Of plagiarism, inventions, literature and journalism

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By. Miguel Angel Sanchez de Armas

Plagiarism is a fashionable topic. I'm not just talking about the ongoing uproar between us - whose outcome is more expected than the ceremony of the oscar-, but of a trend that seems as universal and varied as gastronomy.

Here we have, among other known cases -no doubt, many that have not come to light-, a former president, professors from UNAM, ColMex, state universities and of course the affaire of the FES, which is no less painful because it is cacophonous.

But we Mexicans do not have a monopoly on academic cheating. A tour of the world reveals a bunch of public men and women who, in the shameful way of the gentleman of the party in power who occupies a seat in our Chamber of Deputies, also believed that theses are elusive signs of intellectual decadence.

A German defense minister, an acting president of Russia, a former Romanian prime minister, gringo politicians, a former Hungarian president, Spanish statesmen and a former Slovenian education minister, among many others, are on the list of foreign sentences .

It should not be surprising that many of these monographic tricks have been discovered by academics who view the deterioration of the climate in the study centers with alarm. Here we have William Sheridan, of all known

In Germany the teacher martin heidingsfelder is known as the plagiarist hunter. One of his feats was to publicize a plagiarized reception work presented at the University of Regensburg by a politician who, 25 years later, felt very sure of his place in the public space. Sound familiar?

I will not incur the foolishness of analyzing the expressions with which the (and, to be politically correct) cheaters have wanted to justify themselves and that they should have Orwell rolling in his grave, but there is one that is not wasted.

The honor corresponds to the Peruvian Cesar Acunaowner of a consortium of universities, founder of the Alliance for Progress and former candidate for the presidency of his country.

When the mischief and mischief with which he obtained his doctorate from Complutense were discovered, he said very seriously: "It's not plagiarism... it's a copy."

But this dizzy woolly It began when I began a review of the stains that in the field of plagiarism adorn my profession and that we throw under the rug with the euphemism of "blown up."

There are some crude and silly and others that cause hilarity. But since many of the authors I know are still out there and know where I live, I can't cite them.

So I will share two from gringo journalism, which after all are well documented and have the advantage that I can raise my finger and quote FDR when he found out that Cárdenas had broken relations with the perfidious Albion: "What a peach!"

These are the Janet Cooke episodes of The Washington Post and Jason Blair's The New York Times.

“Janet Cooke is a beautiful, vital black woman with a dramatic flair and an extraordinary talent for writing. She is also the cross that journalism -especially the Washington Post […] At the age of 26, he wrote a vivid and painful story about an eight-year-old heroin addict who was regularly injected by his mother's common-law husband. The information was published on the front page on Sunday, September 28, 1980 and had the city in suspense for weeks. On April 13, 1981, Cooke won the Pulitzer Prize.

“In the early hours of April 15, 1981, Janet Cooke confessed that it was a fabrication: Jimmy it did not exist, and neither did the common-law. From that moment the expression 'Janet Cooke' became synonymous with the worst in American journalism, just as the word 'Watergate' meant the best.”

Thus begins Ben Bradlee, the legendary director of the Washington Postthe chapter of his autobiography dedicated to one of the great journalistic scandals of the century.

William Faulkner said that the novelist can be amoral and not hesitate before anything that prevents him from completing his work, since in literature the end justifies the means. But in journalism, not even the best of goals justifies immorality in the media. Obviously, Cooke did not know about Faulkner.

She was, in Bradlee's words, "the newspaper's dream": a black woman with unrivaled academic credentials, intelligent, daring, a great reporter, multilingual, vital and elegant.

In his first eight months at the post he signed 55 notes, no less a feat. But her falsifications were longer than Lent: she had not graduated from Vassar, she had not studied at the Sorbonne, she was not a polyglot... the only certain thing about her curriculum was that she was black, attractive and that she wrote very good.

What happened? In 1982 in an interview she said that he had invented Jimmy as a consequence of the terrible internal pressure of the Washington Postwhose newsroom continued to experience the competitive environment generated at the beginning of the previous decade with the successes of the Watergate affair.

Apparently he heard rumors of drug addicted children, but since he didn't find one he decided to invent a Jimmy to placate the newspaper editors who were pressuring her to write about those cases.

Janet was wrong. The dramatic article did deserve the Pulitzer, but for literature. Some time after the truth was exposed to the eternal shame of the newspaper and its editor, Janet married a diplomat and moved to Paris. In 1996 she sold her story to the magazine G.Q. and the film rights for a million and a half dollars.

He post ordered an internal investigation that was published with a front page entry and four interior pages. In his book, Bradlee recalls that she made the decision that no one would reveal more of the matter than the newspaper itself. “From my years in the navy I learned that to save a ship the most important thing is damage control.” And the only damage control was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Fifteen years later, the testimony of Jayson Blair, the reporter for the New York Times who starred in one of the great scandals of the profession when he was evidenced as a stubborn and talented plagiarist.

It was an amazing case. At 27, it was said that he was on his way to becoming the black version of George Polk. In a short time he transitioned from communication school to student journalism, to professional internships, to work in the media, to the glittering promotion and to the cliff.

It was enough for a colleague to detect suspicious similarities between a report of hers and another of Jason's to bring to light a stunning story of deception, mythomania, artifice, lies, entanglements and inventions that annihilated the successful careers of their mentors and put a black eye on the legendary newspaper who published the pentagon files.

From the disorder of his small New York apartment, Blair wrote reports and articles about places he never visited, with statements from people he never interviewed and descriptions of landscapes he never saw, for the pages of one of the most influential newspapers in the world.

The biggest journalistic fraud since the Janet Cooke scandal? Yes and no. Jason became the protagonist of the red note of the trade and raised a wave that still has not completely lost its strength.

The sarabande forced the Times to apologize to its readers and conduct an extensive investigation into the company's practices and conduct in order to apply fundamental corrective measures. It was also a bitter lesson for the arrogant newspaper company whose motto is “All the News That's Fit to Print” (“All the news that deserves to be published”).

Blair simultaneously belongs to several minorities: he is black, a splendid editor, a mythomaniac, a drug addict and an alcoholic. But he is also a bipolar patient who was not diagnosed in time with a manic-depressive condition that worsened under the pressure of brutal professional competition and the demands of the newspaper, until he burst.

In periods of euphoria, he could work day and night, travel the country, and produce literally dozens of reports. When depression caught up with him, his days were equally long but dedicated to the consumption of alcohol and cocaine, to party and to scandal.

One day he invented the name of an interviewee and from there in free fall. Notes from other newspapers, radio or television reports and the historical archive of the same Timeswere the preserves where he plagiarized daily for stories that he spun and presented with his signature.

But there was no malice in his conduct. Blair is bipolar. When the editors of the Times When questioned, he maintained that, as is common in the profession, he was citing other sources. And he really wasn't aware of the dimensions of his ethical deviation.

"I fooled the brightest minds," he would say in an interview shortly after his impeachment. So it was. He also humiliated and disappointed friends, colleagues and acquaintances who supported him when he was under investigation because they assumed it was a case of racial profiling. In the words of one of those offended, he jeopardized the professional achievements of minorities in Yankee journalism.

Blair is not trying to justify himself. His memory of the episode, burn down my master's house It's not a diatribe against him. establishment white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant ganged up against the black who defied him. No. Jason accepts that he himself destroyed "the abode of his master" - that is, his own life, in parody of the Bible verse.

Furthermore, as the novelist William Styron did in his moving memory of madnessgives a warning voice against the threat of a silent disease that, like cancer, can kill if not treated on time: depression.

Perhaps unintentionally, the book also sheds light on a territory that is by definition dark: the internal life of the media. News companies are the most aggressive activists in favor of transparency for the rest of the world and other mortals, but ask them to reciprocate and they will jump like demons and denounce attacks on “freedom of expression”.

This happens everywhere, but Jason's book and Cooke's case make for an interesting comparison: here it is very easy to plagiarize, lie, slander and defame with impunity. Theremarket pressure forces, at least, a self-righteous mea culpa


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Nathan Rivera
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