by Emma Niles
Apr 22, 2016
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Shaun King. (via Twitter)
“Someone dropped the ball.” That may be an understatement, but such was the writer Shaun King’s response to an editorial mistake that led to a wave of attacks against him.
The Intercept explains the situation:
On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Daily News published a column by its criminal justice writer, Shaun King … that denounced the harrowing treatment of a 37-year-old mentally incapacitated veteran, Elliot Williams, who died from neglect in an Oklahoma jail. Earlier that day, the Daily Beast had published a long, detailed, richly reported article on Williams’s death by Kate Briquelet, and King’s column was obviously based on Briquelet’s reporting.
But as it appeared in the Daily News, King’s column provided no citation or attribution to Briquelet’s Daily Beast article. Worse, King’s column included two paragraphs that were verbatim copies from Briquelet’s article, and presented those two paragraphs without citation or even quotation marks. At first glance, it looked like a classic case of plagiarism, with King simply lifting two paragraphs and passing them off as his own. And the Daily Beast was understandably furious that their reporter’s excellent work would be pilfered without credit.
King quickly took to Twitter to defend himself, arguing that the allegations of plagiarism were “a complete fabrication.” He also posted the original manuscripts he had submitted to his editors, in which he had properly cited Briquelet’s work:
1. No. I did not plagiarize @TheDailyBeast or @FiveThirtyEight or anyone else. Where I attributed & linked to both
CNNMoney later broke the news that, following the plagiarism debacle, the Daily News had fired one of its editors:
On Tuesday, Daily News editor-in-chief Jim Rich told CNNMoney that the editor in question had “made a series of egregious and inexplicable errors,” and on at least three occasions “deleted attribution that made it appear passages from Shaun King’s columns were not properly credited.”
“These mistakes are unacceptable and the editor in question has been fired,” Rich said. The Daily News did not identify the editor, but a source with knowledge of the situation said it was editor Jotham Sederstrom.
Sederstrom has since acknowledged his mistake. He writes on Medium:
In all honesty, the controversy—a fuck up on my part, to put it bluntly—comes down to two unintentional, albeit inexcusable, instances of sloppy editing on my part and a formatting glitch that until Tuesday I had no idea was systematically stripping out large blocks of indented quotations each time I moved Shaun’s copy from an email to The News’ own Content Management System, or “CMS” as it’s called in media parlance.
But should King have had to defend himself in the first place? Some have pointed out the rapidity with which The Daily Beast ignited accusations of plagiarism. “[N]one of the journalists who publicly accused King of plagiarism bothered to speak with King first to ask for his side of the story, nor, by all appearances, did they contact his editors,” The Intercept reported. King also did not approve of the way the accusations were handled:
Shaun King ✔ @ShaunKing
3. Here is where I properly attributed to @FiveThirtyEight. Notice I link, credit them, and include block quotes. pic.twitter.com/wWFJLAEeJX
Shaun King ✔ @ShaunKing
7. Anyway, it was handled poorly by @TheDailyBeast. They should've contacted my editors FIRST before blasting me on Twitter.
1:15 PM - 19 Apr 2016
While this particular instance may now be resolved, this is not the first time King has faced charges of plagiarism. Past instances “included a FiveThirtyEight article from last week, a Drexel University article from February, and a blog post from PhotographyIsNotACrime.com from last December,” CNNMoney said, adding that “in all of these cases he [King] had provided proper attribution and ... an editor had removed his citation and quotation marks.” They also note that King “never reads his articles after they have been published.”
King, for one, seems to think there may be some politics at play. “Also,” he wrote on Twitter, “Chelsea Clinton is on the board of the parent company of The Daily Beast. They ride HARD for Hillary. Sure that played a role.”
We want to know your thoughts—do you think The Daily Beast’s internal politics led to an unnecessarily aggressive response on their part? Or was a hasty response justified?
Either way, King should probably start reading his articles once they’ve been posted.