The Plague of Online Plagiarism: A Case Study of the Anatomy of Journalistic Theft from my Facebook Page

23 Nov

The Plague of Online Plagiarism: A Case Study of the Anatomy of Journalistic Theft from my Facebook Page

The decline of Journalism Standards and Ethics in the Age of the Internet

By Nate Thayer

Being a freelance journalist is tough enough these days, and I am not alone in providing what I do for a living far too often for free these days.

But worse is the alarmingly common and increasing trend in the age of online journalism of having ones work baldly being plagiarized,  reprinted without compensation, citation, or attribution to the sourcing by for profit media organizations. Plagiarism is widely defined as “copying or stealing someone else’s words or ideas and claiming or presenting them as if they were your own.” Details on the definitions, origins, and concept of plagiarism are provided at the end of this post.

For freelancers without the institutional support and resources to effectively object to this most immoral, egregious and serious violation of journalistic standards and ethics, this is not a new problem. But since the utter collapse of the business model for traditional media outlets that has evaporated most jobs in journalism as online media has transformed the profession, its effects are concrete and crippling.

For purposes of emphasis, I offer a couple of details that I am less than comfortable with sharing. These are times in which I am usually unable to pay my rent or bills in a timely manner and keep sufficient food in the refrigerator. I am unable to afford such things as an iPhone, to repair my currently non-functioning most important possession, my sole computer—the very lifeline that puts food on my table, clothes to protect me from the elements, and shelter over my head. To be fully honest, these are times I cannot even afford an internet subscription ( I place my laptop by an open window and illicitly tap into neighbors wifi while having to constantly shift the position of the machine to get a strong enough signal). Mine is not an unusual position if one surveys the state of freelance journalists over the recent past.

So, when less than a couple hours ago, I noticed a suspiciously familiar news story that is now being prominently featured in major profitable news outlets that I suspected was more than a coincidence, I did some cursory research.

Google News is at the moment featuring a story by the London Mail titled: “Did Cambodia’s first lady mock Obama with a ‘greeting that’s meant for servants?’” By “Lydia Warren and Daily Mail Reporter” posted at 13:48 EST, 22 November 2012

“Bun Rany, Cambodia’s first lady, gives President Obama a “sampeah” greeting at a tilt usually reserved for servants.” (Investor’s Business Daily caption without attribution as an AP photo)

The story prominently featured a picture of Hun Sen’s wife and President Obama exchanging a greeting with traditional Asian clasped hands. The Photo caption of the AP picture read: “Coded slight? First Lady Rany greeted the president with a pressed-hands greeting typically used only with servants.” The text of their story was clearly compiled to give analysis, significance and context of the photo.

The story read: “Just before dinner, all appeared to be well as Sen formally introduced his wife, Cambodia’s First Lady Bun Rany, to the president. Rany greeted Obama with the traditional ‘sampeah’ greeting — a pressed-hands gesture that shows respect for a person. Where a person’s hands are placed and how deeply they bow during the gesture indicates their level of respect for the person they are greeting.

Rany placed her hands at chest level and tilted the upper half of her body slightly, leading the editorial board at Investor’s Business Daily to believe that she was showing disrespect to the president.

”First lady Bun Rany greeted Obama with a traditional “sampeah” pressed-hands greeting reserved for servants, a little dig that was probably lost on him but not to Asians,’ the editorial board wrote.

The Daily mail was practicing a common, growing, and acceptable tactic of today’s major media—picking up stories published elsewhere and tweaking them , presenting them as much as is ethically acceptable as their own. But they fully cited the source of their story to Investors Business News and the photograph to the AP, even though the entire story was essentially lifted from another publication, they played within the rules of proper citation and accreditation.

Then a few hours ago another story, by Asian News International (ANI) was prominently featured on Yahoo News with a story posted “12 minutes ago titled: “Did Cambodia’s First Lady mock Obama with greeting typically ‘meant for servants’?

The Asian News International  based in Delhi, India, provides multimedia news to 50 bureaus in India and throughout  Asia., claiming to be ”South Asia’s leading Multimedia News Agency providing content for every information platform, including TV, Internet, broadband, newspapers and mobiles….including breaking news and features with regional perspectives, along with politics, business, health, technology, travel and entertainment content. The New Delhi head office is staffed by professionals round the clock 365 days a year.”

The story, datelined “Phnom Penh, Nov. 23 (ANI): US President Barack Obama’s historic first trip to Southeast Asia ended with a questionably disrespectful greeting Cambodia’s First Lady Bun Rany shared with him.” The story continued quoting the Daily Mail: “According to the Daily Mail, Obama met Prime Minister Hun Sen that White House officials described as tense…Just before dinner, Sen formally introduced his wife, Cambodia’s First Lady Bun Rany, to the president. Rany greeted Obama with the traditional ‘sampeah’ greeting, a pressed-hands gesture that signifies respect for a person.  Where a person’s hands are placed and how deeply they bow during the gesture indicates their level of respect for the person they are greeting, the report said. Rany placed her hands at chest level and tilted the upper half of her body slightly, leading the editorial board at Investor’s Business Daily to believe that she was showing disrespect to the president, the report added. “First lady Bun Rany greeted Obama with a traditional “sampeah” pressed-hands greeting reserved for servants, a little dig that was probably lost on him but not to Asians,’ the editorial board wrote. A sampeah at mouth level is reserved for bosses, elders or higher-ranking people. For parents, grandparents or teachers, a sampeah is typically raised to nose level and when saluting the king or monks, the sampeah is raised to eyebrow level, the report said. According to Investor’s Business Daily, however, Rany’s sampeah was only ‘fit for a servant’. (ANI)”

So here were the two largest News aggregators, Yahoo and Google, who make billions of dollars in profit, promoting a story by two highly profitable media conglomerates, the Daily Mail and the Asian News International, written up on Tuesday November 22. Both of these news media conglomerates picked up the story that was cited as originating with a for profit business that publishes, among offering other investment and financial services, the Investor’s Business Daily. But both the Daily Mail and ANI, along with Google and Yahoo, played within the acceptable rules of ethics, fully citing albeit as an entirely single sourced article, Investor’s Business News.

But the conduct and apparently transparently egregious intentional ethical behavior of Investor’s Business News is entirely another matter. IBN is also another for profit, and decidedly right wing business and media outlet that has an openly very conservative editorial bias and also sells other business services.

The Daily Mail story was published on November 22. The ANI story was then published on November 23. Google and Yahoo catapulted the reader reach of both articles by featuring them on their news site that picks what it deems the most important stories from thousands of outlets worldwide on November 23rd.

So then I searched and found the Investor’s Business News story, which was categorized as an editorial; and dated as published on November 20 at “07:01 PM ET” It was titled “Obama’s Southeast Asia Trip All Style, No Substance” with the sub headline  “Investor’s Business Daily Editorial for November 20, 2012: Obama’s Southeast Asia Trip All Style, No Substance.”

The IBD editorial was a rather virulent right wing anti Obama piece under the category “Diplomacy. It began “So amid all the colorful and flirty photos from President Obama’s first tour of Southeast Asia, what did he actually accomplish? As usual, he served himself politically in what was largely a Potemkin mission abroad. It was obvious enough from the rube like gaffes that the president hasn’t been particularly interested or attentive to the affairs of Thailand, Burma or Cambodia as he made his first trip since his re-election. It was pretty much all style over substance.”

The entire story had not a single source, citation, or attribution which under rudimentary journalistic guidelines represents that its entire content originated with its own reporting of both facts and ideas presented.

Like the Daily Mail and ANI stories, the IBN story prominently featured that aforementioned AP photograph of the encounter between president Obama and Cambodian first lady madam Hun Sen, with the text and analysis written around the photo to explain its significance.

The IBN story began with a general denigration of Obama’s trip to Burma as gaffe ridden and counterproductive in a clearly partisan driven polemic. “In his tour of Burma, billed as an historic first visit since Burma’s 2007 move to democracy, it was clear he was in way over his head, even on small things” and followed this with “It didn’t help that he ignored the real heroes who helped push Burma toward a more open system — President and Mrs. Bush, as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Sens. John McCain and Mitch McConnell, seeming to take credit for it himself.”

This was followed by: “On his trip to Cambodia, a country he claimed didn’t deserve a visit due to its strongman government, first lady Bun Rany greeted Obama with a traditional “sampeah” pressed-hands greeting reserved for servants, a little dig that was probably lost on him but not to Asians.

While all three stories prominently featured and were written around large sized reproductions of the AP Photo of the controversial exchange of greetings between Mrs. Hun Sen and Obama, the Daily Mail and ANI carefully provided credit to the source of their information, Including the text, citing IBN, and the photo crediting the AP.

The Investor’s Business Daily did neither, offering no citation, quotes or attribution to the premise of the body of the article, and even left the photo uncredited.  Given that the AP photo was distributed with a watermark of their copyright, and, speaking as a former AP correspondent, requires full attribution on all it material which is all copyrighted.

Investor’s Business Daily sourced exactly no one in either their written text story and offered no credit to the owner and author of the photograph.

This is where I come in.

It didn’t take much of a cursory amateur sleuthing to determine that Investor’s Business Daily had, in fact plagiarized—stolen–virtually the entire substance of their story and analysis from me, on not just the significance of the photographic depiction, but directly plagiarized from my writings and analysis of that photograph, in addition to the wholesale lifting of my writings in their analysis of Burma, while twisting it entirely by intentionally taking out context that detracted from their politically motivated missive.

Their opinion being forwarded is not an issue of contention, but rather the process of how they obtained it , took credit for it, distorted it, and plagiarized it intentionally leaving its readers with the dishonest impression it was their own generated analysis.

There is not a more serious ethical violation in journalism than what the Investor’s Business Daily engaged in. If I had conducted myself in a remotely similar matter, I would have been summarily fired, with good cause, from the numerous credible news media organizations that have employed me during my 30 year career. And probably died from shame and embarrassment as a result.

This is how my very serious accusations, not made lightly or without due research diligence, evolved. And its origins are from my Facebook postings.

On November 19, some of you will remember, I posted the AP picture of the greetings between the Cambodian First lady and president Obama and suggested it was an intentional gesture of disrespect by virtue of the positioning of Madame Hun Sen’s clasped hands. I sourced the photo to AP, and offered my entirely original analysis (if reasonably debated in its accuracy in the thread that followed). My posting accompanying the photo read in its entirety: “Note how low Ms. Hun Sen’s clasped hands are. The higher the ‘wai’ is towards one’s own head is a specific sign of level of respect intended towards the recipient. This level of wai is used for those considered subordinate, younger, or of marginal importance. Obama’s briefing papers must have included instructions on using this traditional gesture of respect, but I suspect not given details of the nuances of usage. Here, he is being directly given a sign of disrespect, roughly the equivalent of a limp, short handshake. I suspect Madame Hun Sen may be reflecting conversations she overheard between her husband and his loyalists.”

All of my FB postings are posted for viewing to my “friends” list only, and intentionally not “public”. And this is for a reason. While I know it is far from foolproof, I choose my friends largely based on my impression of their ethics and quality of upholding ethical standards in general both personally and professionally, with those practicing the noble craft of journalism in particular mind.

My post resulted in a reasoned an substantive debate in the comments thread that followed. And the post was shared by two people. In taking a closer look at those who shared my post, within a few minutes I found that one of them was by a person who lists her employer as Investors Business Daily. On her friends list is one “Andrew Malcolm”, the author of the Investor’s Business Daily story of which this far too long missive objects to and focuses on. Mr. Malcolm’s biography on the IBN website reads in full: “A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm joined Investor’s Business Daily October 2011. He formerly served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four.”

On another post I made on November 19 which was accompanied by a photo of president Obama kissing Aung San Suu Kyi awkwardly on the cheek, the ensuing thread of again reasoned by debated comments which included some which I viewed as unnecessarily partisan, and I added my two cents on my views: “Let’s not impose partisanship where it doesn’t need to exist. The fact is that during Clinton’s tenure, it was primarily republicans who carried the banner of the Burmese opposition. They included John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Dana Rohrabacher. Those three, and others, continued to support those fighting for human and political rights in SE Asia from the 1980’s through now, and deserve due credit, through both republican and democratic administrations. Clinton’s SE Asia policy while in power kowtowed to his domestic political agenda, and George Bush didn’t really give a damn about much of anything outside the U.S., little less Asia unless it fit his ideological doctrines. Due credit for Burma and other obscure countries, with no hometown political electoral capital, deservedly belong to many republicans who did the right thing regardless of the fact it meant absolutely nothing to their home constituency. Dana Rohrabacher stands out among them. Some view him as a nutcase, but to Cambodians and Burmese who not long ago had few friends, he and others were lone voices demanding for Burma and Cambodia and elsewhere… The principles of freedom which is about the only thing that distinguishes the U.S. outside its borders is truly a heartfelt sentiment that thank god has no domestic internecine borders in Washington.”

That exact reference, down to those exact names of U.S republican politicians, and the republican role in supporting Burmese dissident voices, was reprinted virtually verbatim in the IBN article—with no attribution or citation. As was exactly the same case as the virtually verbatim republishing of my analysis of the Obama-Mrs. Hun Sen exchange of traditional Asian greetings and the analysis of nuances of the meanings of how they were exchanged—again with not attribution, clearly intentionally giving the impression that both the words and ideas were original to Investor’s Business Daily. The Investor’s Business Daily editorial quote, “It didn’t help that he ignored the real heroes who helped push Burma toward a more open system — President and Mrs. Bush, as well as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Sens. John McCain and Mitch McConnell, seeming to take credit for it himself” would prompt far more than red flags from any sophomore student of journalist ethics. In fact, for the publications I work for it would get me fired for plagiarism

The same Investor’s Business Daily FB friend of mine shared and commented on both these posts of mine of November 19th and the IBD article was written the following day, authored by her colleague at IBD who is listed as a friend on her FB page. I do not believe that my FB friend engaged in any unethical behavior herself. I know her as a reputable, serious and ethical journalist. I am considerably less convinced the same is true of the author of the IBN article, who, as the author, bears sole and full responsibility for any violations of journalistic standards and ethics.

Why am I seemingly making a big deal out of what many might view as a small issue. Because it isn’t a minor transgression. It is the most serious of unacceptable conduct against the integrity of the profession of journalism, and it is alarmingly growing in frequency in the age of online so called reporting. It is an act of intentional deception of the readers, and violates the most important and fundamental premise to that it at the heart of reputable journalism. There is a reason why journalists rank in public opinion polls on integrity and trustworthiness alongside politicians, used car salesmen, and lawyers.

On a more personal note, I, along with thousands of other journalists who have devoted our lives to defending, promoting and practicing what I consider a profession vital to any free society. And I am tired of having my reputation soiled by association. And I am tired of being largely helpless to effectively object. Not to mention this is how I make a living and I don’t like, nor can I afford having my work stolen. And like it even less when it is done by those who would never put up with such conduct directed towards them. I have little patience for hypocrisy or  unethical behavior. Full stop. And since I write for a living, tonight I am writing about this because I can and because I am correct.

At the bottom of the page where Investor’s Business Daily published this article which should result in the author and his editor, if he even has one, is the IBD own warning to anyone who would attempt to conduct themselves towards them in exactly the manner they went to significant acrobatics and deception to perpetrate on its readers and the integrity of the profession of journalism:

INVESTOR’S BUSINESS DAILY
Notice: Information contained herein is not and should not be construed as an offer, solicitation, or recommendation to buy or sell securities. The information has been obtained from sources we believe to be reliable; however no guarantee is made or implied with respect to its accuracy, timeliness, or completeness. The information and content are subject to change without notice. You may use IBD’s Services and Subscriber-Only features solely for personal, non-commercial use. Removal or alteration of any trademark, copyright or other notices will result in legal action taken to protect our rights. You may not distribute IBD’s Services or Subscriber-Only features to others, whether or not for payment or other consideration, and you may not modify, copy, frame, reproduce, sell, publish, transmit, display or otherwise use or revise any portion of IBD’s Services or Subscriber-Only features. For information regarding use of IBD’s Services for any purpose, please see our Terms and Conditions of Use. © 2000-2012 Investor’s Business Daily, Inc. All rights reserved. Investor’s Business Daily, IBD, CAN SLIM and corresponding logos are registered trademarks of Investor’s Business Daily, Inc Copyright and Trademark Notice | Privacy Statement

The merriem-webster dictionary says the definition of plagiarism is “transitive verb: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source  and for the “intransitive verb: “to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Dictionary.reference.com defines plagiarism as: pla·gia·rism [pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-]

noun

1.an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author: It is said that he plagiarized Thoreau’s plagiarism of a line written by Montaigne. Synonyms: appropriation, infringement, piracy, counterfeiting; theft, borrowing, cribbing, passing off.

2.a piece of writing or other work reflecting such unauthorized use or imitation: “These two manuscripts are clearly plagiarisms,” the editor said, tossing them angrily on the floor.

It quotes the “Word Origin & History” as “plagiarism: 1621, from L. plagiarius “kidnapper, seducer, plunderer,” used in the sense of “literary thief” by Martial, from plagium “kidnapping,” from plaga “snare, net,” from PIE base *p(e)lag- “flat, spread out.” Plagiary is attested from 1597. “

The American Heritage Cultural Dictionary plagiarism definition is “Literary theft. Plagiarism occurs when a writer duplicates another writer’s language or ideas and then calls the work his or her own. Copyright laws protect writers’ words as their legal property. To avoid the charge of plagiarism, writers take care to credit those from whom they borrow and quote.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines plagiarism as: “the act of taking the writings of another person and passing them off as one’s own. The fraudulence is closely related to forgery and piracy-practices generally in violation of copyright laws.”

Wikipedia sums it up quite well: “Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the “wrongful appropriation,” “close imitation,” or “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous boundaries. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement, while in the previous centuries authors and artists were encouraged to “copy the masters as closely as possible” and avoid “unnecessary invention.” And continued with “The 18th century new morals have been institutionalized and enforced prominently in the sectors of academia and journalism, where plagiarism is now considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics, subject to sanctions like expulsion and other severe career damage. Not so in the arts, which not only have resisted in their long-established tradition of copying as a fundamental practice of the creative process, but with the boom of the modernist and postmodern movements in the 20th century, this practice has been heightened as the central and representative artistic device. Plagiarism remains tolerated by 21st century artists.

Plagiarism is not a crime per se but is disapproved more on the grounds of moral offence, and cases of plagiarism can involve liability for copyright infringement.”

It seems quite evident that the Investor’s Business Daily firs quite seamlessly as a poster child of these characterizations based on their behavior.

I welcome any response, correction, or comments. And I damn well hope that Investor’s Business Daily doesn’t make the mistake of either ignoring or attempting to mitigate, downplay, or justify what appears to be, what seems to me, a rather irrefutable, firmly documented, convincingly researched, and carefully worded argument that I document above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Responses to “The Plague of Online Plagiarism: A Case Study of the Anatomy of Journalistic Theft from my Facebook Page”

  1. Bill Herod November 24, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    Bun Rany’s sampeah to President Obama was appropriate given their ages and ranks. There was no disrespect. To learn about the sampeah, see http://theangkorguide.blogspot.com/2010/04/sampeah-or-salutation.html

    Like

  2. Grady Loy December 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    I am not sure what Mr. Thayer is playing at. The whole Westboro organization is clearly reprehensible. Few people would argue the point. Some sort of vigilante effort to shame them into silence is also not something I will so\peak against. But this idea of telling people that mining private information and providing it to the people at large to use in this way comports with journalistic ethics is very wrong. There is a vast difference between what the law lets us get away with and what we should do or not do as professionals. And just in case Mr. Thayer are other “journalists” miss the point, for every clear cut case like Westboro where no tears would be shed if these were hounded by an angry mob there are a hundred or more cases where the right and wrong are not so clear. Another important consideration is that some people, encouraged by Mr. Thayer’s assurance that it is open season on these people, may do worse than call them up and harangue them. I saw children in the foregoing photos (yes holding hateful and abominable signs) but do they deserve the kind of treatment that an ignorant self-righteous out of control American mob (sort of resembling their parents in more ways than not) is likely to dish out. What they need are counseling and decent homes like as not. Mr. Thayer I know you do not regret it and I do not blame you for that. These people are off the map. If there is a way to prosecute them criminally or restrict them and hold them responsible in other legal ways for the harm they have done let us find it and certainly let us not publicize them or allow them to participate with their ugly utterances in the national dialogue. But it is inevitably true that these sorts of people (just like Bin Ladin) do more damage to us by making us sacrifice our own ethical standards than by any direct injury they may inflict. And please consider that ethics are generally less about what we believe than how we treat people who do not share our beliefs. Mr. Thayer I would appreciate a reply from you – not telling me how bad the Westboro are – I already know that – but your response to what I have said of using your position as a journalist disseminate information, whether strictly un-published or not, intended to call down a mob on these people.

    Best Regards

    Grady Loy

    Like

    • Grady Loy December 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Apologies Mr. Thayer. This should have been a reply to a different article you posted about the Westboro.

      Like

      • Nate Thayer December 23, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

        Dear Grady:
        Thank you for your thoughtful, well argued comment.
        Let me get this out of the way first: I take strong exception to your comment of “Mr. Thayer’s assurance that it is open season on these people.” I made no such reference nor do I support the implied strategy of “open season” on WBC or anyone, outside the parameters of rhetorical debate.
        WBC is a tiny group comprised of primarily members of one dysfunctional family. There sole purpose is to use the media as a vehicle to react to their outlandish, deeply offensive, and patently ridiculous slogans. A cursory review of their internal organization will reveal to anyone who cares to do so that they, in themselves, pose no threat to my liberty or day-to-day conduct of my life.
        However, they do speak to much larger, much more important, substantive issues which they intentionally abuse and therefore threaten, including the right to free speech, free association, freedom of religion, the second amendment.
        I, without a scintilla of hesitation, wholeheartedly support their right to do what they do, which is to unconscionably try to increase and ride the wave of innocent peoples suffering to promote their agenda.
        Their modus operandi is to attend funerals of innocents and inflict unspeakable pain on their survivors as a means to promote their message. Some suggest an added purpose is to spark incoming donations from supporters, and I don’t even want to think who those twisted people might be.
        But please don’t tell me that my posting of “mining private information and providing it to the people at large to use in this way comports with journalistic ethics is very wrong.”
        When one confronts and diffuses religious, ethnic, or political extremism through the excersize of freedom of speech and press, that exactly is the safety valve which prevents a society from descending into violent tactics to vent their frustration, anger, or other disagreements.
        Because you can bet people are pissed off at the WBC, at the Newtown CT murder of children, religious extremism, attempts to limit religious expression, limit freedom of speech, or exercise that free speech when it is at its most offensive and counterproductive.
        A society’s willingness to protect that ability regardless of the content is the litmus test of its ability to avoid a descent into violence.
        And your broad, unsubstantiated statement that “There is a vast difference between what the law lets us get away with and what we should do or not do as professionals” which is “just in (the) case (of) Mr. Thayer” and “other ‘journalists’.”
        Who the hell are you to imply through quotation marks that I am other than a professional journalist? You better be able to substantiate that slander with some empirical evidence, bucko.
        You say: “But it is inevitably true that these sorts of people (just like Bin Ladin) do more damage to us by making us sacrifice our own ethical standards than by any direct injury they may inflict. And please consider that ethics are generally less about what we believe than how we treat people who do not share our beliefs.”
        I diasagree. I would submit that these people strengthen our political system and challenge us to respond through civil discourse and within the law and avoid violence. Have you considered what would happen to these people (and to the rest of us) in the vast majority of societies who would tolerate a violent suppression or reaction to their heinous conduct? If not, I suggest you read the world and foreign section of the media reports (that is if you are an American, which I think I can presume by your posting).
        You ask that “Mr. Thayer I would appreciate a reply from you” as a “response to what I have said of using your position as a journalist disseminate information, whether strictly un-published or not, intended to call down a mob on these people. “
        Here is my response, Mr. Grady: Where can you cite that I “intended to call down a mob on these people”? Quite the contrary. I provided information to facilitate anyone’s ability to contact these people as efficiently and directly as possible to express their opinions—not altogether different from their tactics of demonstrating at the funerals conducted by the grieving families of the dead children in Connecticut or the families of dead boys who went to war on behalf of their country.
        I am, I agree, “using my position as a journalist (to) disseminate information”. That is my job. And I will not shy away from it despite the protestations of either you or the Westboro Baptist Church. Or anyone else. That I will promise you. And if anyone tries to deny me that first amendment right, I will immediately be forced to exercise my second amendment right to ensure they fail. And, together, that is why I am proud to hold American citizenship.

        Like

      • Grady Loy December 24, 2012 at 1:54 am #

        Mr. Thayer:

        I did some checking and I do know your role in the world of journalism, particularly here in East Asia.  Your Pol Pot interview was an impressive achievement though I am sure you wish people like me would be up on more recent things you are doing (I will try).

        To keep it very simple, I doubt there was any need to get quite as angry as you did.  I am not questioning (a) your assessment of Westboro.  I think it is spot on from what I know.  In all respects (I had also concluded-largely from your data- that they were a sort of nutty extended family group.) (b) that you got your information from public sources (I can find most of what you found about a person using Google or ancestry.com which provides recent telephone records.  The Kansas bar directory and the county records office probably provide a good deal more.) or (c) that something ought to be done with Westboro even if it is only to answer them in a strong voice in public discourse.  The only point I took issue with and you did not really answer it, since I think you were busier challenging my apparent assertion that you should not be free to publish what you think appropriate, is that providing extensive personal information like that is liable to get these people stalked, crank called endlessly, get their property destroyed, get beaten up and etc.  In my profession there are some who might use that as a sort of guerilla tactic to pressure a litigant they feel needs to be weakened.  (There are plenty of difficult ethical questions there I can tell you) As for Westboro they probably deserve to have God or Richard Dawkins throw brimstone at them for what it is worth.  My concern is that as a journalist (and I did not know you when I wrote it – I googled you after.) even as a popular blogger you have access to a large audience, not all of whom are going to be either civic minded or very smart.  Again, except for the children, I don’t intend to shed any tears for Westboro.  I am pretty sure you know what you are doing with them.  Excorciate at will and with my blessing and the blessing of all right minded people.  I am more worried that some person out there who imagines themself progressive, not you, but someone who might not quite be as discerning (or principled) in matters of public import as we expect journalists to be, will pick a less deserving target and do some damage.  That is and was the beginning, middle and end of my concern.

        I need to apologize for making the first part of the argument a little bit too much like a polemic when I was really more interested seeing what you were about.  Mea Culpa.  I will probably go back and put something on as a reply that ameliorates such legitimate objections and scoldings as you have raised in your letter.  I know you don’t require it or necessarily want me to but it is what I should do.  

        To be honest I am so pleased to find a journalist in these days who is giving journalistic ethics much thought outside of the few I know already.  I am based in Tokyo and am a member of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Tokyo.  I am not a journalist though I have penned the odd thing that has gone into print but am an attorney.  However, at the FCCJ I am currently involved in something of a crisis which raises the question of journalist ethics – the problem being that the board and much of the membership are blissfully unaware of such questions.  The problems I face there are not of me or people like me telling journalists what they can or can’t publish but the journalists board members doing just that to other journalists and bloggers.  I and some journalists are opposed to that.  So believe me, saying you cannot publish is the last thing on Earth I would ever want to do, even if your credentials were not as impressive as they turn out to be.  Regarding FCCJ, I suppose one would have to be there and see it themselves to know the right of it but my work with journalists there has left me not entirely unsympathetic to your collective professional  problems and efforts.  My study of the matter of journalistic ethics is nowhere near as long or detailed as your own and the principles I understand are 1. Always tell the truth if you are going to say anything at all. 2. Research, write and publish your stories with the understanding of what the consequences to your subjects or sources might be (related to journalists’ right to protect identity of sources).  3. Whereas a journalist is not obliged to report or tell both sides of a story, they should never seek to prevent alternative viewpoints from being heard or published. 4. Don’t steal other people’s work or even refer to it without attribution. 5.  Keep PR and journalism separate.  I know the field is much more complex and nuanced but those are the 5 commandments I understand at this point.  I would add in a very small voice another commandment  might be that journalists should have the bonum populi always at heart [my comment had to do with this and with item 2 above.  You have convicned me for the moment vis a vis Westboro but I would still like to know how we prevent unscrupulous people from using this as a means of intimidation.  We have just recently ended the era in Japan where if you had money you could pay certain popular shukanshi magazines to run scandalous stories about people and ruin their reputations, so the potential-for-intimidation element may be more immediate for me.].  As another quasi principle I would try to say “avoid defamation” but that is also a little tricky.  Perhaps we should avoid publishing what we know for certain is defamation. I realize that journalism is not a licensed profession and that the first amendment and its sisters throughout most of the world mean that a journalist is within his or her legal rights to write anything anytime about anyone.  You do not need to invoke the 2nd amendment just yet.  There are still plenty of lawyers who will defend your first amendment rights.  When they have all been done away with or co-opted, then may be the time…  Journalists with an aggressive style may be no strangers to defamation laws but win or lose in 99% of the cases there is no legitimate legal basis for a gag on publication in the first place. 

        I am curious.  You said I needed  to be careful about slandering you.  I am not too worried about it because I honestly did not have any malicious intent or awareness that what I said was untrue and will always stand ready to retract any false information that I have disseminated with an apology if it turns out I was reckless.  It is also doubtful in the extreme that your reputation was damaged by anything I said.  I haven’t got quite that much star power.  And given my profession I also have a certain degree of confidence in legal matters.  But it is irrelevant because I would much rather co-exist peacefully and pick your brain (if you are willing) than fight with you.  You turned out to be a far more interesting person than I first imagined (and you sound sort of like a libertarian-don’t take that as an insult-it was not so intended).    What I would like to ask is why you mentioned slander instead of libel?  Do these sorts of internet comment-reply defamation questions fall into the realm of slander as opposed to libel (publication)?  I would have thought it libel but have not actually ever made sure.

        Having learned  a bit more about you, I would actually much prefer to follow what you write and since you were kind enough to engage in a dialogue – even if it involved politely reading me the riot act, I hope you might consider within reason letting me ask some questions about  other matters pertaining to journalism from time to time.  In any case such things are up to you.  Thanks for the response.  I think I have managed to stop the bleeding and I actually enjoy people who can write in a good well thought out polemic style.  Though there is a lot of angry speech out there, a well thought out polemic (or a response to someone in that style) is a dying art.

        Anyway, I will go see if there is anything I should retract from my reply.

        Best Regards

        Grady

        ________________________________

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      • Nate Thayer December 24, 2012 at 2:40 am #

        Hi Grady:

        Thanks for your once again thoughtful and well reasoned response. Frankly, in parsing it all, I don’t think there is much of anything we disagree on.

        I will concede that your correction of my (incorrect) reference to your ‘slander’ of me would be be more accurately be ‘libel’. But in fact it was neither, rather perfectly within reasonable parameters of healthy agreeable disagreement. But you are right if it went beyond that, it would have been libel, as it was written, rather than slander, which, in my untrained understanding, refers to a verbal transgression. ( I have been sued for the former so I have some experience on these matters).

        Whatever, I think we are remarkably in agreement on the issues you brought up. Forgive me for taking a pass at the moment for fully answering your missive, as it is 0300 here and I have to sleep.

        I will give you a proper response that your thoughtful argument well deserves when I rise in the morning.

        Happy holidays to you out their in Japan. And good fucking luck with the kerfuffle regarding the Japan FCC, which I have some tangential knowledge of.

        warm regards,

        Nate

        Like

    • Nate Thayer December 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm #

      Dear Grady:
      Thank you for your thoughtful, well argued comment.
      Let me get this out of the way first: I take strong exception to your comment of “Mr. Thayer’s assurance that it is open season on these people.” I made no such reference nor do I support the implied strategy of “open season” on WBC or anyone, outside the parameters of rhetorical debate.
      WBC is a tiny group comprised of primarily members of one dysfunctional family. There sole purpose is to use the media as a vehicle to react to their outlandish, deeply offensive, and patently ridiculous slogans. A cursory review of their internal organization will reveal to anyone who cares to do so that they, in themselves, pose no threat to my liberty or day-to-day conduct of my life.
      However, they do speak to much larger, much more important, substantive issues which they intentionally abuse and therefore threaten, including the right to free speech, free association, freedom of religion, the second amendment.
      I, without a scintilla of hesitation, wholeheartedly support their right to do what they do, which is to unconscionably try to increase and ride the wave of innocent peoples suffering to promote their agenda.
      Their modus operandi is to attend funerals of innocents and inflict unspeakable pain on their survivors as a means to promote their message. Some suggest an added purpose is to spark incoming donations from supporters, and I don’t even want to think who those twisted people might be.
      But please don’t tell me that my posting of “mining private information and providing it to the people at large to use in this way comports with journalistic ethics is very wrong.”
      When one confronts and diffuses religious, ethnic, or political extremism through the excersize of freedom of speech and press, that exactly is the safety valve which prevents a society from descending into violent tactics to vent their frustration, anger, or other disagreements.
      Because you can bet people are pissed off at the WBC, at the Newtown CT murder of children, religious extremism, attempts to limit religious expression, limit freedom of speech, or exercise that free speech when it is at its most offensive and counterproductive.
      A society’s willingness to protect that ability regardless of the content is the litmus test of its ability to avoid a descent into violence.
      And your broad, unsubstantiated statement that “There is a vast difference between what the law lets us get away with and what we should do or not do as professionals” which is “just in (the) case (of) Mr. Thayer” and “other ‘journalists’.”
      Who the hell are you to imply through quotation marks that I am other than a professional journalist? You better be able to substantiate that slander with some empirical evidence, bucko.
      You say: “But it is inevitably true that these sorts of people (just like Bin Ladin) do more damage to us by making us sacrifice our own ethical standards than by any direct injury they may inflict. And please consider that ethics are generally less about what we believe than how we treat people who do not share our beliefs.”
      I diasagree. I would submit that these people strengthen our political system and challenge us to respond through civil discourse and within the law and avoid violence. Have you considered what would happen to these people (and to the rest of us) in the vast majority of societies who would tolerate a violent suppression or reaction to their heinous conduct? If not, I suggest you read the world and foreign section of the media reports (that is if you are an American, which I think I can presume by your posting).
      You ask that “Mr. Thayer I would appreciate a reply from you” as a “response to what I have said of using your position as a journalist disseminate information, whether strictly un-published or not, intended to call down a mob on these people. “
      Here is my response, Mr. Grady: Where can you cite that I “intended to call down a mob on these people”? Quite the contrary. I provided information to facilitate anyone’s ability to contact these people as efficiently and directly as possible to express their opinions—not altogether different from their tactics of demonstrating at the funerals conducted by the grieving families of the dead children in Connecticut or the families of dead boys who went to war on behalf of their country.
      I am, I agree, “using my position as a journalist (to) disseminate information”. That is my job. And I will not shy away from it despite the protestations of either you or the Westboro Baptist Church. Or anyone else. That I will promise you. And if anyone tries to deny me that first amendment right, I will immediately be forced to exercise my second amendment right to ensure they fail. And, together, that is why I am proud to hold American citizenship.

      Like

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