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Friday, February 12, 2010

Gerry Posner and "quote tampering"

One of our readers, Greg -- previously known as "G" -- is the person who bears primary responsibility for exposing the serial plagiarism of Gerald Posner. Posner, you will recall, is the lawyer-turned-journalist who has always denied being "spooked up," even though he has really good intelligence sources and even though he usually writes material congruent with the CIA "line."

Greg is continuing his investigation, and the further examples of plagiarism he has found led to Gerry Posner being fired from the Daily Beast. Not suspended: Fired. As in Donald Trump shouting "You're FIRED!"

Gerry P. has offered a hilarious apologia. Apparently, the plagiarism occurred due to his difficulty in keeping up with the "warp speed" of the internet. Oddly enough, many other writers, journalists and investigative reporters seem able to hit Warp 7 without filching.

(By the way, Gerry really seems to like that "warp speed" remark. It's the closest thing to a colorful phrase he has managed to come up with in his entire authorial career.)

Why is this important? Because Gerry's book on Mengele became the standard work on what was once a white-hot controversy, while his JFK and MLK volumes were clearly meant to settle those issues once and for all. All three books received massive media attention. All three books now rest on the shelves of many local public libraries which never buy the works of (say) Peter Dale Scott. And we have evidence that all three books were researched and written with a rapidity that would have made Scotty scream for more dilithium crystals.

If warp speed makes Gerry crib words, who might have been feeding him words then? If, under pressure, he can't do all of his own writing, who did it for him?

To put it more succinctly: Who really makes history?

I'll have more on the Mengele affair soon. Right now, Greg offers an update (below the asterisks), and it's filled with juicy new stuff. The "massaged" quotes are of particular interest:

* * *

An update on the Gerald Posner plagiarism story. Posner was forced to resign from the Daily Beast on Wednesday. One of the more interesting aspects of this case – that I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere – is apparent quote tampering in the plagiarized material.

After Jack Shafer’s article (More Posner Plagiarism - Veteran reporter Gerald Posner is a repeat offender) came out on Monday, I compiled multiple additional examples of plagiarism in Posner articles. For example:

Most of this Posner piece is a rewrite of an earlier AP story.

For a comparison of parts of the text, see here.

Also, a Michael Jackson story – the core passages are copied (with slight rewriting) from E! News.

The story relied on an affidavit. Just to see whether the text of the affidavit (e.g. its language and narrative structure) could have induced this match between the E! and Posner descriptions, I checked the affidavit. It can’t – seems pretty clear that Posner was just rewriting the E! story.

Minor instance - language originating from TMZ.

Here’s a Posner piece on the drug Propofol (implicated in Michael Jackson’s death) with text lifted from an article in Anesthesiology News.

There was also evidence of apparent quote tampering in some of the plagiarized text (see below).

I e-mailed this information to Jack Shafer on Wednesday morning. He’d also become aware of yet another example (an article concerning Afghanistan). At 8:31 AM he informed me that he’d forwarded my information to editors at the Daily Beast. A few hours thereafter (1:00 PM), Posner posted on his blog that he had resigned.

From the Miami Herald:

"The review is still underway, but we have found additional examples of unattributed material that violate the journalistic standards of The Daily Beast," Kirk [Daily Beast spokesman] wrote. "As a result, The Daily Beast has ended its relationship with Gerald and will be correcting his articles."

See here for a nice dissection of Posner’s excuses for plagiarizing.

Apparent quote tampering

To me, a quote (i.e. statement enclosed in quotation marks) is supposed to represent a verbatim statement. If it’s in quotes, that’s exactly what the person said or wrote (as captured by the journalist).

Texas Lawyer:
Rusty Hardin of Houston's Rusty Hardin & Associates, who has represented Arthur Andersen LLP and baseball player Roger Clemens, supervised Chernoff when they both worked in the DA's office. Hardin says Chernoff is an excellent attorney with a great sense of humor.
Houston's Rusty Hardin, who has represented Arthur Andersen LLP and baseball player Roger Clemens, supervised Chernoff at the DA's office. "He's an excellent trial attorney," Hardin says.
The most plausible interpretation is that, in addition to lifting this text, Posner inserted quotation marks (for a quote that wasn’t there) during his rewrite. The only other interpretation is that he interviewed Hardin independently, and this is the only material from Hardin that he used (allowing him to substitute an actual quote for the statement in the Texas Lawyer article). That seems unlikely.

Another example:

Adam Marcus - Anesthesiology News:
“It’s not a subtle drug,” Dr. Earley said. “It’s not like fentanyl or narcotics, where you can be slightly inebriated on the drug and even show up for work. Most of the time, you inject it and pass out.”
“It’s not a subtle drug,” says Dr. Earley. "It's not like opiate narcotics, where you can be slightly inebriated on the drug and show up for work. Most of the time on propofol, you inject it and pass out.”
Adam Marcus - Anesthesiology News:
Propofol abuse shatters careers and lives—and worse. Only a few cc’s more than what’s required to put a person to sleep can trigger fatal respiratory arrest. That threat is an insufficient deterrent for determined users; 40% of residents who reportedly abused the anesthetic died from the high—the peril of propofol’s exquisitely narrow therapeutic window.
“There is a very narrow window between getting high, going unconscious, and dying, when it comes to Propofol,” says Dr. Earley. “Only a few cc's more than what's required to put a person to sleep can trigger fatal respiratory arrest. We see impaired professionals who have contusions on their face or body. That’s because they fell unconscious at a desk and hit their face, or literally fell out of a chair. And as you develop a tolerance to the drug, you need more to get high, and that brings someone close to the lethal level.”
Adam Marcus - Anesthesiology News (article ending sentence):
he [Dr Earley] said. “We’re just now on the learning curve of figuring out how to treat these folks.”
Posner (article ending sentence):
“We’re just now learning how to best treat these patients,” says Dr. Earley.
I’m wondering if a subset of the Dr. Earley “quotes” in the Posner article were not uttered to Posner by Earley, but taken (with slight modification) from the article by Adam Marcus. Most Daily Beast readers wouldn’t know the term “fentanyl”, so substituting “opiate” would increase readability. For the full second quote to be entirely genuine, Earley (in his own comments to Posner) would have had to incorporate verbatim a sentence written by Adam Marcus. That’s possible, but people rarely make comments where they precisely recapitulate someone else’s word string without alteration. Seems more likely to me that Posner added the Adam Marcus sentence to actual comments by Earley.

Yet another example:

Stradley, Chernoff, & Alford LLP website – Edward Chernoff attorney profile:
Ed Chernoff is the patriarch of the firm, born in 1962. He is happily married, with a son from a previous marriage. He lives in Southampton in a brick English tutor style home. When he is without his son, he works out, works, sleeps, contemplates the fate of society, works and then works out some more. He finds his life meaningless without some goal upon which to aspire. He runs the Houston Marathon each year, despite the fact that running bores him to tears. His son, Fate, is the center of Ed’s life. (In fact, his name is tattooed on Ed’s arm.)
Chernoff rattles off a list of names of former clients who now consider him a friend. His sons are the "center of his life," but when he's not with them, he says he "works, works out, works, sleeps, contemplates the fate of society, works and then works out some more. I'm pretty useless without some goal to focus on." As a result he runs the Houston Marathon each year, despite the fact that "running bores me to tears."
I suspect that these “quotes” in the Posner article are just language taken (with slight modifications to “improve” it – e.g. “meaningless without some goal upon which to aspire” wouldn’t have the right flavor for Daily Beast) from the Chernoff attorney profile. It’s possible the quotes were obtained independently in an interview – but they seem too close a match to the attorney profile text.

If you plagiarize text, you probably shouldn't change the words between the quotation marks to make them sound better – since, once the plagiarism is discovered, it implicates you in two types of offenses.

None of these examples of apparent quote tampering are hugely egregious – but they point to a pattern. And they tend to substantiate longstanding allegations that Posner consistently misquotes and falsifies the content of interviews. For the most recent allegations of this – involving Posner’s book Miami Babylon – see here.

I would like to thank Joseph for bringing Posner to my attention, and Jack Shafer, for his commitment to integrity in journalism.

* * *

Cannon here: I'd like to add to what Greg has to say about quotation ethics. It has been said that the worst thing you can do to a person is to quote that person exactly, because even intelligent and articulate people can sound foolish if the quotation includes every "uh" or "er" or half-started word. But the examples given here go beyond that.

To be frank, I doubt that Gerry personally interviewed any of the people quoted above. Readers will recall that, in Case Closed, Gerry left the impression that he spoke with anti-Castro Cuban Carlos Bringuier, James Tague (who was wounded in Dealey Plaza) and forensic surgeon J. Thornton Boswell. All three men denied talking to Posner, and two of the three (Boswell and Tague) insisted that the views attributed to them in Posner's book were at a far remove from their beliefs.

And yet the mainstream media continues to operate under the presumption that the Warren Commission critics are the ones who have operated in bad faith. If the Daily Beast had listened to those critics, that journal would have been spared much humiliation.
Just wanted to add two links that seem to have gotten dropped during formatting.
The affidavit for the Michael Jackson case:
Also, “See here for a nice dissection of Posner’s excuses for plagiarizing.” Should link to:

Also, a minor comment. In the specific case of the Paul Earley “quotes”, I’m personally inclined toward an interpretation under which Posner did communicate with Earley, but then massaged together the results with plagiarized material from the Anesthesiology News article to create the final “quotes”.
Imagine trying to teach this stuff to college freshmen; even with their misgotten efforts they generally do better than those quote rewrites.Remembe, it is not just words which must be attributed, but you must also cite ideas. I wonder how many of those slip by in the "professional blogosphere."
In the 1990s, Posner would tour around the country in some sort of fabricated debate with a drug decriminalization advocate. I saw them at a college campus in Missouri I believe in 1997. The whole thing struck me as bizarre - Posner was clearly the "name" advocate of continued abolition and his opponent was some nobody who seemed flakey. The companion who got me to go to this event was convinced it was some sort of "psy op" designed to convince you that the war on drugs was just peachy keen.

At the time I thought she was just being flakey, but some of the things I have read on this blog in the last week have really made me wonder. Posner really was just a goddam shill for the CIA/FBI wasn't he?
I'm still chuckling over the "brick English tutor style home."


If Chernoff wrote his own bio, I'd never hire him. If he let someone else write it and sees nothing wrong with it, ditto.
Oy vey.

It appears the same author wrote all of the bios. Whoever wrote them has no idea on what belongs in a professional bio.

Check this one out:

Bill has been in private practice for over eleven years. During that time his success rate in trial has been described as “eerie”. One longtime District Judge in Houston said after a recent trial that Bill is one of best lawyers he has ever seen in trial. However, ability alone surely can’t explain his success. Bill wins acquittals in cases completely absent any defensive facts. He wins cases where the allegations are heinous. He wins in the face of judicial, public and prosecutorial pressure, and does so in an almost breezy manner. After awhile, his partner Matt began joking that Bill had made a pact with the devil. The joke got out and other lawyers began asking Bill if he had brought chicken blood with him to trial. (Bill is a devout Christian and didn’t find that funny.)

(Sorry about the O/T - but I couldn't pass it up. As you were.)
Looks like a Posner apologist keeps re-editing his Wikipedia page to minimize the information on plagiarism, spin the plagiarism as sympathetically as possible, and remove this blog article as a reference.
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