How CNN Caught Its Alleged Plagiarist – With Google

Curious wording caught a copy editor’s eye — and led CNN to discover 128 instances of plagiarism, a source tells TheWrap

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The discovery that a CNN editor committed 128 instances of plagiarism began with a Google search, a CNN source told TheWrap.

The company said in an editor’s note published Friday that it had terminated Marie-Louise Gumuchian, who reported from CNN’s London bureau about Africa, Europe and the Middle East, after discovering the plagiarism spread across 50 articles. Seven had to be taken down altogether, and the others rewritten.

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The discovery began when a lone copy editor noted some unusual phrasing in one of her stories, and copied it into Google, the CNN source said. It turned out that a story by Reuters, Gumuchian’s former employer, was the source of the language.

“She was caught during routine spot checks by a copy editor who I think flagged some of her work because he thought the sentence structure looked familiar. And up came a Reuters piece that looked very similar,” the person at CNN said. “He put the sentence into Google and out popped a Reuters piece.”

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TheWrap could not immediately locate Gumuchian for comment. She had worked for CNN for about six months, and had a strong resume and references, the CNN source said.

Her still-active blog page for Reuters includes stories with datelines from such locales as London, Tripoli, and the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Her stories are obviously well-written, though the allegations raise questions about the origins of her work.

The CNN source said the plagiarism was “embarrassing,” but that the fast discovery of it was  “huge” and “fantastic.”

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“Someone’s really doing their job,” the source said of the copy editor, whose name was not released.

Despite the black eye CNN will suffer, it sounds from the insider’s account as if the company does more than many news organizations to root out plagiarism. First, it does regular spot checks. And it runs a plagiarism computer program to catch those who steal others’ work. CNN used that program after Google revealed the first red flag.

The problem is that when the program searches the internet for language used in CNN’s stories, what often comes up are CNN wire stories than run on other outlets. The program mistakenly thinks those outlets have stolen the stories from CNN.

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In some cases, the plagiarized material was background. In others, it was more essential to the story.

Some on Twitter wondered why CNN felt the need to release Gumuchian’s name. CNN had to do it in part to protect the reputations of reporters with whom she shared bylines, the source said. In several of the stories that had to be rewritten, Gumuchian shared a byline with one or two others.

Whenever journalists cut corners, the familiar defense is that the pace of the news was too fast, and that the organization demanded too much of too few people. The source said that wasn’t the case here, and that CNN isn’t “any more high-stress” than any other news job. “I don’t think she was driven to it by unfair working conditions,” the source said.