By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The November 16 Denver Post was dominated by "Betrayal in the Ranks," the first portion of an impressive three-part series about injustices visited upon women in the armed services. Too bad this proud achievement appeared in the same paper with an embarrassing item headlined "Post Music Writer G. Brown Resigns."
The second piece revealed that G. Brown, who spent more than a quarter-century writing about popular music for the Post, left after a reader noticed similarities between an October 26 Brown preview of a Simon & Garfunkel concert that highlighted other quarrelsome groups, and an earlier effort by another writer. In a statement about the incident, Brown offers more information. "The inclusion of a paragraph from an outside source in my Simon & Garfunkel article should not have occurred," he says. "Working electronically, cobbling notes and other background material together on deadline, that limited amount of source material mistakenly got into my long, elaborate feature."
Actually, things aren't quite that simple. A single paragraph didn't find its way into Brown's overview from the reader-provided article, an online essay about the Beatles by author Jacques Menasche from 2001. Instead, two sentences from separate Menasche paragraphs showed up in various forms, connected by a third line. The first of these sentences shows signs of minor tinkering. Menasche wrote of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, "Most [sic] than collaborators, they were competitors, vying not simply for the title of band 'leader,' but seeming to offer up radically different modes of being." Brown countered with, "You couldn't call them collaborators in any traditional sense. They were competitors, vying not simply for the title of band 'leader,' but seeming to offer up a division of types." The second sentence ("Eventually, even if their music didn't always force fans to take sides, their public disputes -- from Lennon's searing 'How Do You Sleep?' on his first solo album to McCartney's tepid 'It's a drag' comment after Lennon's killing -- did") differed by just one word; Brown took out the "always." On top of that, text from Brown's sidebar mirrors a paragraph from an article the Post appears not to have discovered -- a January 2001 New York Daily News offering by Isaac Guzman. Three samples:
Guzman: "Don and Phil Everly turned harmonies into acrimony." Brown: "The Everly Brothers turned harmonies into acrimony." Guzman: "The Kinks' Ray Davies used to insult his sibling Dave onstage. Dave would respond by hurling his guitar at Ray." Brown: "Ray would respond to his sibling's insults by hurling his guitar at him." Guzman: "At one Oasis concert, Liam Gallagher refused to perform but later turned up in the balcony, from which he heckled brother Noel." Brown: "At one concert, Liam refused to perform but later turned up in the balcony to heckle Noel."
The Post resignation narrative quoted Brown as attributing the duplications it found to "sloppiness" and noted that he'd been suspended for two months in 1993 for borrowing part of his lead for a Keith Richards concert review from Rolling Stone. Brown wasn't pleased by the piece as a whole, as his statement makes plain: "I strongly disagree with the way the Post characterized my overall work record, and these specific circumstances," he says. However, he fails to address a part of the Post mea culpa dealing with a subsequent investigation that reportedly turned up "twelve additional examples in which Brown's articles copied phrases or sentences in whole or in part from other publications, without attribution to those publications" during 2003.
There's no telling if more secrets are hidden within Brown's sizable oeuvre (he says he's had 1,909 Post bylines since 1994), but there's no doubt the timing of the latest accusations could hardly have been worse from his perspective. After all, the Post has spent months conducting a sweeping overhaul of its ethics policy, the current draft of which was shared with the staff just before Brown came under scrutiny.
Westword recently obtained a copy of the fifteen-page document, dated October 10, and taken as a whole, it's earnest, scrupulous and laudably serious in the way it goes about establishing guidelines for behavior. The prose dealing with "Plagiarism and Originality" is typical: "Acts of plagiarism or fabrication announce to the world that the writer did not have the honesty, skill, savvy or energy to do the work that someone else performed.... If you work at the Denver Post, your writing and reporting must be original."
These principles don't leave much wiggle room, and that's the way editor Greg Moore likes it. "We want to set a very high ethical standard, where people understand that we want to be independent of all interests," he says. "We don't want to have the appearance of conflicts or impropriety."
Once the policy is finalized, probably about a month from now, Moore says it will be put online at www.denverpost.com, where Internet surfers can examine it at their leisure. This is a bold act of transparency, since random sections indicate how difficult it is to balance journalistic purity with the necessities of news-gathering on a budget. The majority of the dozen or so Post editorial employees contacted by Westword view the overall process in positive terms, but they acknowledge that some staffers are unhappy with dictates covering topics from tickets for critics to political bumper stickers.