I confess I really don’t care for Margaret Wente, never have ever since her days at Canadian Business. However, I will not call for her head over her plagiarising a couple of sentences from someone else’s column.
It’s very easy to see how something, like what Wente did, can happen. A journalist is reading and talking and emailing so much that, as Wente herself said, you can make notes and forget to put down where something came from. That doesn’t excuse plagiarism, but it does make it understandable.
What she did was careless, not, it seems, part of a regular habit. And there is a BIG difference between someone like Margaret Wente and someone like Jayson Blair to whom plagiarism and fabrication seemed as regular as breathing.
The Toronto Star’s public editor Kathy English put it nicely in a recent column, “One can have zero tolerance for unethical journalism, but still possess understanding for the journalist.”
The Globe & Mail did err in its slow response to the allegations of plagiarism. And Wente did not help herself when in her column of September 25th she seems to excuse her behavior by blaming the blogger who Carol Wainio, who Wente says “...has more than once accused me of stealing the work of other writers with whom I happen to share an opinion.”
Rightly or wrongly Wente feels harassed by Wainio. And while I can appreciate Wente’s feelings, in my view it would have been far better had Wente left out the third and second last paragraphs of her column and just ended with a whoops I goofed.
One final comment, is plagiarism any worse than lying or deceiving? For example the media regularly labels money given to passenger rail and to transit a “subsidy”, while money given to roads is always labelled an “investment”. That is a deception/lie. I’ll deal with this issue and the media’s turning a blind eye on certain issues in a future blog.