Shaun 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.
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.