Patchwriting

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Christopher Ketcham ("The Troubling Case of Chris Hedges: Pulitzer winner. Lefty hero. Plagiarist.", TNR 6/12/2014) documents several cases of sentences and even paragraphs copied verbatim, as well as other cases of "patchwriting":

Robert Drechsel, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that the use of material from Klein, Postman, and Hemingway “could be characterized as something that has come to be called ‘patchwriting.’ English and writing professors Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard have defined it as ‘restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source.’ Whether it happens intentionally, carelessly, or as an oversight, it’s a very serious matter.”

Though new to me, the useful term patchwriting has been around for a while. The origin seems to be in Rebecca Moore Howard, "A plagiarism pentimento", Journal of teaching writing 1993. I haven't been able to find the original article, but the ERIC summary reads:

Provides analysis of the term "plagiarism" and distinguishes it from other ways students might employ sources. Defines a form of source usage called "patchwriting" that relies heavily on summary and which should be acceptable to writing teachers. Weighs the pros and cons of summary writing.

Howard discusses the issue of "patchwriting" at length in her 2000 book chapter "The Ethics of Plagiarism", in Michael A. Pemberton, ed.,   The Ethics of Writing Instruction: Issues in Theory and Practice:

With more extensive empirical grounding, the same ideas come up in Rebecca Moore Howard, Tanya K. Rodrigue, and Tricia C. Serviss, “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences”, Writing and Pedagogy 2010:

Whereas many institutions’ academic integrity policies classify patchwriting as a form of plagiarism – a moral failure – recent research indicates that it occurs as an intermediate stage between copying and summarizing: inexpert critical readers patchwrite when they attempt to paraphrase or summarize. Roig (2001) finds that 22% of psychology professors patchwrite when presented with the task of summarizing complex text from an unfamiliar field. Howard (1993:233) posits patchwriting as a learning strategy rather than an act of academic dishonesty. Pecorari (2003) provides empirical verification of this hypothesis in her discovery that non-native speakers of English (L2 writers) patchwrite, even when writing doctoral dissertations. Shi (2004) reports that the Chinese college
students in her study copied longer sequences of words when summarizing than did their native-English-speaking (L1 writers) counterparts.

My own feeling is that direct (and of course transparently attributed) quotation, even of large chunks of material, is much preferable to patchwriting, which does seem dishonest, especially when the changes are minor ones. But it's clear that there's a spectrum of behavior, from out-and-out plagiarism through more and more distant forms of paraphrase, and that the more innocent end of the spectrum is sometimes nearly unavoidable, for example when summarizing someone's theory or re-telling someone's story.

On Ketcham's account, Hedges' transgressions are well on the culpable side of whatever line we can plausibly draw. Thus Ketcham cites four examples where a 2/28/2010 Truthdig piece by Hedges reproduces whole paragraphs from a November 2009 Harper's piece by Petra Bartosiewicz, verbatim or nearly so, e.g.

Bartosiewicz: He proposed a compromise: the U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui, the Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them.

Hedges: He proposed a compromise: The U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui. The Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them.



65 Comments

  1. Nathan said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:15 am

    Wikipedia's jargon includes the term "close paraphrasing". The practice is not completely forbidden, but editors are supposed to be careful about it.

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:16 am

    I find the contention that Hedges "plagiarized" Hemingway (dead forty years previously, and with respect to a work written more than seventy years previously) somewhat odd. Perhaps he would have been better advised to respond by saying "Plagiarism? That was a deliberate literary allusion intended as homage. I assumed my readers would be sophisticated enough to understand it, just as I do not feel the need to add quotation marks or explicit attribution when I use phrases from Shakespeare or Mark Twain or the Bible or Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

    Although this reminds me of an incident from a few decades ago in which a Famous Professor who published an article in a Prominent Journal in his field used a striking phrase in the article's title, which (to disclaim any originality) was put in quotation marks and given an attribution in a footnote. The trouble was that the attribution was to Immanuel Kant and the language was from the New Testament. Not only had Kant thought the allusion so obvious as to not need explanation in his original text, the translator of the particular modern English edition where the Famous Professor had come across the passage had likewise thought it so obvious as not to need annotation (but must have understood it himself because it is otherwise unlikely that his Englishing of Kant's German would have come out word-for-word identical to the King James Version).

  3. Aelfric said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    To J.W. Brewer–While I have some sympathy for the "homage to Hemingway" argument, I think it is only sensible to err on the side of caution, especially as someone in a journalistic endeavour. Certain phrases are so culturally ingrained that no attribution is necessary–anyone can quote "To be, or not to be, that is the question" without needing explicit attribution. I find the quote from A Farewell to Arms lacking in that sort of cachet, at least from my subjective position. I read that particular book (as an adult, out of choice) within the last six years or so, but I couldn't have placed that quote for the life of me. As I say, however, that might simply be me. Whenever discussions such as this happen, I am inevitably reminded of Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote…

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 12:29 pm

    @Aelfric, well, since Hedges did not give the response I suggest, perhaps one can infer from his actual reaction that he subjectively understood what he had done to be improper (or at least hard to justify within the norms of the relevant community, which is not quite the same thing).

    The interesting thing about the "close paraphrase" or "patchwriting" issue is that there is presumably some point at which a paraphrase will become sufficiently distant from the original that even the most scrupulous or nit-picky would accept that it does not violate the relevant norm (against plagiarism or whatever), but because closeness/looseness of paraphrasing is going to vary along a continuum, it's hard to identify exactly where the boundary between the permissible and impermissible falls.

    One of the key high-level doctrines of the law of copyright infringement (at least in the U.S.) is the idea:expression dichotomy. Supposedly copyright does not protect pure ideas (that's the domain of patent law, which gives stronger protection but in a more limited scope), only particular artistic/literary expressions of those ideas. It follows from this conceptually that for any given copyrighted work (let's stick with written work, because it's obviously harder to apply the concept to a painting or musical composition) it ought to be possible in principle to write a paraphrase sufficiently distant from the original as to be non-infringing yet containing the same "idea." The notion of an unproblematic clean distinction between an idea and its embodiment in a specific form of words might perhaps be considered a bit naive from a linguistics or philosophy perspective, but that's the distinction the law is built around and lawyers and judges try to muddle through its application to particular disputes as best as they can.

  5. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    To me, the most bothersome aspect of this whole business (I say this after reading the full article in New Republic) is not the plagiarism committed by Hedges, but the extent to which editors and publications have gone to cover it up. A plagiarist is bad enough; institutional support and empowerment of a plagiarist and his plagiarism is deeply disturbing.

  6. GeorgeW said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 12:50 pm

    I am not familiar with the term “pre-ethical agent” from “The Ethics of Writing Instruction: Issues in Theory and Practice” (page 80).

    Is this someone before they have been coached up on the ethical issues?

  7. ohwilleke said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

    Much of the ambiguity around the ethics of patch writing is compensated for with an affirmative obligation in serious academic research (and Wikipedia, for that matter) to cite sources.

    When this duty is present, patch writing in the absence of a citation is clearly a case of academic dishonesty, while patch writing immediately accompanied by a footnote or endnote identifying the source of the paraphrased material is considered sloppy or lazy writing, but is not dishonest.

  8. Levantine said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

    ohwilleke, I would say that patchwriting with a citation is still dishonest, though unwittingly so. Readers should be able to take it for granted that whatever they're reading (unless explicitly quoted) has been (re)written in the author's own voice, and I find it alarming that citations can be considered as excusing the practice of what, till now, I knew as unintentional plagiarism.

  9. Brett said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

    While I think I agree with what Levantine means to say, I was struck by the use of "dishonest, though unwittingly so." To me, this sounds contradictory. "Dishonesty" implies something done to be intentionally misleading (or with willful disregard for whether something is misleading—i.e. technical bullshit).

  10. Levantine said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    Brett, I myself felt the contradiction when I wrote what I did, but I suppose I was thinking of the phrase "academic dishonesty", which encompasses all forms of plagiarism (accidental or not). Moreover, I do think it's possible for an action to be dishonest even when the intent behind it isn't, though perhaps such an action might better be described by another word.

  11. Ken said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:13 pm

    Add one vote for a direct quote with citation, over any sort of paraphrasing with or without citation.

    I'd also note that using quotes should improve your writing skills, since a quote ideally will be followed by your own analysis of the quoted materials. With enough practice, you can eventually omit the quote and move directly to your own analysis of the information gathered from your sources…

  12. Bloix said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

    The Hamilton College webpage on plagiarism states, "Plagiarism is a form of fraud." Later, it says,"it is possible to plagiarize ideas from outside sources without realizing that you are doing so if you do not understand the rules for quotation, citation, and documentation."

    What this tells me is that the faculty at Hamilton College do not know what "fraud" is.

    People who don't understand the meaning of intent should not be put in positions of adjudicating issues of guilt and innocence.

    Moreover, in my humble opinion, paraphrasing with a citation is not "a very serious matter." It is a matter of convention on which reasonable people can disagree. If you have given the citation, the reader is fully informed of the source of the ideas. And the original author's interest is fully served by the citation. So there is no victim.

    I can see why, in college writing for a grade, it is important for professors to police this sort of credited patchwork, because the grader needs to be able to judge how articulate the student has been. But I don't see why it is considered plagiarism.

    (Hedges' Hemingway quote, in contrast, seemed to me both plagiarism and pathetic. It's a very famous passage, one that I recognized immediately, and one that I also realized was mangled in a clumsy paraphrase.)

  13. Bloix said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:24 pm

    The Hamilton College webpage on plagiarism states, "Plagiarism is a form of fraud." Later, it says,"it is possible to plagiarize ideas from outside sources without realizing that you are doing so if you do not understand the rules for quotation, citation, and documentation."

    What this tells me is that the faculty at Hamilton College do not know what "fraud" is.

    People who don't understand the meaning of intent should not be put in positions of adjudicating issues of guilt and innocence.

    Moreover, in my humble opinion, paraphrasing with a citation is not "a very serious matter." It is a matter of convention on which reasonable people can disagree. If you have given the citation, the reader is fully informed of the source of the ideas. And the original author's interest is fully served by the citation. So there is no victim.

    I can see why, in college writing for a grade, it is important for professors to police this sort of credited patchwork, because the grader needs to be able to judge how articulate the student has been. But I don't see why it is considered plagiarism.

    (Hedges' Hemingway quote, in contrast, seemed to me both plagiarism and pathetic. It's a very famous passage, one that I recognized immediately, and one that I also realized was mangled in a clumsy paraphrase.)

  14. Bloix said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:25 pm

    I admit it! I copied the second comment from the first, word for word! And without crediting the source!

  15. Jonathon Owen said,

    June 13, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

    I recently dealt with a client at work who had been closely paraphrasing and couldn't see what the problem was. When I said that we couldn't use his text—at least not without attribution and probably permission—because it was essentially taken directly from another source, he said that he and another writer wrote it themselves and that it was okay because it was at least 50 percent original.

    Maybe at least 50 percent of the words were his, but in no way was the piece as a whole original. They basically just swapped in synonyms and added a few words here and there. Even if it had really been 50 percent original, I don't know how someone gets through college thinking that "at least 50 percent original" is acceptable.

  16. Xmun said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 3:31 am

    @J. W. Brewer
    Please let us know who the Famous Professor was and which Prominent Journal he published his article in. No doubt some other readers of LL will not need to be told, but I do, and I suspect I'm not alone. Or at least please let us know the book, chapter and verse that was alluded to.

  17. languagehat said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    I find the contention that Hedges "plagiarized" Hemingway (dead forty years previously, and with respect to a work written more than seventy years previously) somewhat odd.

    Really? If that were the only instance, sure, he could try the defense you suggest, and the generous of spirit (a group which in this context would not include me) would accept it, but in this context of wholesale plagiarism I find your finding it odd somewhat odd. It's as if a bank robber were caught with the bag of loot as he emerged from the bank, and he dropped it and tried to flee, and as cops were gathering up the bundles of bills that spilled out you pointed to one and said "Hey, maybe he just happened to have this one on him and it got mixed up with the others." To which the proper response would be: dude.

  18. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 8:34 am

    It isn't that hard to summarize someone and be fairly clear about the source of your ideas. In longer paraphrases you need to keep inserting reminders to the reader about where the ideas come from:

    Liberman (2014) is the of the opinion that direct quotation "is much preferable to patchwriting," but that more "innocent" forms of paraphrase will be inevitable, "for example when summarizing someone's theory or re-telling someone's story."

  19. Eric P Smith said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    @Jonathan Mayhew: But that's hardly fluent prose.

  20. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 9:27 am

    No. But it serves as a quick example.

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 10:33 am

    @Xmun's request, I have used the wonders of the internet to fact-check my anecdote, which I had retold based on decades-old memory w/o confirmatory googling. It is *possible* that my reading of the situation was unfair (e.g. because Kant had added some elaboration to the NT reference it made sense to quote the phrase as he had extended it, not it turns out as the title but as an opening epigraph), but given the fact that the sort of journal in question had a particularly obsessive-compulsive attribution culture and was typically edited by smart-but-secular people who perhaps lacked self-awareness about their cultural-literacy blind spots, the possibility that it was assumed that the readership didn't need the ultimate source of the allusion explained because it would be obvious to them remains imho the less likely explanation.

    In any event, the article is "Serpents and Doves: A Note on Kantian Legal Theory," published in the Columbia Law Review and written by Prof. Thomas Grey of Stanford Law School.

    To tell a similar story on myself, 31 years ago this month I was one of 3 members of my high school class selected to give speeches at graduation and I gave a particularly ridiculous (although it supposedly impressed grown-ups at the time) example of the earnestly-overintellectual seventeen-year-old genre. What's relevant here is that I used a lengthy block quote (deployed rather pretentiously) from Dylan Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," but I was at the time totally unaware that the poem's title was a blindingly obvious allusion to a well-known New Testament passage.

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 10:42 am

    An example I just stumbled across of how context-dependent these things are. The title of this blog post (specifically the part through "tastes nice") http://dangerousminds.net/comments/new_yorks_a_go_go_and_everything_tastes_nice_freakout_at_the_cheetah_club_1 is not put in quotation marks or given an attribution. Should that be taken as an implicit representation that it is an original composition? It is in fact (as I recognized immediately without being told) taken verbatim from the lyrics to a David Bowie song recorded in 1973. Presumably the proprietors of the site assume their target audience is made up of people who either get such allusions without explanation or at a minimum would be sufficiently embarrassed to admit they didn't get them that they're not going to start whining about "fraud" or "plagiarism." Perhaps there are contexts in which it would be cromulent to preface the allusion with a formulation like "As Bowie (1973) has argued . . .," but in most contexts that would be very peculiar for this sort of usage.

  23. m said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 11:15 am

    I'm always confused by accusations of plagiarism that result from following the citations at the end of the accused paragraphs. If the writer tells you exactly where the words came from, how can it be criminal/fraud? Why not just a citation error?

    [(myl) I once got a "research paper" from an undergraduate student that consisted entirely of passages copied verbatim from three sources, all of which were in the bibliography. (The transition between sources was oddly abrupt, which is why I first looked to see whether some sort of paraphrasing or copying might be going on.) When I spoke with the author about the problems, she said that that's what she always thought a "research paper" was. The fact that the sources were in the bibliography did suggest that she was not aimimg to commit out-and-out fraud, so I explained to her that her avowed impression of the nature of a "research paper" was incorrect, and made her do it over again. Some other instructors might have been less charitable.]

    OR as commenter Bloix says: "Moreover, in my humble opinion, paraphrasing with a citation is not 'a very serious matter.' It is a matter of convention on which reasonable people can disagree. If you have given the citation, the reader is fully informed of the source of the ideas. And the original author's interest is fully served by the citation. So there is no victim."

  24. Brett said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    This issue is one that has been discussed numerous times before on Language Log. Citing sources has fundamentally very roles in the context of a term paper, an academic book review, a research paper on chemistry, a legal filing, and a policy white paper. However, many discussions of plagiarism and related issues fail to point out this distinction. Bloix (who is, as I recall, a lawyer) is right to point out the absurdity of calling plagiarism a form of fraud at the same time as saying that it may be performed unintentionally. The error probably comes from a mixing of different domains, where what constitutes a failure of attribution are different.

  25. Sili said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    J. W. Brewer

    I find the contention that Hedges "plagiarized" Hemingway (dead forty years previously, and with respect to a work written more than seventy years previously) somewhat odd.

    I think the distinction has be be between fiction and non-fiction writing. Allusion and mimesis are the stock the in trade of fiction, but academic writing has to err on the side of non-fluency as Eric P. Smith calls it.

  26. Dan H said,

    June 16, 2014 @ 8:56 am

    Citing sources has fundamentally very roles in the context of a term paper, an academic book review, a research paper on chemistry, a legal filing, and a policy white paper.

    This strikes me as a particularly important thing to remember.

    One of the major problems we find with teaching plagiarism prevention to students at secondary-school level, is that the level of originality required in an essay the student writes at home is very different from the level of originality required in an answer in a timed exam. In an exam answer, it is often actively desirable to reproduce key phrases and definitions verbatim.

    Similarly, forms of allusion and reference that are unacceptable in academic writing are perfectly acceptable in less formal contexts. The original series Star Trek episode The Conscience of the King wasn't plagiarizing Shakespeare even though, as far as I know, it included no explicit citations.

  27. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    June 16, 2014 @ 11:16 am

    I think that even in academic writing, flexibility in the use of quotations is acceptable, provided they are not actually being used as sources, but rather exploited in a more literary way, for colour. For instance the philosopher David Lewis has a paper in which he claims that another philosopher is trying to get us to stop worrying and love the bomb (a metaphorical bomb); there is no citation, but I don't think anyone has complained.

  28. Rubrick said,

    June 17, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    I think that flexibility in the use of quotations, even in academic writing, is permissible, as long as they are not actually being used as sources, but rather employed in a more literary way, for color. The philosopher David Lewis, for example, has a paper in which he asserts that another philosopher is attempting to get us to stop worrying and love the bomb (not a literal bomb); there is no citation given, but I don't think anyone has objected.

  29. Lane said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 8:44 am

    The idea that if the original writer is cited vaguely in a footnote much later in the passage, and doesn't really mind, and "there is no victim," is wrong. The reader is the victim. The reader has the right to expect that material outside of quotation marks is the author's own. A footnote a page later should not require the reader to scan back, consult the original source, and see which words were the first author's and which were the second's.

    It is quite true that standards vary from place to place. In the kind of brief journalistic writing I do, academic citations simply won't fit and are not part of the reader's expectation. In academic writing, long citations and many citations are the rule.

    But it is *precisely* in narrative journalism that we give a lot of weight to the journalist's voice, not the breadth of his research. WE don't expect two hundred footnotes from a Chris Hedges. We expect original reporting, original analysis and original writing. He seems to have failed in original reporting on the Camden story, in original analysis on the "Orwell vs. Huxley" regurgitation, and in original writing most clearly in the Bartosiewicz case.

    When there are different kinds of smoke, repeatedly over the course many years, which set off various different, tested and capable smoke detectors, there is probably a source of fire.

    That terrible reworking of a well-known cliche is, to the best of my knowledge, my own.

  30. languagehat said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 9:02 am

    I want to strongly second Lane's comment, which places the emphasis exactly where it should be. Theoretical ruminations about allusion and whatever are, while interesting, essentially beside the point here.

  31. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

    That's at least three of us who are in agreement.

  32. Levantine said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

    Rubrick's excellent post made its point so well that I initially thought I was rereading what Andrew (not the same one) had written. I too am in full agreement with Lane.

  33. Rubrick said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

    Man, I try to be funny and end up being instructive instead. Waggery is hard.

  34. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

    I am having trouble turning this into a maxim (original or otherwise), but my own sense is that if in this sort of piece the fellow is accused of doing a large number of different things wrong that allegedly form a pattern of misconduct, the evidence for some of the charges is often stronger than that for others and for a few of them might be thin enough that they would seem trivial if considered in isolation. These laundry-list attacks have a tendency to lose balance and proportion. For example a recent investigative report here in NYC concerning a scandal-plagued former officeholder devoted equal space to his alleged use of hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to pay campaign consultants for his unsucessful reelection bid (a pretty big deal, if true) and his alleged use of his government email address to send campaign-related emails (not, in context, a very big deal at all).

    I have no brief for Hedges. I don't recall having previously come across his byline and have no particular interest in reading anything he's written. But given that the UT classicist who spotted the Hemingway borrowing said the whole thing would have been ok if introduced with "As Hemingway said," I think reasonable people can disagree as to whether that sort of explicit attribution is really mandatory in this particular genre of writing. It is, to me, a qualitatively different issue from using direct quotes from people you didn't interview but that some other journalist did in a fashion that strongly implies you yourself interviewed them.

    Although I'm not sure that's entirely "plagiarism" either, because the words of the interviewees were hopefully not fabricated by the first journalist and thus do not in any relevant sense "belong" to the first journalist from whose work they were taken without attribution. That X said Y on such and such a date in such and such a context is an empirical fact about the world, and if you don't need X's permission to reprint X's words you certainly shouldn't need anyone else's, unless you're doing a particular stylized sort of academic exercise. If Hedges was falsely claiming to have himself been present when X said Y, that seems to me to be an outright fabrication and as such a substantially more grievous offense against truth than misappropriating Katz's wording (outside the direct quotes, which do not belong to Katz). If he'd "used his own words" in falsely describing his allegedly non-existent encounters with Katz's interviewees it doesn't seem to me like that would somehow make it better.

  35. Levantine said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

    J. W. Brewer, I think Lane put it best when he said that “[t]he reader has the right to expect that material outside of quotation marks is the author’s own.” Any breach of this expectation constitutes some form of plagiarism or other, and that is enough to make it a serious matter. That Hedges took a variety of approaches – some more flagrant than others – doesn’t excuse or mitigate his misconduct in any way; it merely shows that he’s a rather adaptable, creative sort of plagiarist. Though they may not add anything in the way of eloquence, phrases like “As Hemingway said” perform a vital function in responsible writing, and failure to include them when necessary speaks very ill of the borrowing author. The only sorts of paraphrases that I think can stand without explicit attribution are those based on expressions and passages that are so renowned that they have become proverbial (the Bible and Shakespeare come to mind here).

  36. Bloix said,

    June 18, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

    As it appears that Lane is taking issue with what I wrote, I'd like to respond that I entirely agree that if "the original writer is cited vaguely in a footnote much later in the passage" that's not sufficient – nor is it sufficient to put a source in a bibliography, which is Mark's example.

    But if a bit of pedestrian prose is paraphrased in order to make a readable whole, and then scrupulously cited, I don't see the problem. It's traditional in academic history, which is a field I used to be familiar with. When a historian is writing up a potted summary of uncontroversial material, relying on secondary sources which themselves are paraphrases of primary sources (or even of other secondary sources), the patchwriting (all carefully footnoted) is thick on the ground. And why shouldn't it be? There's no point in quoting some other historian precisely, when that historian was merely paraphrasing. So should you go through to the next secondary source, and then on to the primary source? But then don't you have to acknowledge each intermediate source? (After all, it would be wrong to claim that you had discovered the primary source when you'd found it in some other historian's work.) Well, maybe you should have three or four citations for every sentence, but life is too short. You just can't, not for every last fact. And then what do you do? Come up with a way to say what a dozen historians have said before you in completely new words? It can't be done.

    So in history, at least, the convention has been that patchwriting is okay where you're clearly not claiming to be saying something original. No reader has the "right to expect" that he or she is reading the author's deathless prose, because every reader understands that the three-sentence summary of, say, Hoover's failure to veto the Smoot-Hawley Tariff is a paste-up from the three or four cited sources.

    I'm not currently a historian, and maybe things have changed under the pressure of zero tolerance attitudes. But it's ridiculous to punish students severely for what professors have done for generations as a matter of course.

  37. Lane said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:01 am

    Bret, if the citations are flowing freely and the material makes no pretention at all to being original but is rather simply reciting well known facts, and it's a well-known and widespread practice, sure.

    But when Hedges repeated idea-for-idea (not word-for-word) the potted and well-known facts Naomi Klein had used to narrate US climate policy in 2009, he didn't even mention Klein. A very different "borrowing" practice. Once again, he defended it ("the facts may have come from Klein but the sentences did not"), making no apology for his failure to mention her. She had no comment.

    As a journalist on deadline, I can say we often rely on secondary sources for uncontroversial background material, and we don't cite (as per convention). But a yellow blinking light should go off if you recite, say, seven or eight facts in a row that you got from the same source, in the exact same order. In isolation, this would be a misdemeanor for Hedges. In context, it adds to my worry.

  38. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 7:39 am

    "Come up with a way to say what a dozen historians have said before you in completely new words? It can't be done."

    I don't agree with this at all. It can be done, has been done, and is being done all the time by responsible writers of academic prose. You read your sources, go away and think about them for a while, and then synthesise what you have taken from them in your own words, being careful to add all necessary citations. If you really feel your own wording can't compare to that of your sources, you use quotations. It really isn't that difficult.

  39. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 8:32 am

    What I find interesting about the Bartosiewicz quote is that you do not give Hedges the benefit of the doubt. His explanation, that the editors at Truthdig forgot to block quote the passages in question seems very plausible. For this reason, while I somewhat agree with the issue of patchwork, I find the possibility of literal plagiarism very implausible. On the issue of patchwork, how can it be proven that someone did so intentionally? Could it be possible that someone very steeped in literature could write a sentence which comes very close to something that was read somewhere without being consciously being aware of it? I think it is possible. In this regard, I can provide an example from the musical world: Smetana's The Moldau, from Ma Vlast, was apparently an act of unintentional plagiarism. Smetana truly believed to have come up with the melody. The Czechs truly believe it sounds like a Czech folk song. Yet, it has been shown that the melody is extremely close to the Swedish folk song "Ack, Värmeland, du sköna" which Smetana Smetana heard in Göteborg years before. All this to say that one has to be very careful before impuning intentionality.

  40. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 9:08 am

    Hedges could be given the benefit of the doubt for an isolated passage, perhaps even two. But the number of incidents in questions surely shows a pattern of stealing from other writers, to be blunt–for that's what plagiarism is.

    What if Smetana had claimed to have written a half-dozen compositions that bore uncanny resemblances to previous songs? Wouldn't that be a different case?

  41. languagehat said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    Yeah, I am no enemy of Hedges, I have always enjoyed his writing and bought one of his books, but this is inexcusable (and yet people feel the need to make excuses for it). Anyone who knows anything about plagiarists knows that they all routinely pull the "I didn't notice it! it was accidental! it's not like me, and it won't happen again!" act, just as career criminals always claim they're innocent. Just accept it: he routinely stole other people's work. It's doesn't mean he should be sent to the guillotine, but it's lousy behavior, and I'm very disappointed.

  42. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 9:53 am

    Ralph,

    I get your point but, as J. W. Brewer already pointed out, Ketcham compiled a series of accusations which are different in nature. The only one that seem to stick, somewhat, is that of patchwork. Yet, in this case, my argument is that it would be hard to prove intentionality except in the Klein case. The other accusations are somewhat flimsy. The gravest accusation, that of stealing from Katz's reporting is based on hearsay and not substantiated. In fact, Ketcham himself admitted not to have read Hedges's unpublished manuscript. In addition, the primary accuser, the fact checker, is unwilling to go on the record. Note how the most unsubstantiated accusation was placed first in the article. This shows that Ketcham knew that without this accusation, the rest of the article would be rather weak. In addition, if we are talking about ethics, we must consider the clear conflict of interest: Ketcham is Bartosiewicz's husband. He is too close to be considered a dispassionate writer. Rather, it is clear that he has an axe to grind – and so does TNR, a publication known to write hatchet jobs on the likes of Snowden and Greenwald. For this reasons, it seems to me that Ketcham simply tried to throw everything he could find and hoped that something would stick. But in the end, considering Hedges's voluminous body of work, and considering how well sourced most of his work is, I am not sure that some patchwork and some editorial and personal mistakes would qualify as calling Hedges an serial plagiarist.

  43. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 9:58 am

    languagehat,

    Please read my reply to Ralph. I am not making excuses for Hedges. But I think it is important to differentiate what's real, what's plausible, what's implausible, and what is unsubstantiated when we draw our conclusions.

  44. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    Yes, the fact-checker is anonymous, but aren't you ignoring what Theodore Ross has to say? And the fact that Harper's killed the article?

    As for Ketcham-Bartosiewicz, it seems that Ketcham's presentation of a number of passages as evidence is quite dispassionate; in fact, it's very objective. He's not making some wild claims about his wife having been plagiarized, he's showing exactly what passages were plagiarized. And I would repeat the question that Ketcham raises: If the text in question was meant to be placed in block quotes, why did he make changes? Surely, if you're going to put something in block quotes, you leave it exactly as it was.

    In short, I don't think these are disparate charges at all. I think the cases cited in the article quite clearly show a pattern of plagiarism. Hedges defense are rather disparate and, perhaps, also desperate.

  45. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    PJ, what does it matter that Ketcham is Bartosiewicz's husband? Would you have the same issue if Bartosiewicz (who is surely even less dispassionate about the whole thing than her husband) had herself called Hedges out? Even if Ketcham had found no other cases of plagiarism with which to bolster his piece, the one involving his wife is damning enough on its own. I suspect that people would not be trying to excuse Hedges so if he were a right-wing commentator.

  46. languagehat said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    I suspect that people would not be trying to excuse Hedges so if he were a right-wing commentator.

    Exactly.

  47. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:28 am

    Actually, I think the fact that one of the alleged victims was the accuser's spouse might be a plausible reason why Ketcham had to shop this piece around to multiple outlets before he found one that would run it (i.e. a reason other than a desire of the publications who declined to run it to squelch the story as such). One can imagine an editor with no particular ax to grind saying "you know, that's the sort of conflict that doesn't just go away with disclosure." But I can also imagine different publications reasonably coming to different conclusions on that issue (just as, with some but not all of the accusations, I think that reasonable people might be able to come to different conclusions about the gravity of the offense or even whether it's an offense). But given Ketcham's personal connection to the story, TNR (which has its own history of running fabricated/plagiarized pieces) better hope this one has been fact-checked to perfection.

    The first example of patchwriting from Bartosiewicz is of a paragraph where Bartosiewicz herself is summarizing/quoting/paraphrasing an underlying government document. She might even have been "closely paraphrasing" or "patchwriting" from that underlying government document in the part of her prose outside quotation marks, which would be fine in context (in describing an official document filed in a court proceeding, the journalistic desideratum of accuracy ought to perhaps trump that of originality of expression). It would be helpful if the article had included a link to that underlying document, which would make it easier to assess the accusation — sometimes when you have e.g. a bunch of journalists all writing quick one-paragraph summaries of the same press release they are going to read extremely similarly, other times more differently. Perhaps the particular points Bartosiewicz chose to emphasize in her summary (or the order they were put in) were sufficiently non-obvious that one would expect any other journalist taking a truly independent look at the same document to have come up with something substantially different, but it would be easier to be confident in that conclusion with access to the underlying document. (It would actually be most damning if Bartosiewicz had made a trivial error which Hedges uncritically adopted, thus tending to suggest he had never actually looked at the underlying document.)

    FWIW, I have made some effort over time to avoid gratuitously injecting my political opinions into LL comment threads on what ought to be apolitical topics, and if Levantine imagines that I would be predisposed for political reasons to make excuses for a pinko propagandist like Hedges, I must have succeeded in that endeavor.

  48. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:31 am

    J. W. Brewer, I wasn't referring to you.

  49. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    Ralph,

    In regard to Bartosiewicz Hedges did not do any patchwriting. The sentences are verbatim. Then only differences are: 1) In the first quote ("None of the…") one or two sentences were omitted – not unusual when quoting extensively. 2) The changing of phrases from “my local reporter” to “a local reporter” was clearly due to the fact that Hedges acknowledged that it was Bartosiewicz's reporter: "a local reporter who was hired by Bartosiewicz." Everything else is verbatim. My point is that
    Ketcham's case vis-a-vis his wife is very weak and somewhat misleading. Yet, this prompted him to go on a fishing expedition in order to find more evidence against Hedges. The only clear case he could find was the Klein instance. It is perhaps for this reason that both Salon and The American Prospect declined to publish the article.

    In regard to Theodore Ross: yes, he is the only one who was willing to go on the record. But once again, we do not have the evidence which would allow us to corroborate his assertion. To put their accusation front and center without having the actual manuscript shows an awareness that without that, the rest of the article would not have carried much water.

    Levantine,

    Let me ask you a question. Do you think that a reporter whose wife had been killed would be able to write dispassionately about the alleged killer? The fact is, Ketcham's article is clearly tendentious. While he has some good evidence he included some questionable evidence which simply show that he was out to get Hedges. And to turn your sentence around: I suspect that people would not be trying to crucify Hedges so if he were a right-wing commentator.

  50. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    Just for the record, politically I am quite far to the left, probably in the 95th or perhaps even the 99th percentile in that respect. However, I don't do a great deal of reading on politics and I had never heard of Hedges before. In fact, I had never heard of any of the people involved except Naomi Klein, and I know only her name; I've never read anything that she's written.

  51. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    In fairness to TNR (which has also, of course, changed owners/editors etc. since various of its prior scandals), it might be the case that its own unfortunate history with running what turned out to be fabricated/plagiarized pieces makes it unusually interested in the issue for praiseworthy reasons, although less praiseworthy reasons (envy of factional rivals in the relevant subset of the journalistic world etc.) are also plausible. Of course, it is often the case that exposes of misconduct by the powerful or famous are the result of personal motives on the part of the muckracker/whistleblower that might not be particularly admirable, and if one values truth over purity of motive (consider e.g. the mafioso who is testifying against his former colleagues in order to get more lenient treatment for himself) one accepts the evidence for whatever it's worth, as discounted by any appropriate concerns about the credibility of the source.

  52. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    Levantine,

    Let me rephrase that: I suspect that people would not be trying to excuse Hedges so if he were an establishment commentator. A case in point, where was TNR when Norman Finkelstein showed that Dershowitz's The Case for Israel contained plagiarism?

  53. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 11:49 am

    My apologies for the multiple posts but there is no edit feature on this blog:

    Levantine,

    Let me rephrase that: I suspect that people would not be trying to crucify Hedges so if he were an establishment commentator. A case in point, where was TNR when Norman Finkelstein showed that Dershowitz's The Case for Israel contained plagiarism?

  54. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

    PJ, I made no claims as to the evenhandedness of Ketcham's article (for what it's worth, I largely agree with Ralph Hickok in this regard, but that's beside the point). Even if the piece had been written by a rabidly right-wing commentator baying for Hedges' blood, it wouldn't change the fact that the evidence presented is clear and copious, backed up by numerous quotations.

    To take your hypothetical example (and I myself do not favour these kinds of hyperbolic analogies), would it excuse the killer's crime if the person who exposed it were the victim's spouse? What if no-one else had noticed or was willing to discuss the murderer's pattern of behaviour? Yes, Ketcham is expressing a particular and subjective viewpoint, but surely that's the point of journalistic writing. And it's precisely because Hedges contravened the expectations of this genre (we take it for granted that political commentators are expressing their own ideas in their own words) that he is being called out.

    As to your final question, Ketcham is himself a left-wing journalist. And I suspect that a number of the commentators here (myself included) who object to Hedges' actions are lefties who are willing to admit when one of their own has behaved objectionably.

  55. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 12:10 pm

    One of my favorite quotes (not necessarily as a truth claim, but for its rhetorical bravado) is Janet Malcolm's "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible." On further reflection, I suppose it is possible that I am comparatively non-outraged about Hedges in part because I simply do not have very high expectations from his genre of writing. Put another way, I don't believe this stuff about the sacred implicit contract between writer and reader, because I am a reader and don't need other people to tell me what my implicit expectations are. This is, I think, instead about the internal norms of the journalistic guild which have to do with allocation of credit between guild members (and as it gets to be a lousier living from a $ perspective, proper allocation of credit qua credit perhaps becomes even more psychologically important to those guild members). Trying to recharacterize these norms as being for the benefit of the general reading public rather than for the benefit of the guild's own members feels self-serving. Perhaps it's fair to say that someone who is unwilling to abide by the internal norms of his chosen profession (and who dissembles when caught rather than forthrightly challenging the legitimacy of the norms) is for that reason morally dubious even if the norms themselves are contingent or arbitrary, but it's still hard for me to get all that excited about it.

  56. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

    PJ, I meant "final statement" rather than "final question". But even your rephrased version of that statement (which now, as it happens, does include a question) does not address the issue of plagiarism itself. A defence of Hedges should rest on its own merits, and not on your belief that he is being unfairly victimised.

  57. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

    Levantine,

    I completely understand your point. My opinion is that some of the evidence is clear (Klein), some is debatable (Hemingway, Postman), some is tendentiously misleading (Bartosiewicz), and some is based on hearsay and unsubstantiated (Katz). In this regard it is interesting to notice how the article is carefully constructed in reverse order: going from Katz (unsubstantiated) to Klein (clear) by way of Bartosiewicz (misleading), Hemingway, and Postman (debatable). In other words, the article has been crafted to maximize emotional impact (opening with the most outlandish accusation) while minimizing evidence (relegating the most clear evidence at the end).

    The fact that TNR chose to expose Hedges while it willfully ignore Finkelstein's much stronger exposé of Dershowitz's plagiarism leads me to believe that TNR's agenda is clearly political and that is why they picked up the story after Salon and The American prospect rejected it. If you do a little research, you'll find that TNR's has been caught in these type of hatched jobs numerous times (most recently in the case of Snowden). And while Ketcham may be a left-wing journalist (whatever that means), he obviously felt that his wife had been wronged by Hedges and wanted to exact revenge (and perhaps some publicity while doing so).

  58. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:24 pm

    PJ, all that is still beside the point. It doesn't matter to me that those exposing Hedges may not be pure of motive, may have self-serving or unpleasant agendas, etc. The evidence itself is what counts, and I don't agree with you that some of the examples discussed by Ketcham aren't clearcut cases of plagiarism. To my mind, all of the cases he documents constitute plagiarism of one sort of other, and the order in which he presents them has no bearing on their veracity. As long as Ketcham's points are accurate, he really has nothing to answer for, and it's now up to Hedges to respond properly.

  59. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    And picking up on your reply to Ralph Hickok, the change from "my local reporter" to "a local reporter who was hired by Bartosiewicz" alone disproves the notion that the passages were supposed to be block quoted. What kind of a block quotation would include a mid-sentence return to the main author's own voice (unless you're going to claim that the editors of Truthdig also got rid of some square brackets that Hedges had used)?

  60. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

    Levantine,

    That being a shorter sentence, it was probably meant not to being block quoted. I just find it hard to believe that a writer would be so stupid to a) lift entire passages from another author and b) include and credit such author's name in the very article. It just doesn't make sense and that's why I believe Ketcham's really pushed the envelope on this one – which goes to show that his motives were more emotional than rational. Unfortunately he didn't find a good editor at TNR who would have asked such simple questions.

  61. J. W. Brewer said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    PJ's use of Dershowitz as an example seemed a bit out of left field. But now a bit of random googling has led me to Hedges' (self-serving?) claim that he has "been repeatedly branded as an anti-Semite by the Israeli lobby," which does tend to confirm PJ's implication that Hedges and TNR are very much on opposite sides of at least one particular emotionally-charged intra-Left divide, so I suppose one could add that to the evidence for TNR's motive. (Although in that regard it's interesting that Ketcham's tack is the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger one of suggesting he seemed like a Good Guy who was On Our Side on the Important Issues but turns out to have had this Tragic Moral Flaw — as opposed to suggesting that this just the sort of bad behavior you would expect from a person you already considered a disreputable promoter of unsavory points of view.)

    To give Hedges credit for non-plagiarism where credit is due, you wouldn't think the fairly simple NP "Israel and its lackeys" would be a particularly original usage in strident anti-Zionist rhetoric, but he does appear to have coined it ex nihilo just this past March or at least I can't google up any earlier appearances of it.

  62. Levantine said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

    PJ, if that sentence wasn't supposed to be block quoted, then wouldn't that automatically mean that it was plagiarised? It's either a misformatted block quotation (this would be the generous and, in my view, improbable interpretation) or a plagiaristic paraphrase; it can't be both. Perhaps Hedges thinks that acknowledging your source gives you licence to present large chunks of text from it as if they're your own words. Some seem to be sympathetic to this way of thinking, but the end result is still plagiarism. You're right in saying that it's hard to believe that such a writer would be so stupid, and maybe that's why Hedges was able (and, it seems, still is able) to get away with it. But, in keeping with your criticisms of Ketcham, our emotions shouldn't stand in the way of the facts.

  63. PJ said,

    June 19, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    Levantine,

    I stand corrected on Bartosiewicz. I compared the original Hedges article (found here: countercurrents.org/hedges090210.htm) to the revised Truthdig version and the original Bartosiewicz at Harper's. There was definitely considerable patchwriting involved. Well, I guess Hedges was that stupid after all.

  64. JS said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 2:51 am

    It's possible that the distinction between plagiarism and paraphrase/synopsis/allusion is at very, very bottom an amorphous one, but I'm surprised by the assertion that these examples might fall into any such gray area. I would be disappointed enough were my undergraduate students to claim, upon being presented with the work of Hedges and his "models" side-by-side, not to see what the problem was — but on LL?

    My head is spinning at the thought that one could examine Hedges' co-option of Hemingway and not see it for what it is — a bald-faced and disgusting attempt to pass off another's idea as one's own.

  65. Levantine said,

    June 21, 2014 @ 12:26 pm

    JS, I share your confusion and concern. Last semester, a student of mine submitted a paper that was almost entirely patchwritten, though with citations of the sources she'd used. She was genuinely surprised when I pointed out to her that this constituted plagiarism, and I think her bewilderment rested in large part on the fact that she'd been writing this way for years with none of her other instructors telling her not to (she was a college senior). Because she'd known no better, I allowed her to rewrite the paper, and the end result was much stronger, even if it lacked the flashes of eloquence that had betrayed the first as a piece of patchwriting.

    What most dismayed me about the whole affair was the idea that my colleagues could have allowed this student to unwittingly plagiarise for most of her college career. In light of some of the responses to this post, however, I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised that well-informed individuals are willing to turn a blind eye to (or even approve) such practices.

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