desire to self promote.

The River Oaks Examiner Forgets to Cite Source (Plagiarism?)

A few weeks ago I went to a House of Pies on Westheimer and picked up a copy of the local paper, The River Oaks Examiner.
I didn’t get around to reading it until recently, but I’m glad I did because there’s yet another example of poor journalism in it.
This example comes from Katherin Cabaniss, “a former prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and currently the Executive Director of Crime Stoppers, a nonprofit organization” according to the Examiner.
In her article on tanning beds, Cabaniss talks about a recent infamous case of a woman tanning her 5 year old kid, lists some Texas laws regarding tanning, lists some risks of indoor tanning, and then goes back to listing more Texas laws.

In “The Risks” section, Cabaniss says:

“Tanning is a trend that is here to stay. However, the risks are significant.
The Department of Heath and Human Services actually declared that tanning beds are carcinogenic! They are formally defined as cancer causing instruments. Studies have shown a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.
Nonetheless, 28 million people tan indoors annually. Seventy percent of those users are Caucasion girls and women. In 2010, the tanning industry saw $2.6 billion in revenue.
Further, frequent intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning! (This clearly applies in the New Jersey woman’s case.)”

While it may seem to some that the author is an expert on tanning risks, since she knows so many facts about tanning apparently off hand, in fact the author got all of these facts from the same website.

The American Academy of Dermatology’s “media resource” on Indoor Tanning says:

“The United States Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency of Research on Cancer panel has declared ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as a known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances).6”
“Studies have found a 75 percent increase in the risk of melanoma in those who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning.9,10”
“Nearly 28 million people tan indoors in the United States annually.”
“Nearly 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.2”
“In 2010, the indoor tanning industry’s revenue is estimated to be $2.6 billion.5”
“In addition to the above mentioned risks, frequent, intentional exposure to UV light may lead to an addiction to tanning.16”

Once again, the author seems to think making minor changes to the sentence structure and adding shallow/obvious things like tanning is “here to stay” and “the risks are significant” means she doesn’t have to cite her source at all, even though she used over 5 quotes from the same web page.
This seems especially odd considering the author is a former prosecutor.

So is this hypocrisy? Is the Crime Stopper committing intellectual theft?

Does the fact that her facts came from AAD’s “Media Resources” section mean that she doesn’t need to attribute?
Does the fact that AAD hasn’t responded about the incident mean that it doesn’t matter???

Comments are appreciated.

Editor at Major Newspaper Calls Quote from Texas Watchdog “puzzling” and “highly questionable”

I recently emailed an editor at a large daily newspaper about the Texas Watchdog quote, and received this response:

To re-use a quote that was published somewhere else isn’t plagiarism, but they should have credited the place that got the quote. It’s considered plagiarizing to run parts of stories (non-quotes) from another publication and try to pass that off as your own reporting/work. Quotes are OK to be shared, but it’s ethical to credit the place that got them. So, the second place to run the quote should have said:

“Texas A&M has one of the finest business schools in the country, and yet we can’t figure out how to in-house save money out of our department,” Draper told the Texas Tribune.

The real puzzling part to me is that the Watchdog added “with a metaphorical scratch of the head” to that attribution, which indicates that its reporter was there to get the quote. Could there have been two reporters talking to the guy at once? Maybe. Was it a news conference? Possibly. If so, then it was OK for them to run it and add the shake of the head and that’s that. But if not, to add that to the attribution when they weren’t even there … that seems highly questionable to me.

As you can see in my previous post, no defense was offered from the Texas Watchdog founder regarding the “scratch of the head” addition, so only time can tell what to make of it.
The editor who provided the above quote wishes to remain anonymous, making them my first ever anonymous source.  I have mixed feelings about using an anonymous source, especially since I don’t have the reputation/history to provide enough credibility for it to mean much, and also since I just criticized Mr. Lisheron’s acceptance of the truth of an anonymous source (with a large potential for conflict of interest) in the story in question, but rest assured the quote is real and the only potential conflict of interest in this case (me wanting to look right) isn’t that big.

One author of the original article was also emailed, as well as CJR – both of which have not yet responded, which may speak to the subtlety of Mr. Lisheron’s violation or the shared understanding among journalists of the many difficulties in the field/many ways to mix things up. Or maybe even the collegial feelings journalists have for each other.  Or maybe they haven’t had time to respond.

In the mean time, readers here are encouraged to respond.

I look forward to your comments.

Response from Texas Watchdog Over Plagiarism Accusation

Trent Seibert, editor, Texas Watchdog
Sunday, 07/29/2012 – 09:43PM

“Plagiarism alert?”

Mr. Jensen,

Your accusation here and on your personal blog that Texas Watchdog has misappropriated the work of someone else is false, and I would add that it is a serious charge to level at another professional. I am sure you have covered this in your journalism coursework at the University of Houston.

Both the attribution and link to the original Texas Tribune story is in the third paragraph. This is our standard practice and is widely accepted in journalism and blogging circles.”

This is what the founder of had to say in response to my accusation of plagiarism.

I agree that it is a serious charge, but it’s hard to see how its false.  Just because someone cites the work in their story doesn’t mean they can not attribute a source to a story much further down the article, and also add things (the source wondering aloud, metaphorical scratch to the head) to the quote to make it look like Texas Watchdog interviewed the person.

I have mixed feelings about the intention of the author, but at the very least it seems to me to be a fairly big mistake.

It certainly  isn’t as clear cut as my previous post, in which the author (who also cited the website that she plagiarized) plagiarized a press release in its entirety.

That being said, Trent’s explanation is so insufficient that I feel my allegations have been affirmed.  He says the source was cited in the 3rd paragraph, but the quote in question was in the 8th and 9th paragraphs.

It’s surprising to me that someone with an extensive history as a journalist would make such an argument, but I’m glad he did (rather than not respond.)

Now that both sides have had their say, readers can decide who is right.

More Texas Plagiarism, Hot Off the Presses

Texas Watchdog prides itself on it’s “Feisty investigations,” but it looks like, despite this accolade someone needs a lesson about simple plagiarism over at Texas

Seen here in Mark Lisheron’s column is the following


Plagiarized version: “Walter Draper, an assistant custodial supervisor who thought it unfair, wondered aloud how a private company could do the same jobs he and his colleagues were doing for an average of $26 million less every year. Texas A&M has one of the finest business schools in the country, and yet we can’t figure out how to in-house save money out of our department,” Draper said, with a metaphorical scratch of the head.’ ”

This was also printed in NYT/Texas Tribune, as seen here,

and here.

Original version: “Texas A&M has one of the finest business schools in the country, and yet we can’t figure out how to in-house save money out of our department,” said Walter Draper, an assistant custodial supervisor and one of the outsourcing plan’s many detractors.

The most important part of this whole piece is the plagiarizer’s additions “Draper said, with a metaphorical scratch of the head” and saying Draper “wondered aloud.”  These pieces, which were apparently the author’s invention, were not found in the original article and therefore show not only a lack of attribution, but also pretending to be the interviewer.

What’s going on over at Texas Watchdog???

Starting off an investigative news website story by implying Obama’s a socialist, implying that someone confidentially leaking info about huge savings means it is true (despite the huge potential conflicts of interest), and then plagiarizing a story that you cite in your own blog post?


Really??? I ask with a literal scratch to my head.