Credit Check

Can borrowing an idea without fessing up be considered plagiarism?

Epstein, in turn, has questions about the journalistic standards of the Independent. He says that DeGette once slammed him in print for writing that a local DJ had an alcohol problem when one of his colleagues had actually done so; moreover, he swears that he asked DeGette to call him in advance before writing about him in the future, which she didn't do in July. (DeGette was out of town and unavailable for comment in Westword, but Eastburn says she's been told the Gazette has a policy against allowing its staffers to speak with the Independent. Epstein insists that, to his knowledge, no such rule exists.) Nonetheless, Epstein says he might have dropped the whole shebang were it not for what happened next: In "Policing Plagiarism," an article in the August 7 edition of the respected media trade magazine Editor & Publisher, writer Joe Strupp lumped the Epstein matter into a laundry list of "questionable stories" that had been published of late. "No action was taken against Epstein," Strupp concluded -- implying, in Epstein's view, that he should have been punished in some way.

"This didn't fit into the discussion, because it's really not a case of plagiarism, or even accused plagiarism," he says. "And yet it pops up as an example."

The Editor & Publisher ignominy prompted Epstein to look into suing the Independent, but he ultimately agreed not to seek legal redress in exchange for having the Independent publish a letter he wrote about the accusations sans further rebuttal. In this missive, which ran September 14, he called DeGette's column a "hit piece," referred to the crediting issue as a "smoke screen," and concluded by declaring, "Anybody who wonders why many readers don't like or trust journalists need look no further than the 'Public Eye' column -- the land that truth forgot." A letter to Editor & Publisher that appeared on September 11 makes many of the same allegations while stating that the Independent had "retracted" its original accusations.

Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn wants credit given when it's due.
Scott Larrick
Independent editor Kathryn Eastburn wants credit given when it's due.

Eastburn, who says she rejected three versions of Epstein's letter before finally okaying the one she printed, refutes this last characterization. "I intend to respond to his [Editor & Publisher] letter, because we have not rescinded the story. Warren continues to say that this is how all papers operate now and it's impossible to know what the source of a story is, whereas we believe in the need for accreditation across the board. So we fundamentally disagree."

On that, at least, Epstein concurs. "In retrospect, I probably made a mistake crediting Lauerman after the fact, because that may have given the perception that I feel we should credit these people. And frankly, the only reason I did it was because he was pissed off at me -- and I don't want somebody to be pissed off at me."

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