Plagiarism

Mainstream media falls silent in face of Wente’s ethical crimes

Wente’s misdeeds tarnish our profession, so why are we afraid to call her out?
Photo: Sarah Marshall

On the rare occasions when I’m obliged to digest anything written by Financial Post editor Terence Corcoran, I know I'm bound to suffer from fits of near uncontrollable laughter. And, so it was, when I learned that Corcoran had come rushing to the defence of his mute damsel in distress, Margaret Wente, like an aging white knight in a pinstriped suit wielding a typewriter that, like its owner, is missing a few keys.

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Corcoran didn’t disappoint. From the first to last word of his typically logic-averse piece of revisionist thinking about the Globe’s word-thief-in-residence, his synapse-sapping column had me in stitches.

Plagiarism and political correctness

Let’s begin with Corcoran’s predictably exculpatory assertion that the journalism “business” and, by extension Wente, are being held “hostage” by a cabal of “dreary dictatorial avatars of pretentious rules and political correctness.”

Wente has willingly, if perhaps grudgingly, accepted her latest dose of penance.

First, it’s apparent to anyone — save, of course, the myopic Corcoran — that if Wente is being held “hostage” at an undisclosed location in the disgraced writer protection program, it’s at the hands of her mildly peeved and embarrassed Globe and Mail handlers, who thought she warranted a second, lengthy stint in purgatory for cutting and pasting other people’s words and ideas … yet again.

It’s also clear that far from bristling at being held “hostage,” Wente has willingly, if perhaps grudgingly, accepted her latest dose of penance. And far from sending out an SOS, she seems content to endure being punished and humiliated over and over again for making those silly “mistakes” over and over again in order to keep writing her intellectually vacuous, cookie-cutter missives. Instructive, isn’t it?

As for those “dreary dictatorial avatars of pretentious rules and political correctness,” I’d say that’s a cumbersome (but arguably apt) way to describe Corcoran’s fellow frat boys on the National Post’s opinion page — Chris Selley and Colby Cosh — who gleefully led and subsequently took unabashed credit (on social media) for the Wente pile-on when the Globe’s marquee columnist was first revealed to be a plagiarist in 2012.

Plagiarism is for the dogs

Corcoran may have missed this 2012 column by Selley, where he excoriated Wente and the Globe for having committed and countenanced plagiarism, respectively. After insisting that Wente was guilty of multiple counts of plagiarism, Judge Selley declared that she should have been canned or, as he euphemistically put it, given “her industry-standard just deserts.”

Writing in Maclean’s at the time, Pastor Cosh also administered the rod to the Globe and Margaret Wente for “leaving the distinct impression that she regards herself more as victim than perpetrator.” My goodness.

Given Selley and Cosh’s documented history of animus towards Wente, I wonder if Corcoran considers his Postmedia colleagues to be part of the alleged Wente “witch-hunt” engineered by a “band of self-righteous, self-important, self-aggrandizing, mostly leftist critics”?

(Look, I concede that Cosh and Selley are self-righteous, self-important and self-aggrandizing. But “leftists”? Please. By the way, later in his column, Corcoran describes Wente’s detractors as “dogs.” For my part, I think that’s an epithet too far.)

In Corcoran’s cockeyed ethical universe, Wente’s only sin was “her failure to put quotation marks around somebody else’s words.”

In any event, Corcoran insists that Selley, Cosh and all the other “media moralists” or “dogs” — take your pick — are intent on crucifying Wente because they “don’t like her anti-feminist streak or her whip-cracking over the flabby flesh of environmentalists.” (I told you this guy is a hoot. If you can figure out what “whip-cracking over the flabby flesh of environmentalists” actually means in plain English, then you too can become an “editor” at the National Post.)

In Corcoran’s cockeyed ethical universe, Wente’s only sin was, get this, “her failure to put quotation marks around somebody else’s words.” Apparently it was just a “sloppy,” “insignificant’” oversight. So get over it, you lefties.

Not surprisingly, in his hysterical, hyperbole-laden apologia, Corcoran doesn’t address why or how Wente keeps making those “sloppy” mistakes and insists, instead, that anyone keeping score on the plagiarism count is up to “malicious, ideologically driven nonsense.” Okey dokey.

Finally, and perhaps most absurdly — if that’s even remotely possible — Corcoran tells Wente that she may want to call a good lawyer to keep her detractors’ “logical malpractice” in check.

If I were Corcoran, I wouldn’t be advising anyone to get a lawyer. The last time he had to use the services of one over prickly questions about his journalism, he received an oh-so-satisfying comeuppance from Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, who successfully sued him, the National Post, and others for libel. (The Post is appealing.)

An incestuous media fraternity

Here’s the overarching truth that Corcoran’s reaction to Wente’s prima facie cases of plagiarism has exposed, which many journalists in the parochial world of Canadian media are loath to admit: Friendship and self-preservation will always trump ethics in most newsrooms in Canada.

It’s no secret that Corcoran and Wente are not only ideological, climate-change-denying soulmates, but also long-time close friends. The same impulse that prompted Corcoran to instinctively support his besieged confrère despite all the damning evidence was on neon-bright display when the many allies of Peter Mansbridge, Rex Murphy and Amanda Lang inside and outside the CBC similarly took to print and the airwaves to defend their practice of taking bushels of cash-to-yak from powerful private interests that the public broadcaster also reported on.

In the weeks since one of their own has been exposed to be a serial and largely unrepentant plagiarist, they’ve gone as silent as Marcel Marceau.

Like Corcoran, Mansbridge, Lang and Murphy’s mates in the mainstream media tried to explain away their blatant conflict of interest as much ado about nothing orchestrated by a “gaggle” of resentful, politically driven “bloggers.”

At first, the CBC hoped the whole sordid cash-to-yak mess would blow over, so their high-priced celebrities-cum-journalists could safely return to profitable business as usual. As we now know, the CBC miscalculated and ultimately ended the paid speaking practice for everyone but the ever fortunate Murphy.

Recall, as well, when many members of the Ottawa tribe claimed that former CBC host Evan Solomon was the victim of yet another so-called “witch hunt” after the Toronto Star revealed that the popular TV fixture was pocketing commissions on art deals he brokered with wealthy Canadians, some of whom appeared on that political Punch and Judy show, Power and Politics. (The CBC belatedly fired Solomon.)

Solomon’s pals — who routinely appeared on Power and Politics — were more than eager and prepared to turn a blind eye to what should have been a career-ending ethical transgression principally because they like the guy a lot. They needn’t have fretted. Turns out their tarnished buddy wasn’t out of work for long. After a few months in exile, Solomon was welcomed back with open arms by an incestuous media fraternity in Ottawa devoid of what most of us call a memory.

And what about all those Globe columnists, editors and reporters who are forever trumpeting how they’ve either been nominated or won awards for, you know, speaking truth to power?

Well, in the weeks since one of their own has been exposed to be a serial and largely unrepentant plagiarist, they’ve gone as silent as Marcel Marceau. Nary a tweet, let alone a blog or a column, denouncing the ethical crimes against journalism committed in their midst and the hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil, see-no-evil cover-up taking place in plain sight.

Nope. There’s been no palace revolt and there won’t be because, like the paper's haughty masthead, most Globe staffers are quite content to have you and me forget all about the unflattering, credibility-draining charges of plagiarism, so they can move on while keeping their impressive-looking calling cards and winning those ephemeral awards about holding the powers-that-be to account.

In other words, cowardice.

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