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Margaret Wente ^C ^V and the Canadian Media Silence
September 21, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Popular Canadian columnist Margaret Wente is facing accusations of plagiarism -- but why isn't the media on the case?

The Media Culpa blog has been tracking frequent "errors of attribution" in Wente's work for more than a year. The most recent example has ignited the local twittersphere -- but mainstream media seem oddly reluctant to investigate. Does Canada need better media critics?
posted by sevenyearlurk (72 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Like I need another reason not to read Margaret Wente.

The 'scared shitless' argument about the constant demand for content is an interesting one. That may be part of it, but I suspect the real situation is much more mundane -- that the Canadian press core is simply too small for its members to be anything but chummy with one another, and probably not a large enough pond to support a media critic beyond the margins.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:42 AM on September 21, 2012


I skimmed most of the second link (plagiarism), much like I do with anything Ms. Wente bylined in my Saturday paper. She's more guilty of intellectual laziness and letting other people do the heavy lifting rather than outright plagiarism, I'd say. She does seem to frequently lift concepts from other rather than forming her own. She's like readers digest for the not very smart Globe readers. She's the anti-Doug Saunders.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:48 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's more guilty of intellectual laziness and letting other people do the heavy lifting rather than outright plagiarism, I'd say

I was about to direct you to the second link, but I see from your comment that you say you've read it. I think you need to re-read it: what they document is outright, flagrant plagiarism. If I received something like that from a student they'd get an F for the paper and the course and have a letter on file with the Dean.
posted by yoink at 8:54 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]




but mainstream media seem oddly reluctant to investigate.

People in glass houses?
posted by Talez at 8:58 AM on September 21, 2012


Actually, the media elite in Canada don't really consider Wente a journalist. One, she writes and opinion piece for the Globe (and is not an editor); two, she is a woman.

Two strikes, when only one of those would do.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:02 AM on September 21, 2012


When confronted about a lack of attribution when quoting an (invented) Occupy protestor, Ms. Wente responded, "Everything that guy said when I got to him... every last word is in my notes!"
posted by Lorin at 9:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The editors are too busy excuse is lame. University professors do plagiarism checks on hundreds of paper at a time. It's computerized, easy and pretty inexpensive.
posted by srboisvert at 9:05 AM on September 21, 2012


Sort of makes me wonder if plagiarism has always been rampant and the Internet's just made it obvious.
posted by Mooski at 9:05 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has somebody coined a term yet for that feeling you have when a current Canadian news story mentally transports you to 1993, where you sit on the toilet at your parent's house reading your father's copy of Frank magazine, chuckling at the infantile humour of Remedial Media and reveling in an unearned sense of smug superiority over people you couldn't care less about?
posted by Chichibio at 9:15 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Canuckenfreude.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


...reading your father's copy of Frank magazine...

Oh, man. Those were good times. Lister Sinclair was never the same. Eddie Goldenschlong was never the same. Here, they'd have a nice, long blind item, and then wrap up with one simple line: "Margaret Wente is a Great Canadian TM."

posted by Capt. Renault at 9:22 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


around our house, 'popular' always have sarcastic quotes around it when it comes to Margaret Wente.

occasionally we exclaim - hey, Margaret Wente said something sensible! Someone should send some mittens to the Devil.
posted by jb at 9:22 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The "scared shitless" argument isn't just limited to journalism and media professions.

It's the reason why some large, internet-based companies with hundreds/thousands of employees no longer have ANY professional writers on staff, even for their own internal communications, press releases, etc. Instead, everything's written by marketing agencies, business managers, interns, and the like. People conflate blogging with journalism, and there's no clear delineation between an op-ed piece and actual news.

Advertising copy, media scripting and PR have become interchangeable; the only difference is word count. Style guides are going the way of the dinosaur.

The literacy of the world is slowly reversing itself, and fact-checking, ethical journalism, and even grammar and spelling standards are slowly being cannibalized by the gaping maw of content-based consumerism.

I'm guessing in less than 10 years, most technical documentation written in any native language is going to read like a bad Babelfish translation, and advertorials will be the standard for print pubs.

The reason all of this is happening is because (businesses/people/corporations/governments/etc.) are too cheap to pay professionals to shepherd their copy anymore. And as others have stated above, a simple subscription-based service - Grammarly, for example - could easily check for plagiarism, grammar and spelling issues in seconds, but why bother? Nobody notices that crap anyway, right? *shakes head*

If you're a frustrated grammarian, I recommend checking out the Terribly Write blog (greatest hits-type link, for the curious).
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:26 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


yeah, having read the link -- that's some very egregious plagiarism, with made-up/misattributed quotes like a cherry on top.
posted by jb at 9:28 AM on September 21, 2012


The best way to deal with this would likely be to send as many emails as possible to The Globe and Mail's Public Editor -- essentially, an Ombudsman -- Sylvia Stead. If there is any sense of fairness at The Globe and Mail, she should publicly address the issue.

Her email addresses are sstead@globeandmail.com and publiceditor@globeandmail.com
You might want to cc: your emails to other journalists who you think might help hold Sylvia Stead accountable for doing her job.

You can also contact her on twitter: @SylviaStead
...or on Facebook: facebook.com/PublicEditorGlobe
posted by markkraft at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's got to be the laziest and most inept plagiarism I've ever seen. I mean, she's padding out other people's quotations without thinking about it. That's... I mean, that's really, really lazy.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2012


> The reason all of this is happening is because (businesses/people/corporations/governments/etc.) are too cheap to pay professionals to shepherd their copy anymore.

There are a lot of things people can hang on the boomers, but this happened on my generation's watch.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:40 AM on September 21, 2012


Margaret Wente recently wrote a column saying women were like plastic, men were like cardboard. By plastic she meant malleable, and cardboard meant inflexible. This is the level of her ideas. No humor or opinion really, and an analogy that "almost but not quite" makes the slightest bit of sense. A google search confirms this was a Wente original. This plagiarism must continue, the alternative is to horrible to conceive.
posted by niccolo at 9:42 AM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Margaret Wente is a study in contrasts. For one thing, she writes an opinion piece for the Globe (and is not an editor); and secondly, she is a woman. In the world of Canadian media criticism, those are two strikes, when only one of those would do.

On the other hand, I suspect that the Canadian press core is simply too small for its members to be anything but chummy with one another, and probably not a large enough pond to support a media critic beyond the margins.

So are they too chummy with her, or above regarding her as an equal worthy of criticism? One thing we can know for sure is that the editors can't pass the buck here, no matter how "busy" they lamely claim to be. University professors do plagiarism checks on hundreds of paper at a time. It's computerized, easy and pretty inexpensive.

In conclusion, Margaret Wente is a study in contrasts.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:42 AM on September 21, 2012 [26 favorites]


*too horrible
posted by niccolo at 9:43 AM on September 21, 2012


It is better for my sanity if we don't refer to Margaret Wente as "popular" or acknowledge that anyone takes her seriously.
posted by hepta at 9:53 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


If I may self-plagiarize: I've never read a Margaret Wente op-ed that didn't make me think she's trolling so hard that she trolled herself and doesn't even realize it.
posted by Phire at 9:58 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Margaret Wente? I wish she had.
posted by scruss at 10:02 AM on September 21, 2012


Looks like there's now a Twitter hashtag:
#whatWentewrong .
posted by markkraft at 10:16 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I meant to also include a link to the Canadiian Journalism Project's post on the issue from yesterday. Apparently they published a piece by a Ryerson journalism prof raising questions about Wente's work as far back as 2009.

Personally, I think Wente is pretty heinous, and I'm hoping this will finally knock her off her pedestal. There are a lot of other noxious columnists out there, but at least they do their own work.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:24 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just contacted Editor & Publisher about the issue, as I thought it could be the basis for a good story.
posted by markkraft at 10:30 AM on September 21, 2012


Oh, and for those who are curious, you can contact the Editor in Chief of Editor & Publisher at jeff@editorandpublisher.com . He'd be an excellent person to CC: in regards to any email you might choose to send to sstead@globeandmail.com / publiceditor@globeandmail.com , just in case The Globe & Mail tries to duck the issue.

(Hell, Jeff might want to ask a few questions of Sylvia Stead himself, seeing that he is a journalist and all... might as well make it easy for him.)
posted by markkraft at 10:40 AM on September 21, 2012


The Globe's columnists are about 50% welfare for connected people. I discovered this in a personal way when I edited work for someone who is now an occasional Globe columnist. It was dreadful, but that didn't matter as much as having an newspaper editor in the family.

There is a certain unearned stratosphere in Canadian letters where playing at being a writer for 1200 words a week and taking 5 or 6 years to work on a novel works for you because Mom or Dad got you a plum internship and besides, everybody else there went to UCC or Branksome or, if your family wants to be progressive, even an public school's arts program that's been captured for defacto charter school use by rich parents.

I am pretty sure that Wente is one of these hacks. One of the rules of not-totally-disgusting nepotism is that if you take that kind of opportunity, earn your goddamn keep. And as loathsome as Wente is, as a Globe ROB poison-pusher, liar about energy policy and despiser of proles, she at least did extremely light job expected of her. The fact that she could not even manage *that* is pathetic.
posted by mobunited at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Popular?

The Globe responds.
posted by jeather at 10:55 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sylvia Stead responds:

"I investigated the complaints, spoke with the columnist, Margaret Wente, and her editor, endeavoured to find all of the original documents and read all but one. (I’ve ordered the last one.) In the end, there appears to be some truth to the accusations but not on every charge. . . "
posted by markkraft at 10:56 AM on September 21, 2012


Live in Ontario? Here's a good idea that Sylvia Stead mentions:
"we are members of the Ontario Press Council, a body of public members along with independent industry people, who investigate all complaints brought before them. If they rule against a newspaper, the newspaper must publish their ruling."

Don't like the relatively weak response of the Globe & Mail? Contact the Ontario Press Council and make a complaint.
posted by markkraft at 11:01 AM on September 21, 2012


Okay, betting time; slap on the wrist or tap on the wrist?
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:02 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the Globe's response talks about this as if it is a single, isolated incident from years ago rather than a continuing, well-documented pattern. They also refer disparagingly to an "anonymous blogger", although the Canadian Journalism Project was able to identify Carol Wainio, a professor at the University of Ottawa, as the person behind Media Culpa.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:02 AM on September 21, 2012


Leah Maclaren is a Great Canadian, eh mobunited?
posted by docgonzo at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting that the Globe's response talks about this as if it is a single, isolated incident from years ago rather than a continuing, well-documented pattern. They also refer disparagingly to an "anonymous blogger", although the Canadian Journalism Project was able to identify Carol Wainio, a professor at the University of Ottawa, as the person behind Media Culpa.
posted by Keith Talent at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


> They also refer disparagingly to an "anonymous blogger"

Hey, give them a break. They didn't use the words "mom's," "basement" or "pajamas."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:29 AM on September 21, 2012


i just read Stead's response, and I have to say...is she kidding?? If one of my students had plagiarized and then said, "I made it clear that the thesis was [the author's] but in hindsight, I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer that some paraphrasing came from his work," the student would still get an F for academic dishonesty. That's one of the definitions of plagiarism--not making it clear that you paraphrased someone else's work! Never mind that her paraphrasing is terribly lazy, mostly consisting of substituting a word or phrase here and there and not even bothering to change the sentence structure.

And I don't have any idea what Stead means when she says, "It is very difficult to be more definitive because we are talking about a column written three years and two months ago. This from a columnist who writes three times a week. The allegations were that seven different sources were copied. That seems highly unlikely." What difference does the age of the column make? What difference does it make how often Wente writes her column? Why is it unlikely that seven different sources were copied?

ETA: Ha! From the comments on the Globe's response:
Duncan Kinney
2:06 PM on September 21, 2012
I think you should say anonymous blogger one more time, it definitely helps your argument when excusing Margaret Wente's behaviour.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:34 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Canuckenfreude.

Hahahaha
posted by chapps at 11:34 AM on September 21, 2012


I hadn't realized that Wente used to be the managing editor of the G&M. It may explain why they're so reluctant to challenge her, even though it makes the plagiarism all the more inexcusable.

"As managing editor of the Globe, she's renowned for her impenetrable vision of the paper. As an editor of other people's work, she is highly skilled if not gentle. She expects the same level of professionalism from her colleagues that she demands of herself." - Karen Moffat, Ryerson Review of Journalism, 1999.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:39 AM on September 21, 2012


I think her response is weak sauce... especially since I have been exchanging emails with her. I forwarded on more information on the various complaints, and she responded:

"Thanks Mark. We have looked into previous allegations from years back and have corrected some."

So, basically, yeah sure, Wente has a regular habit of cribbing other people's work, but we're editing old articles that nobody really reads much anymore, to let our readers know, in a diplomatically worded way, that Wente is a plagiarist relied upon the writing of several others -- who we are now crediting -- in the process of her research.
posted by markkraft at 11:53 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


""As managing editor of the Globe, she's renowned for her impenetrable vision of the paper."

Correction: Upon review, The Globe and Mail have determined that Mrs. Wente's impenetrable vision was reached, in part, after channeling the spirit of William Randolph Hearst, following her ingestion of an ayahuasca-laden beverage in the Amazon. Minor attribution and punctuation changes have since been made to Mrs. Wente's vision.
posted by markkraft at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"As managing editor of the Globe, she's renowned for her impenetrable vision of the paper."

Ten Funbucks to whoever can tell me what the hell that's supposed to mean.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:18 PM on September 21, 2012


"As managing editor of the Globe, she's renowned for her impenetrable vision of the paper."

Ten Funbucks to whoever can tell me what the hell that's supposed to mean.


...doesn't it mean that people ask exactly that question whenever she tries to explain it?
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:32 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know who else has impenetrable vision?

Everybody except for Superman and X, The Man With X-Ray Eyes.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:30 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


If this costs Wente her job, the schadenfreude will overwhelm me.

Though all humanity would benefit if she never writes another word.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:38 PM on September 21, 2012


The only way I can parse "impenetrable vision" is as an insult. Don't you want clarity in your vision?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


@GoddTill: If @SylviaStead ran Toronto PD: "Wait, it's an anonymous tip? Then let's just ask the suspect if he remembers killing anyone" #wente

heh
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:48 PM on September 21, 2012


I must be tired or past caring, because Wente's Saturday Globe column used to outrage me, and now I can't even bother trying to think of some vague snark to add here.

(I think my outrage peaked several years ago when she said (paraphrase): "Poor people don't need to use public transit, they should just buy used cars!" Since then we've been coasting).
posted by ovvl at 4:45 PM on September 21, 2012


@Navelgazer, your comment has scored 93 out of a possible 99 for plagiarism.

Well done, old sock.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:38 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


@The Card Cheat: Sorry, what is special about that? Haven't we all at least heard rumours of that one prof who did a bit much LSD in the 60s and still keeps some of the old habits?
posted by Canageek at 5:54 PM on September 21, 2012


oh wow, this might be some good news (read meredith's comment).
posted by spacediver at 11:10 PM on September 21, 2012


Canageek - Sorry, my point wasn't all that clear; in one post she talks about how universities are handing out tons of "useless" degrees these days, in the other she waxes nostalgic about her poetry classes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:30 AM on September 22, 2012


So, speaking of the Globe's columnists and welfare for connected people, Leah MacLaren's house is for sale.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2012


Ugh, Leah MacLaren made me grow up realizing you don't need talent to get a great job.
posted by bquarters at 6:35 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canageek - Sorry, my point wasn't all that clear; in one post she talks about how universities are handing out tons of "useless" degrees these days, in the other she waxes nostalgic about her poetry classes.

Yeah, Wente has an English Lit degree. She forgets about this when she gets on her soapbox, though.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:22 AM on September 23, 2012


English lit degrees are just fine for Wente's kind of peoole.

But if anyone else goes and gets a "useless" degree - you know, like education or something - it's their fault and they clearly chose wrong, and what's with 18-year-olds, why can't they predict employment trends several years into the future?
posted by jb at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saw this on Twitter this morning:

@jessehawken: "Does any newspaper in Canada know about this whole Margaret Wente plagiarism thing I read about in the British press?"
posted by Phire at 9:43 AM on September 24, 2012


The National Post finally says something about it.
posted by Phire at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2012


As It Happens is covering this tonight - John Miller, the founder of the Ryerson journalism program, is eviscerating the Globe's tepid response (vs e.g. the NYT dealing with Jayson Blair). So the issue seems to be gaining momentum.
posted by Flashman at 2:51 PM on September 24, 2012


It's kind of amazing. It seems like the public editor's embarrassing response was all that was needed to trigger MacLeans, NP et al to finally start covering this. If the Globe had never responded it might not have ever gained any traction.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:21 PM on September 24, 2012


The Globe and Mail has taken disciplinary action against one of its high-profile columnists, who the paper says fell short of its journalistic standards when she failed to make it clear she was quoting someone else’s work in one of her own pieces.
...
While The Globe’s public editor issued a statement Friday, it didn’t answer many of the questions raised in the blog or address any disciplinary action taken by the paper.
“The journalism in this instance did not meet the standards of The Globe and Mail, in terms of sourcing, use of quotation marks and reasonable credit for the work of others,” editor John Stackhouse said. “Even in the spirit of column writing, which allows for some latitude in attribution and expression, this work was not in accordance with our code of conduct, and is unacceptable.”

posted by Flashman at 8:52 PM on September 24, 2012


Shorter G&M: "We took disciplinary action, but we won't tell you what, and she still gets to be a columnist."

Margaret Wente also defends herself, saying that she's being targeted because people don't like what she writes, she isn't a plagiarist, she just accidentally copied people's words and didn't source quotes properly, and yes, if she screws up she should take the consequences, but these attacks aren't really fair ones because the attacker doesn't like her.
posted by jeather at 5:52 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most self-serving, useless, misinforming Globe column I've read since Leah McLaren's defense of nepotism*.

*Note: I have never read the Globe since Leah McLaren's defense of nepotism.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2012


Comments on her column:
  • Margaret, you would have done yourself and the Globe a favour had you simply plagiarized Fareed Zakaria's contrite apology of a few months ago rather than write a passive aggressive non-apology apology.
  • It would be more plausible that you recorded this excerpt from Mr. Gardner's column and subsequently forgot that it was a quote if: 1) you are in the careless and indeed highly unprofessional habit of taking notes from other sources without recording those sources; and 2) there were not many other recorded instances of you committing the same "error."
  • Just because Ms. Wente is often a target for those who dislike her does not justify her plagiarism, the two are unrelated.
  • If you have based a career on attacking and insulting those who have made misjudgments, or those who do try to teach students that plagiarism is theft, then you deserve no sympathy. How can she complain about our overly critical society when she herself is a master practitioner of negativity?
Also, response by John Miller, the AIH episode (8 minutes, audio only).

I assume the Globe is hoping this will all disappear so they can continue to do nothing.
posted by jeather at 12:15 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Margaret Wente Kicked Off The Q Media Panel
"...the job of Q's biweekly media panel is to scrutinize media coverage, tactics, standards, and ethics. Given that mandate, we have regretfully decided to suspend our regular freelance relationship with Ms. Wente on this panel."
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:14 PM on September 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Margaret Wente affair: A timeline of plagiarism allegations.

Note that Public Editor Sylvia Stead 'doesn't read email on weekends', crisis or no.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:25 PM on September 25, 2012


Here's a pisser...

"Social media has given a platform for novice journalists of my generation to gain notoriety, not through years of proven, diligent reporting . . . but with one snappy phrase in 140 characters or less, validated via “retweet” by more prominent journalists lacking sober thought. . . To the average newspaper reader, it simply appears that Wente communicated a thought expressed by Paarlberg . . . but self-righteous journalism geeks, perhaps motivated by their own disdain for the body of her work, want to make us believe that something more sinister is afoot."

MetaFilter: Self-righteous journalism geeks.
posted by markkraft at 3:10 AM on September 27, 2012


The CBC weighs in.
posted by markkraft at 3:21 AM on September 27, 2012


This is not, by any means, a defence of Wente’s piece. [...] Careless and sloppy, definitely. But a serial plagiarist? If you consider Wente’s intentions, no rational self-appointed media critic could, in good conscience, put her on par with a Jayson Blair.

Hoo boy. Couple things: First, this was not just one event -- there were other events which the Globe corrected, and later minimized in one sentence by Stead. That there were multiple incidents makes Wente's acts serial. Second, a failure to attribute is a failure to attribute, howsoever caused, and plagiarism by carelessness is still plagiarism. Intent is irrelevant to the question 'did you attribute?' Third, why should anyone take Wente's word on her motivations?

So buddy here minimizes the offences to just one, accepts Wente's explanation that it was simple carelessness (as though that matters), and dismisses those who brought this to light as 'self-appointed media critics'. A defence of Wente's piece? No. A defence of Wente? Absolutely.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:39 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]




Wente is such a relentless controversy-hound that even on those rare occasions when I agree with here, I remind myself not to put any faith on her thinly-sourced words.
posted by jeffen at 8:09 PM on September 28, 2012


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