N.Y. Times Admits Reporter Lifted ‘Language’ From WSJ, Others

Second media plagiarism scandal in as many weeks

Another week, another media scandal involving alleged plagiarism — this one at the New York Times.

On Sunday, the Times published an editor’s note explaining that Zachery Kouwe, a business reporter, "appears to have improperly appropriated wording and passages published by other news organizations" in a "number" of articles in the Times and on its DealBook blog "over the past year."

Kouwe "reused language from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other sources without attribution or acknowledgment."

That sounds like "plagiarism" by any other name.

It was the Journal that tipped the Times off on Friday to what it said was "apparent plagiarism."

Kouwe had a byline in Saturday’s paper, but hasn’t had one since.

Last week, Gerald Posner, an investigative reporter for the Daily Beast, resigned after multiple allegations of plagiarism against him surfaced.

The Times said the "matter remains under investigation" and that the paper "will take appropriate action consistent with our standards to protect the integrity of our journalism."

In the meantime, read the Journal editor Robert Thomson’s letter to the Times’ Bill Keller, via the New York Observer:

Dear Mr. Keller,

I’m writing to alert you to a case of apparent plagiarism in the New York Times. As you’ll see from the text below, a significant proportion of an article by Wall Street Journal reporter Amir Efrati was used verbatim, or near verbatim, in a story by the Times’ Zachery Kouwe, both online and in print. There was no general news release about this particular story and the Journal’s coverage was informed by original reporting and a meticulous review of legal files related to the case of Mr. Bernard Madoff.

Mr. Efrati’s Wall Street Journal story, titled, "Madoff Sons, Brother, Niece Being Sued by Trustees for Victims" was published on Dow Jones Newswires at 12:25 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5, and was published on WSJ.com shortly thereafter. At 2:31 p.m., Mr. Kouwe published a related, in fact, a remarkably related story. The examples below show the striking similarities.

Example 1:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff’s December 2008 arrest.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Mr. Picard said the family received about $141 million in the six months leading up to Mr. Madoff’s arrest in December 2008.

Example 2:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

The family members agreed not to transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of the trustee.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Under the agreement, the family members cannot transfer or sell property or assets valued at more than $1,000 or incur debts and obligations greater than $1,000 without approval of Mr. Picard.

Example 3:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses.
The defendants also will provide the trustees with an accounting of their expenditures, the orders say.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

They are allowed to use credit cards for necessary living expenses.
The defendants also will provide the trustee with an accounting of their expenditures.

Example 4:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Last year Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee’s $45 million lawsuit against her.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Last year, Mr. Madoff’s wife, Ruth, also agreed to an asset freeze as part of a separate trustee’s $45 million lawsuit against her.

Example 5:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

According to the trustee’s lawsuit, son Andrew Madoff invested just under $1 million into his Madoff investment accounts yet withdrew $17 million through "brazenly fabricated transactions."

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

According to the trustee’s lawsuit, Andrew Madoff placed just under $1 million into his Madoff investment accounts yet withdrew $17 million through "brazenly fabricated transactions" over the years.

Example 6:

Mr. Efrati wrote:

Peter Madoff invested $32,146 into his accounts but redeemed more than
$16 million in similar fashion, the trustee said.

Mr. Kouwe wrote:

Peter Madoff invested $32,146 into his accounts but redeemed more than
$16 million, the trustee claims.

The extensive use of such similar phrases, without any attribution, is extraordinary. This is not a case of involving a columnist with apparently perfect recall or a case of cryptomnesia, but one of fundamental journalistic integrity.

Clearly, we expect that The New York Times will run a correction and publically acknowledge the source of the published material– that source being The Wall Street Journal.

Yours,

Robert Thomson

CC: Clark Hoyt, Public Editor
Larry Ingrassia, Business Editor
Philip Corbett, Deputy News Editor