Is there an echo in here?

Margaret WenteBy Frank Moher

The blog Media Culpa has spent the past week coming up with some breathtaking examples of what appear to be plagiarized passages in columns by The Globe and Mail‘s Margaret Wente. The examples offered are so damning that I don’t know why I’m bothering with the “appear to be” part of that last sentence, except I can’t believe that even a first-year university student, much less one of The Globe and Mail‘s most polarizing (and hence most closely scrutinized) columnists, would imagine she could get away with it.

Here, for example, is an Ottawa Citizen writer in 2008 quoting Wellesley College professor Robert Paarlberg: “‘Many NGOs working in Africa in the area of development and the environment have been advocating against the modernization of traditional farming practices,’ Paarlberg says. ‘They believe that traditional farming in Africa incorporates indigenous knowledge that shouldn’t be replaced by science-based knowledge introduced from the outside. They encourage Africa to stay away from fertilizers, and be certified as organic instead. And in the case of genetic engineering, they warn African governments against making these technologies available to farmers.'”

And here, from 2009, is a Wente column: “Yet, many NGOs working in Africa have tenaciously fought the modernization of traditional farming practices. They believe traditional farming in Africa incorporates indigenous knowledge that shouldn’t be replaced by science-based knowledge introduced from the outside. As Prof. Paarlberg writes, ‘They encourage African farmers to stay away from fertilizers and be certified organic instead. And they warn African governments to stay away from genetic engineering. They want to freeze African farms where they are. It’s a fantasy of what agriculture ought to be like.'”

As Media Culpa notes, it isn’t until halfway through that paragraph that Wente begins to acknowledge Paarlberg’s ideas and words (and he didn’t write it; he said it to The Citizen reporter). Meanwhile, the last part appears to be spliced on, word-for-word, from a speech that Paarlberg gave in Washington. In which case, this isn’t just plagiarism; it’s alchemy.

There’s more where that came from; Media Culpa has been following Wente’s foraging habits for a while. What’s remarkable is that, in a year that has been rife with high-profile incidents of plagiarism, and the resignations that followed, The Globe has yet to respond to Media Culpa’s discoveries. Which is driving various people on twitter to various degrees of crazy:

We’ll see if, in the wake of Media Culpa’s latest exhumations, The Globe can stay silent any longer. Meantime, I’d like to acknowledge that that link to the Poynter article on plagiarism also came from Media Culpa. Didn’t find it myself. Media Culpa. Just want to make that clear.

Update: The Globe responds.

And Media Culpa responds to the response.

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