Earlier last week, the staff of The Arizona Republic discovered some similarities between some of The Republic's articles and others appearing in The Washington Post.
The Post articles of focus were about the investigation and legal proceedings of Jared Lee Loughner, accused of shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona, in January. They appeared on The Post's website on March 4th and March 10th, and in the newspaper the day after, and were written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Sari Horwitz.
As The Post said in an apology in an Editor's Note, those articles contained substantial material that were borrowed and duplicated without attribution to The Arizona Republic. Horwitz, one of The Post's most seasoned reporters, was suspended for three months for plagiarizing, announced the paper yesterday.
The Arizona Republic reported that after similarities were discovered, Randy Lovely, senior vice president of news and audience development for Republic Media, alerted The Post's executive editor Marcus Brauchli in an email. "I have great respect for The Post and its long history of quality work. It's unfortunate that one of their reporters violated a basic tenet of our profession by plagiarizing work from The Republic," he wrote, adding however that "The Post was quick to act on our suspicions, and I appreciate how they have approached this difficult situation. Marcus Brauchli, The Post editor, has offered his deepest apologies for an action he does not condone."
Horwitz also sent a personal apology to Lovely and several Republic reporters, saying, "It was wrong. It was inexcusable" and "I will regret this for the rest of my life," The Republic reported.
Horwitz is one of the newspaper's most decorated reporters. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize with her colleague Scott Higham in 2002 for a series about the deaths of foster children under the care of D.C.'s child-welfare agencies, and she was part of two Pulitzer-winning teams at The Post in 1998 and 2007.
In the Editor's Note, Horowitz was not named but the paper wrote a story about what happened. In this article, The Post underlined that plagiarism has long been one of the most serious ethical violations in journalism and when reporters cite other news sources for information that they haven't gathered themselves, the standard practice is to paraphrase the material and attribute the information to its source.
Brauchli said a review of all of Horwitz's published work previously this year was conducted and no other evidence of plagiarism was found; there is nothing more of concern in general.
Plagiarism and fabrication are not new in the scandals' history of news.
In 2003, The New York Times' reporter Jayson Blair was discovered fabricating comments, concocting scenes and lifting material from other newspapers and wire services, as The Times admitted.
Last February, The New York Times reporter Zachery Kouwe resigned, after being suspended, after being accused of plagiarizing portions of several articles.
The New York Times was alerted by the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, Robert Thomson, who sent a letter to the editors of The New York Times pointing out similarities between Kouwe's articles and a Wall Street Journal article previously published. The Times editors investigated and found other examples of Kouwe re-using language from The Journal, Reuters and other sources without acknowledgment or credit. In an Editor's Note, The Times said he would take appropriate action consistent with the paper's standards to protect the integrity of its journalism. After that Kouwe resigned.
And the Post itself was the victim of one of the most notorious cases of fabrication in American newspaper history: Janet Cooke, a Post reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, was forced to return the prize and resign after the article turned out to be a fraud.
Reacting promptly and properly is a key way for newspapers to protect their credibility. As the American Journalism Review noted at the time of the Blair scandal, The Times has a well-earned reputation for circling the wagons when its reporting comes under attack. It often chooses not to respond to questions about its coverage, as if it were above scrutiny. However, the time a newspaper brought a case of piracy to its attention "The Times unleashed a posse of reporters and editors to put Blair's national desk under a microscope. It played the devastating findings of Blair's serial crimes against journalism at the top of page one, with four open pages inside. So give The Times its props for an extraordinary airing of some very dirty linen."
Not only Jayson Blair, but also two top editors were fired as a consequence, and the paper introduced an ombudsman in order to heal a damaged institution and to restore its credibility.