Shaun King and the Journalists Who’ve Never Heard of Editors

Shaun KingShaun King is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He’s as much of an activist as he is a writer. I think he got his start at Daily Kos and he tends to be a polarizing figure in the journalistic community because, of course, no one is supposed to have opinions — at least on the left. So he was a ripe target on Tuesday when journalists on Twitter went crazy accusing him of plagiarism.

Kate Briquelet at The Daily Beast had earlier in the day published, Cops Taunted Black Veteran as He Died. Shaun King did what he does: he wrote his own article based on Briquelet’s reporting. But her name wasn’t mentioned in the article and two paragraphs from her article were put in King’s article without even quotation marks. Glenn Greenwald has the whole story, False Plagiarism Accusation Against Shaun King Shows Dangers of Online Mob Journalism.

When I heard the primary evidence, I knew what had happened. But that’s probably because I am an editor. Writers who work at something like the Daily News don’t just plop their words onto the page. An act of plagiarism this obvious is almost certainly an error — and usually an error of the editor, not the writer. True, there are cases like CJ Werleman, but his most egregious acts of plagiarism were on his personal blog, long before anyone had heard of him. And regardless, people don’t plagiarize highly publicized pieces that just came out.

“Refusing to apologize and instead mocking King… became the new way to sit at the cool kids’ table.” —Glenn Greenwald

Now you may not know all that, but certainly the journalists who pushed this story of Shaun King’s supposed plagiarism do. They work in the business. They know how things go. In fact, one of the great recreational activities of writers is complaining about what editors did to their brilliant prose. So they knew better and this does not speak well of them.

I think that Greenwald was exactly right when he wrote that piling on Shaun King about plagiarism was “the new way to sit at the cool kids’ table.” And that, of course, brings me back to how reporters during the 2000 presidential campaign went easy on Bush and hard on Gore, because the latter wasn’t “cool” and didn’t have such tasty snacks on his plane. You should never underestimate this side of writers. Being even a decent writer is something you only become by spending a lot of time alone. It isn’t like getting good on guitar by playing in a band. So professional writers are usually nerds, but without any of the cool things that go along with nerd culture.

But there’s another side to this. I suspect there wouldn’t have been such rush to judgment if Shaun King were a conservative. Just look at the ridiculously respectful hearings that were granted to actual journalist frauds like James O’Keefe and David Daleiden. Apparently, liberals are guilty until proven innocent and conservatives are innocent until at least 80% of the nation is convinced they’re guilty.

According to CNN Money, the editor in question has been fired. The New York Daily News editor-in-chief said that the editor had made a “series of egregious and inexplicable errors.” It makes me wonder though. This is easy stuff. Why did the Daily News hire such an incompetent? It’s probably for the same reason they would never hire me. The editor probably had the right credentials and had lived a very boring life. No wonder we have such a dependably bad Fourth Estate.

Anniversary Post: Rastafari Holy Day

Rastafari Savior Haile SelassieToday is Grounation Day. It is a Rastafari holy day. And it commemorates the day when Haile Selassie visited Jamaica. Now why is this a big deal? Well, he was yet another son of God — or so the Rastafari believe. He was also the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 when he was overthrown in a coup d’état. This all came as a surprise to me. I did not realize that the Rastafari religion was an Abrahamic religion.

Most people know the religion as being all about smoking cannabis, and the religion does indeed use it in a sacramental way. Most religions do use mind altering substances. There are people who naturally have mystical experiences. Others need help. I see nothing wrong with that. And certainly cannabis has been used in this way since before history. The only reason the Rastafari stick out is because the west decided a century ago that cannabis is an evil drug. It’s us and not the Rastafari who are messed up — at least on this issue.

Other than cannabis, the Rastafari are very much Abrahamic in the sense of “no fun.” According to Wikipedia, the religion rejects what it calls, “Babylon” — by which it means materialism and sensual pleasures. I always have a problem with powerful groups and people telling the rest of us that we really ought to knock off all those things that make life worth living.

Apparently, Bob Marley’s wife became a Rastafari when Haile Selassie visited, believing that she saw a stigma on his hand. These are wounds and deformities that correspond to Jesus’ wounds from the crucifiction and getting stabbed with the Spear of Destiny. It always makes me think of the REM song “Losing My Religion” because the video features this. So why not?

An old physics professor of mine got to meet Selassie when he worked in the Peace Corps. He thought very highly of him and as far as I can tell, Haile Selassie was a good leader of the country. The Rastafari could have chosen much worse.