You know you’ve arrived as a media outlet when you copiously make the Gambit….

Anyone who has interacted with me about how I run Slabbed knows I have just a few rules of the road, most of which are geared to keep the discourse free wheeling and real.  Ideas do not scare us in the search for the truth, even those that turn out to be “borrowed”. I mention all this because over the past few days I’ve heard from a couple of our readers regarding the Gambit column on Jim Brown’s weekly column which is in reality a regurgitation of Mark Moseley’s Len’s column on the same topic that we featured here on here Slabbed back in May. I was at a bit of a disadvantage as Gambit does not immediately put its print edition online thus I did not have access to it here in the mountains of north Georgia until today and was surprised to find not one story but two on this topic as the dog days of summer have evidently dried up the news in metro NOLA leaving time for us bloggers to shoot a few spit balls at each other.

That said I’ve always liked a good spit ball fight going back to my high school days so I enjoyed reading Kevin Allman and Alex Woodward’s story on Jim and his weekly column and was amused to see Slabbed mentioned so many times in it, no doubt as a result of the decision I made to continue running Jim’s column here on Slabbed despite the comments Mark Moseley left here pointing out the non attribution problems in certain of Jim’s columns.

My  reasons are pretty simple as we began as an insurance blog and the fit with Jim’s expertise made him a natural source of information for us.  That said I also had other reasons to interact with Jim as our paths crossed during his criminal prosecution real-time (without Jim knowing).  Unfortunately that pesky rule 301 prevents me from elaborating further on the details there beyond saying I think Jim was railroaded on his lying to the FBI conviction. I’ll add the Louisiana Supreme Court evidently agrees with that assertion as Jim subsequently got his law license back.  I had and still have other reasons to stick with Jim besides that fact that many of his columns are very good, even some of those I didn’t particularly agree with.  Even better is the fact that after Mark wrote that column for the Lens, Jim’s level of attribution went up noticeably as he did indeed take it as an invitation to improve his craft.

I actually welcome the topic of plagiarism here on Slabbed and since I don’t have a “flea’s dick’s (sic) worth of talent” the dark arts of plagiarism evidently escapes me, but it has still appeared a time or two on these pages, especially in regards to one of Louisiana’s most famous plagiarist in the late Stephen Ambrose, for whom part of I-10 is named.  The fact Ambrose was a shameless self promoter with limited academic talent was well-known inside the halls of UNO back in the 1980’s but the Gambit’s own Clancy Dubos evidently was not in on that bit of inside knowledge when he wrote this after Ambrose passed away:

Near the end of his life, Ambrose battled two demons: cancer and questions about the integrity of his scholarship. Critics claimed he had used the words of others without giving proper credit. In the end, the controversy amounted to little more than omitted quotation marks (footnotes gave proper credit in each case).

Really? It appears that Clancy missed the rest of that story big time, especially David Plotz’s piece in Slate which ran under the lede Why Stephen Ambrose is a Vampire well before Ambrose’s passing:

Ambrose ducked plagiarism No. 1, but then Forbes.com’s Mark Lewis started digging. On Monday, Lewis revealed that Ambrose lifted sentences from Jay Monaghan’s Custer biography in his 1975 book Crazy Horse and Custer.Two days later, Lewis exposed Cases 3 and 4—pilferage in 1997’s best seller Citizen Soldiers and 1991’s Nixon: Ruin and Recovery. And today the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick discovered five more swiped phrases and passages in The Wild Blue. Ambrose’s patriots can’t fall back on the factory defense anymore: Two of the cases occurred when Ambrose was an obscure professor, before he became Stephen Ambrose Industries. Ambrose is more defiant than apologetic.

Finally this Gambit piece is no doubt the reason that Jim contacted me late last week with news his column has gone on hiatus. As for me I’ll continue running Slabbed the same way as always because if the model isn’t broke it doesn’t need fixing. The power is in the ideas folks not the messenger.  I am not condoning the past problems in Jim’s columns, but I do welcome the diversity of ideas Jim presented.

I think the bottom line here is in blogging like most everything else the beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Jim Brown wrote his weekly column for shits and giggles. Ambrose built an entire career partly off other people’s non attributed work. For me it’s not even close but to each his own.

sop

29 thoughts on “You know you’ve arrived as a media outlet when you copiously make the Gambit….”

  1. My personal opinion is that prolific writers like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin sometimes become “victims” of their academic Staffs, who do much of the research and write the first “draft” for editing by the Master or Mistress. Sure, “the buck stops here”, but NO ONE can be expected to “vet” every single sentence in a 1,000 page tome, and to determine whether every phrase or clause ever appeared elsewhere. And particularly in an already heavily footnoted tome. I think the same is probably true in the case of Jim Brown. I haven’t compared the Mark Moseley/Jim Brown writings referenced by SOP, although I intend to do so. I aver that Mr. Brown was probably the “victim” of one or more Staff Members. This BRU-HAH can be doused by a simple “mea-culpa” (if warranted) by Mr. Brown to Mr. Moseley, with “It won’t happen again”, coupled with a “private” conversation between Mr. Brown and his Staff. I mean, my goodness: We aren’t talking about divulging State secrets, or copying the Magna Carta and calling it the Constitution, Ashton O’Dwyer.

  2. Yeah, well that’s a lot of work what with the right-clicking `n all.

    I’m trying to figure this, the key here is that Clancy DuBos is an attorney with political connections who writes opinions but says he is a journalist while Jim Brown is an attorney with political connections who writes opinions but never pretends to be a journalist, so the latter is held to a higher standard than the former, the same, or lower? I mean, Pres. George Bush Sr. can be ghost written by Peggy Noonan for all posterity, Pres. Barack Obama can lift from Gov. Deval Patrick and lead the free world, Sens. Landrieu and Vitter can puff out pieces and statements in the papers written by their staffs as their own (which the papers do *not* dare question), but Jim Brown is caught cutting and pasting ideas he saw on Morning Joe so he is banned from the Houma Courier and all you bloggers out there beware because he is a bad, bad man {shaking finger}?

    Ok, got it.

  3. Roche you make excellent points. My only bit of heartburn in this whole saga was that Mark Moseley had a problem with Jim Brown and yet came to me with it when he should have gone to Jim or written about it directly on the spot on the Lens or YRHT.

    Through time I’ve met many interesting folks in greater NOLA. It is a complex world with lots of competing self interests. For example one person self described themselves to me as a political operative masquerading as a journalist. It takes all kinds of people to make this world go round and I frankly appreciated the honesty. I just wish we’d get more of that type of disclosure from the major media outlets that populate the NOLA media market and that includes Gambit owner Clancy Dubos.

    I also understand from talking to many people such as the person I mentioned above there was a good bit of resentment of Jim and his weekly column which was pretty widely distributed through out the local blogosphere and certain newspapers. I suspect that resentment grew even greater when Jim’s company published Leo Honeycutt’s bio of Edwin Edwards, which was a smash hit.

    At this point I’ll add that way before anyone in NOLA save Editilla had any idea who we were, Jim Brown was already in contact with us. There are several factors that explain why Jim did so well in the distribution of his column because he was not only helpful with info on insurance early on but he produced a regular column gratis that often tackled the subject in a quality way. OTOH I’ve had some other local media types try to turn me into their fundraising packmules for their personal commercial endeavors. There is a reason Jim did so well getting his column out and a reason others were envious. That Gambit piece was an attack on his distribution network and an effective one at that since the column is now gone, at least for the time being.

    One of the things that makes this blog an everyday stop for so many people is the quality of the leads I’m given. To the extent I grew up in the NOLA media market albeit in Mississippi I had a pretty good working knowledge of the names and local players. What I did not have were any cognative bias that came from inside knowledge of the systemic local corruption that most everyone in the media knew was there but somehow rationalized.

    Back in the day Aaron Broussard was political ally of Jim’s and that speaks volumes folks. That said Jim has always directly answered every question I’ve asked him including the campaign cash he took from Frances Pecaro back in the day and he never sugar coated anything in his dealings with me. Like Anne Marie Vandenweghe, another pariah of local political and media circles the quality of the information I would get from Jim was first class. The reason any of it saw the light of day anywhere is because I only cared about the information, not the pasts of the messenger carrying it. And frankly in the case of Jefferson Parish I’ll add that Rich Rainey and Paul Rioux, the JP beat reporters for the Times Picayune had everything I had and probably more. For whatever reason it simply never translated into print. That cognative bias thing is a bitch folks, especially when the editors have a bad case of it.

    In any event while I appreciate greatly everything Jim has done for us we’ll still be covering topics like Jiff Hingle’s legal troubles as before and look forward to the day Jim rejoins the blogosphere.

    sop

  4. Oh and Ashton let’s be honest about this. Dubos’ buddy Stephen Ambrose was a plagiarist and the fact he was in academia makes it worse than any lifting Jim Brown did in spades so lets call this for what it is. I didn’t open this can of worms but can certainly make sure they’re all out.

    sop

  5. Today I wrote about this here

    http://thelensnola.org/2011/07/19/jim-brown-gambit-plagiarism/

    I’ll have a response to you and ashton and rocheblave’s points in tomorrow’s The Lens.

    But to reiterate:

    As I’ve said all along, my problem isn’t with Brown, per se. I’m certainly not the one he should be apologizing to. But I thought that his “distribution network”, as you call it, should know that they are republishing columns that contain lifted text (as Brown’s did in his last two columns). I started with the blogs I most respect, and that’s why I notified y’all first.

    My findings had no purchase with the slabbed community, though, and I was advised to take them elsewhere. I did, and apparently my work persuaded Gambit launch a more in-depth investigation. Their findings are devastating, imho, yet hardly exhaustive.

    Hey, if Brown is a friend of slabbed and you choose to give him a pass on this embarrassing episode and re-publish his (future) work, no problemo. Sure, I’m a little disappointed in slabbed’s decision– I think it slightly diminishes a fine blog as well as harms Brown’s remaining credibility, for reasons that I’ll elaborate on tomorrow– but I feel good with the evidence-based arguments I made on this matter, which basically boil down to this:

    There is no good reason for repeated plagiarism, especially from a writer and book publisher who wants us to believe he is so (selectively) sloppy that he can’t follow 8th grade rules of attribution and quotes.

    1. Like I said I appreciated the heads up Mark. An email would have been a better way to communicate it but comments is fine too.

      But given the Gambit’s history of excusing Ambrose in far worse circumstances and opining on topics where management had an undisclosed interest this is also a case of the pot meeting the kettle IMHO.

      Jim is a big boy who can defend himself and I am not excusing the lifting. That said there was little new in that 2 man tag team article that you did not break months ago. So what was the point of it?

      So yeah, journalist and pundits that get paid to write deserve to get fired when lifting without attribution. Jim Brown was not being paid and blogged for shits and giggles so the way the piece was framed by Gambit was bogus, just like Dubos ignoring the clear cut case involving Stephen Ambrose.

      We don’t run from topics and we did not run from this one as I illustrated back in May. But since the subject came up again I have some questions now myself as do others who read and perceived a story beyond the story.

      The bottom line here if the Gambit wants to be the plagiarism police let ’em have it. I’d much rather cover the systemic corruption the MSM in NOLA has ignored for a generation.

      sop

  6. Sock…

    Your critique may well be correct….howeve,r it is the only metropolitan media outlet that had “the balls” to publish the SIMON v KERLEC case…the unadulterated story of anti-semetic prejudice that still exists in JP Government today !!!

    And yes, gay men have balls too…

  7. Whitmergate writes: “THAT IS NOT A PASS !”

    Point well taken, I retract the implication behind my earlier statement “if… you choose to give him a pass.”

    As for mirrors, I’d love for someone to do an expose of my work at the Lens or at YRHT. I’m sure a little archive trolling could reveal many opinions and predictions that have not been borne out in the fullness of time. However, I — and my occasional YRHT contributor, The Flaming Liberal, who is totally blind– have always been scrupulous about basic matters like differentiating our work from others’.

  8. Mark, I’m a fan of The Flaming Liberal (heck, I’m not even a Liberal and I’m a fan of The Flaming Liberal; he needs to call in and give Crouere hell again).

    I’ll also say your YRHT blog post-Katrina, like some others’, gave me some real hope in returning to New Orleans in the sense that I looked for some hint that people’s attitudes had changed and it seemed that in the rising blogosphere I found plenty of it. However to date, while maybe a good 40-60 blogs exist re: NO politics in some way, as far as JP is concerened and importantly insurance issues, which continue to plague our state’s progress, the only place I have found it is here at Slabbed.

    As to this issue though I also find it [can’t find the right word, let’s use…] ‘funny’ that this Brown ‘failing to meet journalistic standards so let’s ban him’ issue gets funnelled through the Gambit (by the way, those guys seem like great writers, so there’s that, but still it is DuBos Inc., no?) considering its “contributions” to New Orleans political culture.

    Examples:

    You pointed out one in this post from a while back:

    “When Vitter pulled out of the governor’s race because of family considerations, he showed a side of himself that most politicians don’t often reveal: he’s human. The stress of working in Washington, living on the Northshore and trying to jump-start a statewide campaign for governor has taken a toll. Public life always does.

    His announcement that he and his wife Wendy have been in counseling caught most folks by surprise — not because they sought help but because he decided to make it public. He told me shortly afterward that voters are always skeptical — and rumor mills always ratchet up — when political figures vaguely cite “family considerations” as the reason for a career-altering decision. He says he figured that if he simply gave everyone the rest of the story, that would be it.

    For once, he figured wrong. Vitter’s foes wasted no time circulating all sorts of sordid speculation, none of which is supported by any evidence whatsoever.

    Although Vitter and I have never been pen pals, I hate to see anyone in public or private life subjected to malicious rumors. His foes should either put up or shut up. Otherwise, give the guy — and his family — a break.”

    Your commentary there is fantastic. I was reminded of this by seeing it teed up in Library Chronicles recently btw.

    http://righthandthief.blogspot.com/2007/09/because-new-orleans-needs-alternative.html

    Here are some more past beauties from The Gambit:

    “House District 87: Derrick Shepherd

    Attorney Derrick Shepherd, a Marine Corps veteran of Desert Storm who is now an Army captain in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, is making his first run for political office. He pledges to work for economic development and transportation improvements in this impoverished West Bank District. “It’s unacceptable to us that District 87 should be the poorest district in Louisiana’s richest parish (Jefferson),” Shepherd says. We agree, and we endorse him wholeheartedly.”

    “Jefferson Parish President: Aaron Broussard

    Aaron Broussard, the veteran Democratic chairman of the Jefferson Parish Council, former Kenner mayor, and past parish school board member, has the vision and energy needed to succeed the popular Tim Coulon. Broussard has long been a friend of New Orleans, dating to the administration of the late Mayor Dutch Morial, but he also serves his Jefferson constituents ably and loyally. We eagerly anticipate that his partnership with Mayor Nagin and other metro area leaders will break the political gridlock over governance and expansion of Louis Armstrong International Airport and jump-start other economic initiatives to stimulate the regional economy. We enthusiastically endorse Aaron Broussard for president of Jefferson Parish.”

    “Jefferson Parish President Embattled incumbent Aaron Broussard, D-Kenner, has worked hard to rework the parish’s 100-year hurricane protection plan since Katrina flooded much of the parish. Thanks to Broussard’s leadership and his 30-plus years of experience, Jefferson is back with a bang. In fact, Jefferson Parish has become the staging area for New Orleans’ recovery.

    Broussard has a clear plan of action for the parish’s promising future. He will help improve levees and drainage, restore wetlands and rebuild highway and sewerage infrastructure. Moreover, Broussard is a longtime friend of New Orleans. He consistently reaches across parish lines to cooperate in regional endeavors while always protecting the interests of his constituents. He deserves another term.”

    “Nagin For Mayor
    Ray Nagin offers the best hope for fundamental change. That’s what this election is all about.

    New Orleans voters will go to the polls on Saturday (March 2) to elect a new mayor. We repeat our endorsement of Ray Nagin. In our view, Nagin clearly is the best man for the job. He is better qualified, he handles himself better under fire, he will do a better job of reforming city patronage, and he will represent New Orleans better in our quest for new jobs.

    …The Chamber’s political action committee, NOAPAC, had this to say in endorsing Nagin: “As a business executive, he brings to the office the ability to think out of the box to help make New Orleans a leading Southern center for growth. His articulate, candid and sensible approach to the city’s key challenges will make him an excellent spokesman for New Orleans and a strong partner with regional leaders as we take to the nation the message that a new era is dawning in New Orleans and Louisiana.”

    http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/nagin-for-mayor/Content?oid=1240003

    http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/local-endorsements/Content?oid=1248541

    http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/our-endorsements/Content?oid=1241999

    I mention the above because it’s basically journalistic malpractice. I have no idea how small or large the influence of endorsements are, but the glowing language really ramps up the degree of it. I also would love to know `twer it possible just how many people vote on the basis of these recommendations. But also it just in general supports a level of voter apathy or ignorance that has so long plagued this town, which I think is the greater sin.

    There is also:

    The TP not reporting on facts its writers know to exist regularly – Nova Scotia, the Jefferson family, you name it.

    The TP having conflicts of interest in terms of family and social connections (Phelps, and who knows who else) affecting editorial decisions.

    The TP publishing un-attributed editorials, many of which appear to have been written wholly by others. (See the Lakeview Labruzzo-Lorusso post here on Slabbed for that, but also in general it’s just plain obvious).

    The deletion of useful, informative comments on Nola.com that in no way (say racist or found language) break the User Agreement.

    Clancy DuBos’ and other reporters’ (oh say Eric Paulsen) social and business connections with persons on whom they are reporting. Example: DuBos wrote a piece on River Birch (more than one actually) but never revealed his name was “of counsel” on Berrigan Litchfield letterhead even though they of course represent River Birch.

    I don’t even like Jim Brown. However the idea of a former insurance commissioner writing and posting blogs and then what is at heart an insurance blog posting his commentaries is pretty damned valuable and interesting.

    But rather than starting with any of the 1000 JOURNALISTIC ETHICAL ISSUES THAT HAVE PLAGUED OUR CITY for – literally – more than 100 years, to the detriment of all of us and to this day, you decide to choose the issue of a non-journalist ex-pol who lifts language from articles as your windmill to tilt?

    Here’s the thing, I don’t think bloggers should try to get other bloggers thrown off other blogs. Especially not in New Orleans, one thing we learned from Katrina is that people need to know more, not less.

    Now, the former insurance commissoner (however he’s judged) will not be writing on insurance issues (much less anything else)? Great.

    ***********

    Always a fan, man, that will not change, ever, just thinking out loud.

    Cheers.

  9. Ima, from the youtube commentary, it’s “From Russian movie “Admiral.”

    Looks like a candidate for Netflix.

  10. By the way Mark, on the issue of exploring journalistic integrity, if I may, when you talk to your friends at Ch. 8 WVUE, be sure to ask them what REALLY happened to Val Bracy and (if it’s just all the glossy new stars they hired) why they just haven’t seemed to pass by the Jefferson Parish headquarters much any more since she left?

    Thanks.

  11. Rocheblave: thx for the kind words and reminders about Gambit, whom I don’t work for.

    But why do you set this up as an either/or proposition, as if I chose to expose Brown INSTEAD of nailing other journalists or opinion-meisters (as I do on a regular basis, and will continue to do)? There’s always a ton of windmills in my sites and, frankly, one spring day I saw Brown’s dipshit column about Pres. Lincoln pop up a hundred times in my reader, so I went ahead and read it and, as so often happens, while I’m trudging through his middlebrow musings and come to a stark change in narrative voice. Sure enough, I google the paragraph and find that it originated elsewhere…

    All this occurred while I had some writers block with the current array of windmills currently festering in the hopper, so I went after Brown’s tedious little compunction– and I admitted so, briefly, in my original post.

    I didn’t seek to get Brown “banned,” nor do I particularly care what he does on his own blog. However, he successfully promoted his work– Brown was probably the most widely re-printed blogger in the state– and got his work published on blogs I respect (like slabbed) and I thought they should know that on occasion they’re publishing clear-cut cases of intellectual theft. I believe I always asked them “why” they republished Brown– I never asked them to stop republishing him. Rather than a “ban”, how about Jimbo’s outlets asking him to stop the plagiarism– there’s a thought! How about his outlets asking him– hey, Brown, if you really respect your readers, why not change your writing methods to ensure basic levels of accountability? My god, sop thinks he’s improving– well, his last two columns contain lifted work. How long will it take Brown– writer, publisher– to “improve” to middle school levels of citation, so he doesn’t look like a either a thief or an incompetent?

    The sad fact is, lifting texts and (implausibly) pleading “sloppiness” hurts Brown’s remaining credibility. He doesn’t need to do it, either. It’s pure f-cking laziness, and contempt for other people’s original work.You’ll notice that almost always he lifts texts when he’s addressing national issues and controversies, because its apparently outside his wheelhouse and he’s too lazy to put in the effort to research the matters and summarize them in his own words. Well, if that’s the case, then why doesn’t he just stick to Louisiana stuff he feels comfortable with, and write in good faith? I don’t have anything in particular against Brown himself. Hell, a few years ago I was a guest on his radio show and we had a good chat. But chronically lifting texts and then telling Gambit that it was just a series of “oversights” insults everyone’s intelligence.

    As for bloggers writing on blogs. Sure, let a thousand flowers bloom! But we need to have a few standards if our public discourse is going to function as a market of ideas. Among those standards, I’d argue, is crediting sources and not stealing others’ work.

    For example: I love the ideas here at slabbed. Would love to see them reprinted elsewhere (with slabbed’s approval) . But I’d be horrified if another blogger was wantonly plucking important news and insights from slabbed and inserting them into widely-reprinted columns without giving slabbed credit. Sometimes the lifted text is modified slightly to camoflauge the theft, and sometimes even, the “ideas” the thief plucks are actually out-of-date and misapplied, yet the blogger never forgets to sign off with a “peace and justice”.

    Wouldn’t you be horrified, as well?

  12. Rocheblave writes:

    “By the way Mark, on the issue of exploring journalistic integrity, if I may, when you talk to your friends at Ch. 8 WVUE, be sure to ask them what REALLY happened to Val Bracy and (if it

  13. Mark, I just want to say a deep thank you for the response. I certainly mean no affrontery, just giving a good shot at an argument and like a pro you handled it wonderfully.

    I agree with the point about the lowness of plagiarism. You deserve high credit for pointing it out, the Gambit writers for toiling to lay out all examples. Slabbed here provided full disclosure too apparently (but I think the language and subtext in Gambit as written was a bit of a swipe).

    As for the either/or option – actually, NO, I see no difference bwetween a man (Brown) who hides attribution as to sources for the facts he posits from one (say any given TP editor as opposed to the staff) who hides the facts themselves. In fact it is all the same issue and really the latter is a much bigger factor in it than the latter.

    But my thought is also: I like the “flowers” analogy. But I feel as though Gambit apparently decided to do some cleaning up in the garden of journalistic integrity. While it may have indeed pruned some wilflowers (there that’s done!), meanwhile right behind it as they smile at their work the whole house is overgrown with kudzu, weeds cover the walks and gates and lawn. The windows and doors are even jammed shut so that there is no air flow; inside New Orleans the journalistic atmosphere is stultifying.

    And yes that is a big part of our problem.

    Thanks again (for everything).

  14. Correction: “…the latter is a much bigger factor in it than the former.”

    And thanks for the interest by Bracy.

    You may remember it, but I do not recall a local reporter ever going through a group of politicians like that. She interviewed broussard and he resigned the very next day. She hit them like Jon Vilma. It deserved multiple awards I thought and instead something very different happened.

    Thanks again.

  15. Roche: Hey, I love the “friction”. So thank you! “No friction, no thought” is my motto.

    (Jeezm, after whitmergate’s cryptic comments, I’m afraid MY dress will get lifted. So, to be perfectly clear, I first heard “no friction, no thought” from the late Cambridge professor Renford Bambrough who taught me about Wittgenstein, whom he studied under.)

    Sop: Please don’t thank me. All the pleasure’s mine. Just sorry to be such a stranger to the comment section here. Usually I just lurk.

    And speaking of due credit, it’s a fine testament to the vibrant slabbed community that the best sustained conversation about this story is here rather than on Gambit or The Lens. Stay dry up there.

  16. Hey Jeffrey! I tried that, if you click to it it still takes the reader to the top of the main page and you still have to scroll down or search to find the article.

    No complaints here though, awesome blog.

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