City Desk

Washington Post Mexico Bureau Chief Admits Plagiarizing Academic Journal in Panama Story

What is it with the Washington Post's bureau chiefs and lifting copy? Just months after the paper's India bureau chief admitted to paraphrasing quotes from an Indian magazine, William Booth, the Post's bureau chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, admitted this afternoon that a story the Post published Sunday contained plagiarized material.

“I am so sorry for what I did," Booth said in a statement provided by the Post. "It was a very serious lapse."

Booth plagiarized four sentences of an article by University of Southern California professor Andrea Hricko that ran in the journal Environmental Health PerspectivesPost Executive Editor Marty Baron, who took the paper's reins on Jan. 2, apologized to Hricko in a letter, according to the statement. Neither Hricko, Baron, nor Booth immediately responded to a request for comment.

In the statement, Booth claimed that he copied the sentences by accident. "It was an inadvertent and sloppy mistake," Booth says. "But that is no excuse, and I apologize for it."

Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton says he found out about the plagiarism when Hricko sent him an email comparing her piece and Booth's. While the Post promises "severe and appropriate action" for Booth, Pexton claims that the word around the newsroom is that Booth won't be fired. Instead, the ombudsman's sources expected that Booth will be denied an expected promotion to Jerusalem bureau chief.

"The question is, 'Why did this happen?'" says Pexton. "It was information, but it wasn't stuff that you couldn't get."

The Post's full statement:

On Tuesday, January 15, The Post was alerted to the unattributed use of portions of a journal article that Andrea Hricko, a professor of preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, had published in Environmental Health Perspectives on December 3, 2012. The Post article in question – “Expanded Panama Canal sparks race to be ready for bigger cargo ships,” by William Booth – was published online on January 12 and on page A1 of the newspaper on January 13.

The Post immediately compared the article with Professor Hricko’s piece and determined that four sentences were taken in whole or in substantial part from her article without attribution. Mr. Booth has acknowledged that those passages should have been attributed to Professor Hricko.

The Post is deeply sorry for this journalistic transgression. We have published an editor’s note online today that both corrects the article and apologizes to Professor Hricko. We will also publish an editor’s note in tomorrow’s newspaper. The Post will be taking severe and appropriate action with regard to Mr. Booth.

The Post’s Executive Editor, Martin Baron, has sent a letter of apology to Professor Hricko. In it, he writes, "This represented a serious violation of our ethics standards. It was a disservice to you, and it breaks faith with our readers. You have our deepest apology, and you have our assurance that we are taking this matter very seriously."

Mr. Booth also wrote an apology saying, “I am so sorry for what I did. It was a very serious lapse. I apologize to Professor Andrea Hricko and Environmental Health Perspectives journal for using without credit, link, or attribution, her work. This was not intentional. It was an inadvertent and sloppy mistake. But that is no excuse, and I apologize for it. We are running an Editor’s Note of apology. We are amending online the article I wrote. I also want to apologize to my editors and colleagues, and especially to  the readers of the Washington Post, for my failure to measure up. I hope to regain your trust. I will work hard to do that.”

We sincerely thank Professor Hricko for her professional handling of the matter.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • kob

    This isn't worth attention. It's sloppy, for sure. Reporter reads journal article. Copies a few things for future reference. Paste material to notes file but forgets to ID source, and days, weeks and however later, goes back to it and thinks, without thinking, that it's something he penned, and then watches his career blow up. Feel bad for the reporter. Nobody wants to seriously ding his career over four lousy sentences.

  • Steve Davies

    Having read and enjoyed Booth's science stories for years, I choose to believe this is an isolated incident.

  • Mike

    Or, alternately, reporter on deadline needs to finish up quickly, struggles with wording, hurriedly copies from an obscure-ish journal that he thinks no one will bother matching against his own article, and is surprised when he gets caught.

  • Pingback: Periodista del Washington Post en México admite plagio | Clases de Periodismo

  • Martin Dillon

    I believe that it is unfair to the perpetrator to publicize a charge of plagiarism and not provide any sense of the seriousness the act. It should be standard practice to publish the evidence that a plagiary has occurred. The reason: it allows the reader to judge its seriousness. In many, many cases of plagiarism, though the theft is obvious because of the similarity between two passages of prose, the thief obviously gained little or nothing from the theft. The passage stolen was not distinctive in any way except for its appearance elsewhere. Why does this matter? An analogy: suppose you are in a laundry and bundle up your clean clothes to bring them home, inadvertently bundling up someone else's sock. Theft? Perhaps. A crime? No, just happenstance. If, on the other hand, you gather up an elegant expensive blouse, the charge of theft is apt to sound more accurate.

  • Pingback: Ethical Publishing – Part Two (Writing Righteously) « Eye Spy

  • Pingback: Washington Post reacts after plaigiarism slip « Patrick's Blog