Washington Post reporter Sari Horwitz has been suspended after it was revealed that two of her articles plagiarized from the Arizona Republic. Horwitz won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and has worked for the Post since 1984.
The stories reported on the Tuscon, Arizona shootings and, according to an editor’s note published by the Post March 17, her articles “contained substantial material that was borrowed and duplicated, without attribution.”
This March 4 article with Horwitz’s byline has two paragraphs “copied” from the Republic and also contains “without attribution other facts previously reported by the Republic.”‘ It plagiarized from this Arizona Republic article.
It now contains an editor’s note linking back to the March 16 editor’s note, as does this March 10 article which copied from this Republic article. In the case of the March 10 article, at least 10 of the 15 paragraphs with Horwitz’s byline “were copied in whole or in part from an article that first appeared in the Republic.”
The editor’s note continues “It is The Post’s policy that the use of material from other newspapers or sources must be properly attributed. The Post apologizes to the Arizona Republic and to its readers for this serious lapse.”
Notably, the editor’s note from the Post doesn’t use the “p” word, plagiarism, and despite calling the lack of attribution a “serious lapse,” the Post labels its announcement an “Editor’s Note” instead of a correction or apology. The Post also said that the lifted work was “borrowed and duplicated, without attribution,” which is a very watered down way of saying plagiarized, StinkyJournalism notes.
In a later story, The Post named Horwitz as the reporter in question and announced that she was suspended March 16 for three months over the plagiarism. In the Post’s story announcing the suspension, the Post did label Horwitz’s ethical uh-oh, plagiarism.
The Post noted that it and other newspapers have fired journalists for plagiarism offenses, but didn’t in this case. Journalism ethics professor Bob Steele commented to the Post on the decision to suspend, rather than fire Horwitz: “For a long time, it was viewed as an excommunication sin, beyond mortal sin but nowadays, editors try to look at the full context of what happened and why it happened.”
The New York Times reported that a Post spokesperson explained how the plagiarism was revealed. The Arizona Republic’s editor, Randy Lovely, reportedly e-mailed Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli and Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton, commenting on the “striking similarities” between stories.
“This is the most serious kind of matter for a news organization,” Brauchli reportedly said to the New York Times. “Taking information without attribution is unethical and not in keeping with The Post’s standards of journalism. There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism.”
Brauchli is quoted in the Post’s announcement of Horwitz’s suspension: “We [took] action that we think is appropriately severe and reflects the seriousness with which we view this transgression.” Brauchli also noted that he checked Horwitz’s “published work this year and found no other evidence of plagiarism.”
According to the Post, Horwitz “electronically cut and pasted material from the Republic and then placed it in a lengthy Microsoft Word document with other notes she had taken about the shooting, according to people familiar with the matter. Under deadline pressure, she transferred some of this material to her stories, delivering it to her editors as if she had written it.”
Horwitz said in a statement to the Post:
“I am deeply sorry. To our readers, my friends and colleagues, my editors, and to the paper I love, I want to apologize. Under the pressure of tight deadlines, I did something I have never done in my entire career. I used another newspaper’s work as if it were my own. It was wrong. It was inexcusable. And it is one of the cardinal sins in journalism. I apologize to the Arizona Republic and its reporters and editors. I accept the punishment that The Washington Post has given to me. And I am grateful the paper will allow me to return. I hope to come back a better journalist and a better person.”
“I have great respect for The Post,” the Arizona Republic’s editor Lovely is quoted by the Post as saying. “At the same time, our reporters worked hard to gather this information, and it’s not right to simply take it. She took a shortcut she should not have taken. I’m not mad, just disappointed.”