The Wente scandal: a satisfactory resolution?

The Globe is giving us no practical indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism


The Globe and Mail has offered a threefold response today to the critics who have been raising a stir about Carol Wainio’s prosecution brief against Margaret Wente for the crime of plagiarism. Wente has written her own apologia; the Globe has made public an internal memo on the issue, written by editor-in-chief John Stackhouse; and Stackhouse has also used the paper’s media reporter, Steve Ladurantaye, as a ventriloquist’s doll for a short news item on the scandal.

Wente’s column does go through the motions of contrition, while leaving the distinct impression that she regards herself more as victim than perpetrator.

A blogger has accused me of substantively plagiarizing the column, and much else. The allegations have exploded in the Twitterverse and prompted harsh commentary from other writers, some of whom are characterizing me as a serial plagiarist. …I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m not a serial plagiarist. What I often am is a target for people who don’t like what I write.

Imagine that: a columnist who is a target for people who don’t like what she writes! This may come as a shock to Margaret Wente, but the difference between her and other columnists is not that other columnists don’t have haters. The difference is that other columnists don’t keep handing their haters ethical ammunition by the crateload.

She may find, unhappily, that “I’m not a serial plagiarist” goes down in history as an example of this. Carol Wainio is slightly more free with the word “plagiarism” than most reporters and columnists would be, but Wainio caught Wente in what look like pretty clear, if minor, examples here, here, here (at the end, where Michael Barone’s words appear as her own), here (Joel Kotkin), and here (Steven Pinker). That’s just since late 2011. Having made the fast shuffle from “I’m not a plagiarist” to “I’m not a serial plagiarist,” where might Wente go next? “OK, I am a serial plagiarist, but I’ve never borrowed an entire column?” “I am a serial plagiarist but I bake a damn fine tollhouse cookie?”

Our collective instinct as a trade may have been to give Wente the benefit of the doubt up until now—her occasional difficulties with quotation marks being no secret—but when she says “There was no intent to deceive”, we must recall that last week she told Globe Public Editor Sylvia Stead that she didn’t remember reading the Dan Gardner column she stood accused of borrowing from. Hadn’t seen it, couldn’t pick Gardner out of a lineup, couldn’t see what the fuss was, etc., etc. Stead, as part of a supposed “investigation”, chose to accept this. Today, the party line has undergone a sudden change:

Columnists often write about the same subjects and often reach similar conclusions. That isn’t plagiarism. But there is a sentence from Mr. Gardner’s column that also appears in my column. The only explanation is that I put it in my notes, then put it in my column. That was extremely careless and, for that, I apologize.

One would think it was awkward for Stead that the cock-and-bull story she believed, and gave the stamp of moral authority to, held up for about 48 hours before collapsing in a wave of well-deserved internet ridicule which required the intervention of Stackhouse. Or the appearance of intervention, anyway. The obvious problems still left are twofold.

1) Stackhouse won’t tell us how he is sanctioning Wente, though he will say what he is not doing, i.e., letting her go. I don’t know that I would fire Wente for plagiarism in his place, though I am near-certain I would fire her for being pathologically unable to tell her own prose apart from quotations scribbled into her notes. (What say we give the real estate to someone who doesn’t have a tin ear and a crappy attitude?) The real point is that the Globe is giving us no practical indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism, or of how Stackhouse proposes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. It is literally all talk.

2) Stackhouse has dealt not at all with Sylvia Stead’s failure to detect obvious plagiarism when someone came up with overwhelming evidence against an old crony. His response, incredibly, was to make Stead fully independent of the person who had to bail out her behind and uphold some standards—namely himself. How is this supposed to solve the problem the Globe created by making a lifer the public editor? Have we got this straight…after that absurd display, he has decided to give her even more power?

Perhaps Stackhouse, by taking Stead out from under him in the chain of command, is offering some kind of tacit admission that he influenced her investigation. I cannot see any other reason to do it, but he is very welcome to give us a fuller explanation.


The Wente scandal: a satisfactory resolution?

  1. And Stackhouse writes “I will continue to defend her right to free expression.”

    Quite the gong show; a textbook case on how NOT to handle a public relations fiasco. I think Stackhouse should start to worry about his own job. The man clearly is not up to the role.

    • Wente stole other people’s work and Stackhouse says he will continue to defend Wente and ‘her right to free expression’, that tells us all we need to know about Globe’s integrity.

      • The Globe’s endorsement of the Cons in the last 3 elections told us all we needed to know.

    • Yes. Plainly a paper needs to support the right of journalists to free expression.
      However, it is a very different thing to support the right to steal other peoples material verbatim and express it as your own.

  2. “But I’m also sorry we live in an age where attacks on people’s character and reputation seem to have become the norm.” – M. Wente, 2012

    Oh irony, you are the lowest hanging of the comedic fruit.

  3. The only possible defence or explanation for Wente I can think of is that her sub-par practices were exposed by amateur bloggers for such a long time that after the first few times she figured there would be no consequences and it was hunky-dory.

  4. Wente scandal ended satisfactorily if you think it acceptable to have craptacular newspaper as Canada’s paper of record. I am pretty certain Stackhouse or Wente’s other bosses know how she writes and they don’t care, they are happy for her to make minimal changes to other peoples work and then claim it as her own. Presumably Wente doesn’t have three original opinions a week, she only have superficial knowledge and needs to use other sources to appear clever.

    I think it would be good if Globe get rid of many of their columnists and started again – Simpson and his uncle fred columns, Wente serial plagiarist, Martin and his Canada is religious theocracy columns, fishwife Southey and her snarky comments about people who aren’t exactly like her, the whole Globe crew is sad and tired. Globe is embarrassment compared to papers of equal stature outside Canada but it is supposedly our best.

    • What about John Doyle? I used to like him just fine, but then they tried to make me pay to read him and well, you know.

    • I like Charlie Hebo.

  5. While I don’t condone any of what has happened here, I’m not sure there is a remedy that is any more suitable than what Stackhouse has done.

    Why? Because, unlike real professions (say engineers, doctors, lawyers) that do have codes of conduct, standards (educational, training, work experience) and are self regulated, what does it take to be a journalist/columnist?

    So, what standard is Wente to be measured against? Beats me. The twitter universe of like minded critics?

    Here’s a challenge, CC, that could be edifying. You are now a member of Macleans editorial group. Why don’t you publish Macleans’ code of conduct for writers/columnists and show us where Wente would have fallen short based upon your (Macleans’) standards, not the G&M’s, and the prescribed remedies.

    Don’t have one, or won’t publish? Why not?

    • Nobody has felt the need to send me a piece of paper saying “Don’t represent the words of others as your own”, if that is what you, in your profound confusion about standards, are asking. Gosh, I do feel edified!

      • OK, so you don’t have any, or won’t publish.

        • What part of “Don’t represent the words of others as your own” is unclear to you?

          • For all I know, that is a value that was instilled upon you while growing up in Good Deal.

          • So, I have it on good authority
   that you are now aware that the G&M has published standards for “all reporters and writers”, they apparently having felt the need to describe plagiarism in writing.

            So, where’s Macleans’?

          • Where’s the evidence that Maclean’s needs any? As Wells pointed out on Twitter, we don’t have a fake public editor either.

          • Was that tweet before or after this one of his:

            Tonight I’m reminding myself to work harder at humility and openness to criticism, and not just finger-point.

          • Where’s the evidence that Maclean’s needs any?

            You’ve got several writers who write nothing but partisan trash, almost as if their salaries were paid by political parties. One writer named Emma Teitel writes nothing but invective and hate of various groups of people. Someone showed you a link on this very page to story written just a few days ago that is littered with falsehoods.
            For some reason Maclean’s continues to publish the guy who wrote about our prime minister: “Their imperative could not be more clear: kill him. Kill him dead.” and “So don’t get fancy. Don’t get confused. And don’t get weak in the knees. If you don’t put Mr. Harper in his grave, he’ll put you in yours.” To Maclean’s credit, he did not write this in his Maclean’s work, he wrote it at the G&M.

            What a fine piece of writing that was. I guess that means that writing trash at G&M makes you a candidate to be hired at Maclean’s.

            There’s a few good writers at Maclean’s. That’s why I keep coming back – to read those few writers. The rest could use a few guidelines. Plagiarism isn’t the only faux-pas in the book.

            That being said, I’m not in favour of journalistic “rules” per se. If Maclean’s thinks their writers attract eyeballs, so be it. But to suggest that all the Maclean’s writers subscribe to some higher quality of journalism, that’s a laugh.

          • “You’ve got several writers who write nothing but partisan trash, almost as if their salaries were paid by political parties. ”
            Very true, in the case of Aaron Wherry.

          • Yes, he’s one of them, no doubt.

        • Wente has an English degree. No one is more obsessive about citation than an English department. Most universities have a zero tolerence policy on academic dishonesty (which includes plagiarism)–it results in expulsion from your program. I assume journalism school is as rigorous. This is certainly implied by John Gordon Miller’s comments on Wentegate. Specific journalistic workplaces don’t need to publish codes of ethics because 1) everyone qualified to be there should know them already, and 2) it’s common sense.

          • Unworkable, if your code of conduct depends upon what you took in school, where, and when.

            What if a fictional person in question slept with the prof and he/she goosed their marks as a result?

    • And if you’re privy to Stackhouse’s “remedy”, and you’re confident it’s sufficient, maybe you can share the information with the rest of the class.

      • Let me revert to basic principles, similar to the academics you often like to retweet.

        Stackhouse’s fiduciary duty is to to the shareholders of the G&M. And part of that includes the bottomline – profitability. Both short and long term.

        If he has determined, no doubt in consultation with the publisher, that keeping on Wente in some capacity, and imposing some unknown penalties is in the best interest of the Corp., then that is his right.

        Don’t like it? Don’t read Wente, the G&M, or divest of the stock if you are a shareholder.

        • Dot is Margret Wente.

          • I thought you got whacked some time ago.

            Speaking of the naivete of the public, and made up standards, none other than Donnie boy:
            “You know, most of the public, they have this romantic view of the Mafia because they see the movies, they see guys sitting around with $5,000 suits, talking eloquently, and that’s not the way it is, believe me,” Mr. Pistone said. “They don’t quote Shakespeare.”In fact, he said, Mafia members are ruthless in their quest for power and money. “When you’re a wise guy, you can lie, you steal, you can cheat, you can kill, and it’s all legitimate,” he said.

          • Hey Margret. Do you mean did I get murdered? No. I wasn’t murdered.
            Good to see you are still being intentionally obtuse. Margret.

        • It’s still bone-headed. The shareholders need to be assured that the G&M business maintains its value. Given that it’s a news organization, maintaining public trust in the integrity of its writers is fairly important. The G&M has every right to do whatever it wants with respect to Wente, but it will bear the consequences as well.

          • I’m pretty sure that by most standards, the G&M has done well under Stackhouse – measured by circ., design awards, National Newspaper Awards, etc. (I’d have to research further to confirm).

            I just don’t think Wente is as significant a columnist, nor the offences as egregious, as they have been made out to be.

            Sure, lots of criticism warranted as to how the issues were handled, but that is not incorrectable, nor unforgivable, provided changes are made, which they finally appear to be doing – and Colby deserves some credit for forcing those changes – that I will acknowledge.

            But, in the grand scheme of things? A couple of days story.

          • We’ll see. Like I said, the G&M can play it however they like. This could very well blow over, but it can also add to the steady erosion in the reputation and relevance of mainstream media.

  6. A tempest in a teapot. There are many other issues of far more importance than using Coles Notes to write your high school leaving exams

    • I think you plagiarized this comment from one you made on another thread about Margaret Wente.

  7. The explanation for Wente’s continuing presence at the Globe?
    The price of the ad next to Wente’s next column.
    I expect that the bidding war is on as we speak.

  8. Maybe just maybe the G&M will discover that even this response continues to be insufficient.
    700 comments and counting on Wente’s “apology,” and not a great deal of forgiveness to be found.

    • So if you took all 85 of Wainio’s supporters and they published only ten comments each, you would have 850 comments against Wente. Your point is?

      • My point is that you’ve got a very good imagination.

  9. I don’t know. I talked to all my girlfriends and they all agreed: Margaret did NOTHING that everybody isn’t already also doing!

    • Awesome!

    • A new Lance Armstrong award is due?

  10. I don’t understand where the notion that we are entitled to know what Wente was told by her boss comes from. It’s none of our business; the G&M has acknowlodged the issue and said something has been done about it, that’s about as much as we can expect.
    Agreed that the initial response was rather underwhelming but the truth of the matter is that the G&M doesn’t owe the reader anything outside of honesty. We’ve been told everything that isn’t private and that is as much as we should expect.

    • It doesn’t have to do anything it doesn’t want to do. This is true. Nobody has to read it either.

    • If they didn’t need our business to survive, you’d have a point.

      They do.

      You don’t.

  11. I have been shocked by the Wente scandal. I truly thought the last e was silent.

    It is interesting that Ms. Wente may finally be removed for a few well written items she lifted from others rather than the pages of careless drivel she pushed through her pages.

    In any case, I believe she now deserves to have her name considered a verb.

    “I hear Suzy got zero for her essay.” “Yep, she wente right to the source.”

  12. “Perhaps Stackhouse, by taking Stead out from under him in the chain of
    command, is offering some kind of tacit admission that he influenced her
    investigation. I cannot see any other reason to do it…”

    I suppose that it could also be a hint that he doesn’t really have the authority to make Stead do her job properly, and has managed to make the org chart reflect who’s really calling the shots.

  13. “The real point is that the Globe is giving us no practical
    indication whatsoever of how seriously it takes plagiarism, or of how
    Stackhouse proposes to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
    It is literally all talk”

    Maybe there’s a larger issue here? To paraphrase[ as opposed to plagiarize] a Delacourt tweet i spotted this am: I’ll let you into a journalism secret – no one who makes readers angry and upset gets fired, they get promoted[ sorry if i missed something Susan D] And they wonder why the public gets more and more cynical by the day?
    I don’t know how much this bugs CC and his colleagues, but it bugs the hell out of lowly news consumers like me? Perhaps it is just a question of buyer/reader beware but the fact is this puts orgs like GM and sun tv [ hi Ezra] in a nasty conflict of interest – what is more important to them, the bottom line or writing/providing professional, quality, honest as possible news? To me, the consumer, the answer is obvious, to the GM in this case maybe less so. Bottom line, ethics matter. Both personal and institutional.
    Wente should have been run on a rail out of town long ago imo. I just don’t know how much to blame her or her boss[es] or even how far up the chain of command it all goes? .

    • Just curious, what makes you think ethics matter?

      Advertisers don’t pay for ethics. They pay for attention. And at the end of the day, it’s the guy that pays the most who calls the shots. Ethics only matter if we stop paying attention because of the lack of them.

      Unfortunately, it seems the lack of ethics actually drives people to pay *more* attention.

      • So, are you saying that the ethics of journalism is driven entirely or largely by its economics? That would be very depressing. That quote…er paraphrasing of Delacourt’s tweet does seem to indicate something like that. I prefer not to believe it myself. I have to believe personal ethics can influence corporate ethics and vice versa, or i might not bother any more at all. Leave me be with my illusions sir!

        • Oh, personal ethics certainly can influence corporate ethics.

          Our personal ethics.

          If we decide not to patronize those corporations who do not exhibit the ethics we want to see, they will fail. What will be left are the corporations with our ethics.

  14. Hey, Cosh: If Ladurantye’s news report in the Globe was Stackhousean ventriloquism–a serious and damaging contention I presume you have reported facts and quotes for, and aren’t just, uh, plagiarising from the general tone of this tawdry conversation–what do you call this length of corporate onanism you just gave us, in which you tout Maclean’s whiter-than-whiteness?
    Do they pay you extra for wiping your publisher’s business all clean and fresh (since you’re down there anyway)? I have no time for the habit myself, but are you seriously suggesting that no Maclean’s writer has ever lifted a fact or a quote?

    • You’ll have to show me where I suggested that, seriously or otherwise.

      • You refer to Ladurantye’s piece as such, don’t you? And as for Maclean’s purity, it’s implied in your righteousness, and in writing under the Maclean’s banner, which serves the commercial purposes of the magazine (we’re more reliable than the Globe, etc.)
        My less arseholic point being that I don’t trust all this journalistic righteousness. No one at any of the mainstream papers or magazines (the Globe included) has addressed the ironic spectacle of masses of journalists–journalists, of all people, working in one of the most lawless and least ethical of professions!–climbing up on their hind legs and suddenly getting all ethical.
        (And who is leading the charge? The online troops–the very journalists who make their living “lifting” and “pasting” (though we call it linking) other peoples’ work, to their own profit! True, that’s not plagiarism, but there are lots of people who consider it a form of theft–and which would you rather be the victim of?)
        I suspect our loud collective moral outrage over what are really minor misdemeanors hides our discomfort with the questionable ethical status of almost all journalism. Most reporters and columnists (even those working the sunlit upland newsweekly plains) have to write quickly and for commercial purposes in limited space. That often involves oversimplifying important issues, reducing multi-faceted problems to superficial either/or debates, and selling out subjects who deserve more nuance. Those are serious issues, real betrayals. They are a working hazard of the game. But perhaps if we shout loud enough about Wente, no one will notice.
        I guess what I was trying to say is that a really good writer like you might take on those deeper ethical issues that are lurking in the shadows of what is, by comparison, teensy-tiny Wentegate.

  15. Media properties have created a fact-indifferent environment where pithy opinions and name-recognition matter more than journalism. Neither the Globe and Mail nor the National Post fact-check any of their opinion columnists — staff or guest. I have been informed of this by their Editorial page editors. They claim that they rely on seasoned columnists to do their own fact-checking.The editors would not disclose their policies for sourcing or attribution. (How do you source an anonymous person with knowledge of the situation with whom you enjoyed a steak at Hy’s, anyway?). As ever more of the “news” is picked up from wire services, most of what you see written in the papers by their own staff is commentary on the news or opinions about the news. The web sites are even worse, as error-filled pieces are slightly edited long after they have already been consumed, cited and re-Tweeted. You’re never really sure which version of a story you are looking at — or what has been changed.

  16. I do appreciate everything you have done to bring light to this situation. I am no fan of Peggy Wente at the best of times so this just adds another reason not to like her.

    However, I’m just wondering what your opinion is on this little skirmish going on on the Maclean’ comment boards:

    • Well, that’s an argument over facts. I’m in no position to make a judgment on it, but from the looks of it, it would help if the people quarrelling with the story could be more specific.

  17. Ms Wainio is a serial harrasser of Margaret Wente, a crazed stalker of the writer who has spent 24 months working up her vindictive rants. You should mention that, Colby. Much more worrysome than the trivial mistake made by Wente is the apparent sociopath who is stalking her.

    • That is a lunatic characterization of the situation, unless there is information we are all missing. In what sense is Margaret Wente being “stalked”? By way of (admittedly intense) online criticism? “Stalking” is not a good word to trivialize.

      • online FreeDictionary: “stalk, v. : 2. To follow or observe (a person) persistently, especially out of obsession or derangement”
        Merriam-Webster: “stalk, v.:3: to pursue obsessively and to the point of harassment”
        Comment: Margaret Wente is not a politician or powerholder. She is not Ms Wainio’s landlady or employer or the wife of Ms Wainio’s ex-husband. There is no material way in which Ms Wente holds power over or otherwise poses a threat to Ms Wainio. In those circumstances, Ms Wainio’s 24-+ month campaign against Margaret Wente is fairly characterized as obsessive and possibly morbid, and analogized to stalking; a clinician would be very interested indeed.

        • Ms. Wente absolutely is a power-holder. A columnist in a newspaper with a readership of a million or so most definitely has power. Individual members of the media, writing or broadcasting for lesser organs than hers, have been credited with single-handedly influencing public opinion on a given issue so much as to change the outcome of an election or referendum…or cause a public uprising so powerful that the government has had no choice but to change course. Every profession has people it is accountable to. Journalists are accountable to the public. Members of the public have every right to point out … as vigourously as they see fit …incidents where journalists are failing in their duty. What is astonishing is that Carol Wainio had to keep doing it repeatedly because, apparently, the Globe and Mail didn’t see fit to take it seriously.

          • Carol Wainio’s vendetta was followed (on her website) by a veritable Corps of Career Wente-Haters, who eagerly pressed her on. The vendetta is neither scholarly nor innocent. The background of Wainio’s vendetta is something that you Wente-haters will not admit, nor wish to see examined: Ms Wente’s (early) critical stance with regard to female deviance and sociopathy (‘females who commit crimes’) and her critiques of the flaccid bromides of gender-feminism and of its academic sisterhood and priesthood. That’s why the Corps of Wente-haters exists, and that (from all the evidence on Wainio’s website) is why the campaign constitutes organized harassment, not ‘response to a power-holder’.
            (The anti-Americanism in the attack is just an added layer, inevitable, since her enemies come from that pool of parochial chauvinists and defensive little Canadian nationalists, the historic “inferiority complex.”)
            The idea of a columnist as a ‘power-holder’ is a campus bromide in itself. Whether or not Ms Wente has ‘power’ over you is debatable; what is less debatable is that her tormenter has practised sustained harassment (but no, we’re not about to call for charges) for reasons that should be explored by a team of psychiatrists.

        • Hilarious. “To follow or observe (a person) persistently,” as in, reading each and every one of her thrice-weekly columns? “To the point of harassment”? Ms. Wente seemed rather prickly in today’s column. Do you suppose she’s feeling a mite harassed lately? Maybe she should call the police on the however-many-thousand who make her a successful columnist.
          Or YOU could find a hobby that suits you better than this.

          • It isn’t just Wainio. It’s her collective support team. Wainio barks and the pack follows. Interesting when it comes to standing up by herself – Wainio excuses herself as not understanding the journalism world. This is the act of a bully. Hide behind your toadies.

          • But – and I’m just making sure here – Wente doesn’t have any of these “toadies” who do her bidding in a similar fashion, correct? No one at the G&M’s got her back? No one’s out on the message boards, slinging s**t on her behalf? It must be hard to be as all alone in this world as Margaret Wente. I could just cry.

          • Any time I visited Wente’s column, the comment section below was filled with Wente haters. I rarely saw anyone write in support.

          • Oh, well, that. That comes from writing things people hate, if you need an explanation. But if you’re just trying to take up my otherwise lovely Saturday afternoon with things I don’t care about, I’ll be going.

        • Is this another commenter from 444 Front St.? These anonymous defences of Ms. Wente are patently irrational. Whether Ms. Wainio’s “vendetta” against Ms. Wente is based on a personal dislike, the columnist’s political stance, or the position of the moon on a certain day is completely irrelevant. Did Ms. Wente screw up or didn’t she?

          • “Is this another commenter from 444 Front St?”
            This question, to paraphrase your own, is patently irrational and deliberately prejudicial. (I’m sure 444 Front is filled with jealous rivals and political opponents of M. Wente, any one of them capable of signing in under your pseudonym). Fact is, it’s the Wainio Whackos, a vendetta army, and people such as yourself who have CREATED this so-called screw up, by misrepresenting it as deliberate plagiarism, raising an Internet mob, and pretending it’s anything but a banal slip-up by Wente in the minutiae of doing her job. This is a Reichstag Fire, and the campaign against Wente is a comparable fraud.

          • “This is a Reichstag Fire, and the campaign against Wente is a comparable fraud.”

            Oh, dear God. Are you now claiming that mean people on the Internet committed the plagiarism and then blamed it on Wente?

          • Firstly, I’m not using a pseudonym. And considering I’ve yet to publicly comment on whether misattributed copy and pasting represented deliberate plagiarism or not, I’m rather baffled as to how I could have created Ms. Wente’s screw up. This is some stunning logic on display.

          • Dear “Jen,” my comment was clear and your reading skills should be adequate to the task. The public flap is ‘created’, not the banal mixup that Ms Wente was guilty of. SHE HERSELF ADMITTED THAT in her article in the Globe.
            By the way, kindly attach a scan of your driver’s licence so we can verify your i.d., which you insist is real.

    • Lest we forget the real victim here is poor widdle Margaret Wente. LEAVE MARGARET ALONE!

  18. Margaret Wente has been caught plagiarizing at least five times since late 2011, but yet she insists she’s not a “serial plagiarist”. If a homicidal maniac had murdered five people in the past year, would Wente not refer to them as a serial killer?

  19. Margaret Wente has been caught plagiarizing at least five times since late 2011, but yet she insists she’s not a “serial plagiarist”. If a homicidal maniac had murdered five people in the past year, would Wente not refer to them as a serial killer?

    • Only if Dan Gardner did first!

      • Well played, patchouli. Well played.

  20. I don’t know guys. I am no fan of Wente’s, but I think “plagiarism” is too big a claim here.
    Naturally I went over the blog to see what the fuss was, and while I can certainly agree that Wente is a sloppy journalist and would do well to be more explicit about her sources, I can’t call what I see there plagiarism per se.
    Personally I think there needs to be a singular intent to mislead the reader into believing she’s come up with these thoughts out of thin air, and I don’t see that here, especially in the case of reviewing books and whatnot, where the entire subject centers around an author you’re directly talking about and referencing throughout the artilce.
    So she’s sloppy certainly, but I can’t elevate that to the level so many here want to claim.

    In fact the entire reaction online seems predicated on “feeling” rather than fact, namely the dislike of Wente and her views.

    Ask yourself, what is at the heart of plagiarism that we wish to avoid?

    In University it’s to ensure the student really understands what they’re writing and took the time and effort to formulate intelligent thought.

    In law it’s to protect people’s intellectual property in such a way that they don’t lose out on any monetary gain.
    I don’t see either of those things here, and I don’t see intent, nor do I even see what benefit there is in attacking a parrot like Wente, when there are far more agregious examples that no one has seen fit to approach.

    So then explain to me: Besides a simple dislike of the woman, what is it we’re really criticizing her for?

    • One other point I haven’t seen raised. If the Ottawa Citizen/Dan Gardner feel aggrieved, they have recourse through civil court for copyright infringement.

      The standard of proof is balance of probabilities.

      Won’t happen, tho, I predict.

    • “…the entire reaction online seems predicated on ‘feeling’ rather than fact…”

      It’s based on identical text strings. You can talk yourself in circles in an effort to invent a definition of plagiarism that doesn’t apply, or you can just admit that Wente is a lazy, pilfering hack, that the Globe would rather sulk and prevaricate than take even the most basic interest in the quality of what it prints, and move on.

      • That’s the point though Eric, the articles in question are not identical. There is some repreated phrasing, which is obviously bad form, but no outright copying of text.
        You have actually looked at the blog site right? Made the comparisons? Read the actuall articles?
        Given the length of the articles in question, I have trouble getting too worked up about a phrase here or there, even though I agree it’s shows a lack of original thought.
        But then how’s that news concerning Wente?
        Look, I don’t care two whits about Wente, and I’m not happy to be the one defending her, but frankly what I’m seeing is a massive over reaction that cannot possibly be rooted in the facts.
        So I am forced to return to my original premise that this isn’t about plagiarism at all, but an excuse to pile on a journalist whose made a career of ticking people off.

        • There is some repreated phrasing […] but no outright copying of text.

          Talking in circles it is, then.

    • The problem is that what you think there needs to be is irrelevant to the actual definition of plagiarism.

  21. I’m sure Sun Media is already warming a chair for Wente.

  22. Some interesting and spirited comments here. Personally, I’m in the middle — or on both sides — of this issue. I absolutely agree that Wente is guilty of journalistic misconduct. Arguing about the exact degree of her misconduct, IMO, is a bit of a mug’s game, and frankly kind of inane and boring. She’s guilty of plagiarism, period, and as some have pointed out, that’s akin to an absolute liability offence in journalism.
    On the other hand, I think you have to be an idiot or blinded by partisanship to deny the fact that many of the people going after Wente most intensely have a very partisan agenda. Duh. Some people, like Cosh, are genuinely concerned with the journalistic ethics angle. But lots of people, like that blogger, are biased hyper-partisans who simply don’t like Wente’s views on politics and public policy.
    I find it interesting that this is kind of a reverse mirror image, in some key respects, of what happened to Dan Rather in the US a few years ago. And full disclosure — I was for the most part an admirer of Rather, having read his autobiography and I respected his career as a journalist. But Dan Rather, like Wente, screwed up. He had a professional lapse in judgment. He deserved to be criticized for that. But as with Wente, Rather had a ton of political enemies, people on the political right in the US who hated his guts, and when they smelled blood, it got vicious.

  23. In the case of an opinion column, the “burden of proof” attached to the content is lower rather than that of a news story. Ms. Wente’s works in question were editorial pieces and, as such, do not require the amount of fact-checking involved or held to the same standard as we would expect from a news item. We realise, or at least we should realise, that opinion pieces, like many opinions, do not necessarily require a basis in fact (many editorialists will probably eat me alive for that one).
    The fact that it is “opinion,” however, should not prevent the content from meeting the regular and accepted rules of journalism. Organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Journalists, do maintain standards of conduct and ethical procedures. The ethical guidelines for members of the CAJ specifically state:
    “While news and ideas are there for the taking, the words used to convey them are not. If we borrow a story or even a paragraph from another source we either credit the source or rewrite it before publication or broadcast. Using another’s analysis or interpretation may constitute plagiarism, even if the words are rewritten, unless it is attributed.” (
    It is obvious from both Professor Wainio’s blog and the statements of both Ms. Wente and her editor, that she violated this guideline (although I am not sure whether she is or is not a member of the CAJ) . But, the response of Ms. Wente, and that of the Globe & Mail’s Public Editor, seemed to lack any real care that such a thing had been done and both downplayed an ethical breach while attacking Ms. Wainio for broaching the subject. And, neither party mentioned this failure to properly attribute another’s work for what it actually represents: a breach of ethical conduct. Once upon a time, those words actually meant something…

  24. read today’s post and then get a life

  25. If Colby Cosh was half the commentator that Margaret Wente is, I might take him seriously. But he isn’t and I don’t.

  26. All these journalists who think their words should be patented and never repeated. How pathetic. They’re all egomaniacs.