Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nate Thayer is a plagiarist

Gosh. That's a bold headline, Jeremy. Are you sure?


There's very little point in using euphemisms like 'deeply indebted to', as Felix Salmon did in his  update at the foot of this article, which is what alerted me to this (via Helen Lewis on Twitter). Plagiarism doesn't have to mean copying and pasting a whole article or book. It simply means lifting someone else's material without attribution. 

I don't have time to do a complete analysis of this, but as nobody else seems to have looked at in detail, and a lot of people are discussing Thayer's article 'A Day in the Life of a Freelance Journalist - 2013', I'm going to. Perhaps this will result in people saying I'm envious of Nate Thayer, or a plagiarism detective, or that I should get on with writing my next book, but the truth is I'd never heard of Thayer before this week, and I am writing my next book, but I find the prevalence of plagiarism in journalism today entirely depressing. I said I wouldn't blog about it, but I don't really see why Thayer should get away with this, and he will get away with it unless someone calls him on it. So I'm doing that.

The Atlantic dodged a bullet: Thayer's article, '25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy', is massively and unambiguously plagiarized from the article 'The Oddest Fan' by Mark Zeigler, published by the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2006. Earlier today I asked Thayer on Twitter why he hadn't credited Zeigler in his article, and he replied:
'Every quote in my article is from an interview or if not cited as.And I did cite Zeigler's article. Read before you libel.'
Oh, but I had read. 

Thayer claimed all the quotes in his article were either drawn from interviews he had conducted himself, or if not he had clearly and fully cited the source. This is not true – at all.

It is true that he cited Zeigler's article, but here's the bit where he did that:
'In 2001, North Korea formally invited Michael Jordan to visit Pyongyang, according to documents obtained by the San Diego Union Tribune in 2006, but Jordan declined.'
There's a serious problem with this citation. Thayer didn't hyperlink to the article, as he could so easily have done, and neither did he give the title of the article or name the author of it, Zeigler. But the major problem is that if you read Zeigler's article, almost everything in it also appears in Thayer's – yet this detail about Michael Jordan is the only one he cited.

Thayer's claim that every quote in his article is either from an interview he conducted himself, or that he cited it, is untrue. Here's one passage:
'In October 2000, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Pyongyang in the highest-level U.S. visit ever to the country. Albright, after two days of talks, presented the 5-foot-3 Kim Jong Il a gift – a NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. Bob Carlin, who was with Albright on the Pyongyang trip and for three decades a top North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department, said “We were looking for something that was a little more meaningful than a bottle of scotch or a miniature Statue of Liberty– something with more importance to him. You could tell he was pleased. I don’t think he expected it. It was a very personal gesture, in a sense. It showed him we went through some effort to get the signature. They realized it wasn’t just an ordinary ball.”
The hyperlinked word 'said' takes you to Zeigler's piece. But neither that word or any other in this passage was hyperlinked when the article was published, as this cache shows. Someone added that hyperlink, and two others, to the article after Thayer told me he had cited everything and accused me of libelling him. And without the cache, Thayer could have claimed that I or anyone else questioning him about this had read the article carelessly and simply missed the bolded hyperlinks. As well as lying to me that he had fully cited the article, he has now omitted to mention that he updated it in this way, which is in itself deceptive.

There also still aren't nearly enough hyperlinks – if he'd added the citations the piece needs, almost every sentence in it would contain a bold word. Instead of bolding the word 'said' in the passage above, for example, which suggests that only the quote following that word that was from another source, he should have hyperlinked 'October 2000', because in fact he lifted this whole passage directly from Zeigler's article:
'President Clinton's administration began thawing relations in the late 1990s, and in October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first senior-level U.S. government official to visit Kim in North Korea.
Their talks lasted two days, and before leaving, Albright presented the 5-foot-3 Kim a gift – an authentic NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan.
Accompanying Albright on the trip was Bob Carlin, who recently retired after three decades as the chief North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department.
“We were looking for something that was a little more meaningful than a bottle of scotch or a miniature Statue of Liberty or a Buffalo Bill book – something with more importance to him,” said Carlin, now a visiting scholar at Stanford University. “He may have been initially surprised by it, but you could tell he was pleased. I don't think he expected it. It was a very personal gesture, in a sense.
“It showed him we went through some effort to get the signature. They realized it wasn't just an ordinary ball.”'
This is blatant plagiarism, of the type that gets you kicked out of school. Even hyperlinking to such a huge lift without mentioning the publication or author at all would have been something of a stretch – it's a hell of a lot of material taken directly to cite with just one bolded word. But he couldn't even do that – until he sensed trouble, and added the bare minimum on the sly without telling anyone (or had the site do it).

But there's another troubling thing here apart from the plagiarism: Thayer doctored the quote. He cut 'or a Buffalo Bill book'. There are no ellipses indicating the cut. That might sound minor, but it isn't – it means he isn't to be trusted with the basic rules of journalism. He hasn't just lifted material and passed it off as his own, but he's changing quotes. That leads to fabrication.

So: Nate Thayer lifted this whole passage in his article from another writer, didn't cite any of it, passed it all off as his entirely own work, and even edited part of a quote for his own purposes. He then lied to me that he had in fact cited it properly, after which he added a hyperlink to the article he'd plagiarized, without mentioning it in an update or anywhere else, and still without showing the extent of what he had taken.

It's the sort of thing even Johann Hari might have blushed at. This isn't just a plagiarist. This isn't even just a plagiarist who rails against the plague of online plagiarism and the need for full attribution. This is a a very sneaky plagiarist indeed.

And this is by no means the only problem with Thayer's article. Almost every quote and piece of research in Zeigler's piece reappears in it, and apart from that one detail about Michael Jordan none of it was cited when it was published. It's barely cited now.

Here are just a couple of other problems with the piece. Compare this quote from Thayer's article:
'“Kim Jong Il was a huge basketball fan,” ‘90s NBA talent scout Tony Ronzone recalled this week. “He was absolutely addicted to basketball.”'
With this one from Zeigler's 2006 piece:
'Adds Tony Ronzone, director of basketball operations for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, who has made three trips to North Korea to conduct coaching clinics: “He's a huge fan. He's addicted to it.”
I asked Thayer if he had really interviewed Ronzone this week, and he insisted he had. But if so, what a coincidence! Ronzone used a few more words, and it's hardly the most extraordinary sentiment, but he repeated the same information in precisely the same order as he had done to Zeigler. What was Thayer hoping for in interviewing Ronzone? He had already read Zeigler's piece, which featured this quote from him, so presumably he wanted something more. At best, one could say that he didn't get a great interview and Ronzone unfortunately said nothing to him he could use for his piece except precisely the same thing he had to Zeigler in 2006 with a few modifiers. But it looks to me more like Thayer contacted Ronzone simply to show he had done some original research – what a coincidence, though, that what he got was a near-identical quote. It would be interesting to see if he transcribed his notes or recording more accurately than the plagiarized Bob Carlin quote.

Most of the quotes in Thayer's article are simply lifted without citation from Zeigler's piece, giving the impression Thayer obtained them. But here's another peculiar one:
'And yet basketball seems to provide one of the United States’ few windows into the North Korean regime. This was highlighted by a comment made by U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum last year, when he said: “Kim [Jong Il] doesn’t want to die. He wants to watch NBA basketball.”''
And here's Zeigler in his 2006 article:
'“Kim doesn't want to die,” Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said a few years ago after one of Kim's missile tests sent waves of fear across the globe. “He wants to watch NBA basketball.” '
The quotes are verbatim. Politicians often repeat themselves, but rarely word-for-word over six years apart. I can find no record of Santorum saying this in 2012, either. And Thayer had read Zeigler's article, and has now started surreptitiously adding in a few more cursory citations to it in an attempt to cover his tracks. If Santorum did say this again in 2012, Thayer gives no source for it. It looks to me like this quote has also been massaged, to make the piece seem more timely and important, playing into the fact that last year Santorum was running for president. It also saved Thayer from having to give Zeigler as the source for it. But it's really such an unnecessary deception, and yet one that must have been deliberately thought through, that one has to wonder what else Thayer has been up to. Because there is a plague of online plagiarism – and he's part of it.

UPDATE: New York magazine has looked deeper into it and found yet more incontrovertible evidence of plagiarism. The only way Gene Schmiel could have repeated, word-for-word, entire sentences to Thayer from his 2000 article in American Diplomacy (quoted and attributed by Mark Zeigler), is if he had the article on his lap and read excerpts aloud over the phone to Thayer, and didn't say he was doing so. Which is a stretch. Or hold on: perhaps Gene Schmiel was so enamoured of the article he wrote 13 years ago that he committed it to memory, and when finally a journalist dropped by to ask him about North Korean basketball diplomacy he reeled it all off, hoping Nate Thayer wouldn't notice. 

Oh no, even that doesn't work – because Thayer has now added in some flimsy citations to Zeigler's article, so he would have known full-well that what Schmiel supposedly told him 'this week' was identical to something he wrote in 2000.   

The New York article also quotes the editor-in-chief of NK News, Tad Farrell defending Thayer, saying: 'We trust the journalists that are writing for us. I don't have time to double-check everything that goes up.' Mr Farrell! It may not be your job, but if you can't pay someone to double-check copy before publishing it, you shouldn't publish it. Double-checking has other names in journalism: sub-editing, copy-editing and fact-checking.

Thayer and Farrell have also denied plagiarism to the Columbia Journalism Review. This segment of the article is especially odd:
'Thayer did not see the article before it was posted. The editing process created “numerous attribution errors,” Farrell said, and Thayer pointed them out after the story was posted. The mistakes were fixed, and this, Farrell said, accounts for why Duns noticed that links to the Union-Tribune piece were added in later.' 
Reproducing chunks of material from elsewhere and not attributing them is the definition of plagiarism. The idea that Thayer originally had all the attributions in place when he sent his article in, and Farrell mistakenly missed them out is just paper-thin: even now there are far too few citations – just three hyperlinked words were added to the piece, and one of those was then mysteriously removed. But if it was Farrell who somehow missed these laughably unsatisfactory attributions in the piece, it's hard to see why the version Thayer published on his own website doesn't have them in either. Are we asked to believe he also missed the attributions in the 'editing process' of reading through the article that NK News had published when posting it to his own site? My, what a coinkydink!
When I asked Thayer why he hadn't cited Zeigler, he told me very forcefully that he had cited everything, and accused me of libelling him: this means, presumably, that he accused me of libel without checking his article and seeing the 'citations' weren't there. And when he did finally spot that, why did he not tell me I was right, apologize, get them added and explain to me, on his site, below the article or anywhere else that his editor had accidentally missed out his attributions? 

And that he had also somehow missed them out when he published the same article on his own site. For someone so insistent he cited everything, it's odd that he still hasn't added these paltry few to his own site.

I think these denials are obvious nonsense. But I guess if you're unwilling to take an hour or so to read both articles side by side carefully, or are in a contrarian mood, they'll pass muster. Sadly, they usually do.


Astonishingly, Sara Morrison of the Columbia Journalism Review has written an article claiming I have rushed to judgement and that Nate Thayer 'doesn't look like' being a plagiarist. Her reasoning for this is that I didn't call Thayer's sources to check what they said. Well, I didn't need to, as Thayer and Zeigler's articles spoke for themselves. There's material outside quotes in Thayer's article that is nearly word-for-word from Zeigler's, but unattributed: that is called plagiarism. And the quotes are too troubling.

Sara Morrison seems to have been in a bit of a rush herself. Before publishing this article, she spoke to some of Thayer's interviewees. But not all. She writes:

'I was not able to contact Gene Schmiel — Thayer gave me a wrong number. I’ve asked, several times, for the correct one.'

I have just spoken to Gene Schmiel.

Nate Thayer did call him, and they did speak. But Schmiel still works part-time for the State Department, and so is very relucant to give interviews, because he needs to clear everything he says. So he said a few things to Thayer, but insisted that they stay off the record. To help Thayer out, he said he could refer to what he had written in his 2000 article for American Diplomacy.

Thayer did do that, but look at how he did it. He didn't attribute the quotes to Schmiel's 2000 article. Instead, he claimed that Schmiel had said them to him:

'Ri Gun “then moved to the TV, turned it on and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball of the NBA basketball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Schmiel recalled in an interview this week.'
Schmiel didn't say any of that to Thayer 'this week'. The citation is fraudulent. The citation should be 'Schmiel recalled in a 2000 article for American Diplomacy' with a hyperlink.

Thayer didn't get a single on-the-record quote from Gene Schmiel. And yet his article has several Schmiel quotes, which he passes off as being said directly to him.

Schmiel did not want to give a new on-the-record interview, and so referred Thayer to his previous article. But Schmiel didn't ask Thayer to pretend he had said the words in the article to him.

I look forward to Sara Morrison's retraction of the claim that I, not she, failed to research this properly. I had no need to call Schmiel when I published, because common sense and logic dictates that someone would not repeat long sentences verbatim to a journalist from an article they had written 13 year previously. And I look forward to Nate Thayer's admission that he is a plagiarist, too, of course.  

Though I'm not holding my breath on either of those things happening.


I have found more plagiarism in another article by Nate Thayer, written for Asia Times. Here's a post on how he does it, and covers his tracks.


  1. Wow this is almost Jonah Lehrer level. It's getting difficult to keep track of all the functional plagiarists that have been outed of late. What's galling is that Thayer has the nerve to prattle on loudly on how he deserves to be paid for his plagiarism.

    1. Yep cause it's hard out here for a word pimp.
      P.S. the sentence structure and usage of the word PIMP i got from the movie: "Hustle & Flow"

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Postscript: It's easy to bandwagon, but Jeremy's BLOG has no end notes or sources. Hang Thayer when hanging is righteous.

      Jeremy Duns needs to be held to a standard too when a man's reputation is at stake.

    2. What do you think should be endnoted, Chris? And there are plenty of sources: I link to all the articles in question and attribute at every point where I've taken my quotes or information from.

      I'm happy to be held to a high standard, of course. But if you're going to do that, then hold me to it! You know, with concrete questions and examples. Insinuating that my BLOG (which is simply an article I've published online) is suspect without giving a single concrete objection to why is hardly holding me to account!

    3. A blog is an entirely personal outlet. One can put whatever they want on it. It is no journalistic tool.

      I decided after third review of your piece that it was lacking the professional scrutiny needed to level a charge of plagiarism.Nate Thayer's name, reputation and livelihood is in question. Remember that.

      Did you interview Thayer's editor? Did you interview reporter Mark Zeigler? How about Felix Salmon and how he came to add the update to his story? Well Thayer was assured by his editor that all attribution was in his article at press time.

      The Plagiarism Hunter title you so yearn to wear will, I guarantee it, will burn you. Stick to your not so literary novels, write genre, it suits you.

    4. How many of my novels have you read, Chris?

      What made you decide my piece lacked professional scrutiny, specifically? Why do you think I need endnotes - what have I failed to cite? You've repeatedly made the claim here, on Twitter and on a couple of other sites that my research is somehow lacking, but you have yet to explain why I'm wrong and this somehow isn't plagiarism.

      I didn't interview Thayer's editor, Mark Zeigler or Felix Salmon. My professional judgement told me I didn't need to because there was and remains incontrovertible evidence of plagiarism in the article.

      Nate Thayer and his editor do claim that not all the necessary attributions were included in his article when it was published, due to an oversight by the editor. The errors were apparently spotted some time after, and on Thayer's request were all fixed. The article, according to Thayer, now includes all the necessary attributions.

      That all sounds grand if you don't look too deeply at it, but it has in fact entailed adding just three single hyperlinked words to the article, one of which has now been removed for reasons beyond me. But that's it - the article Thayer's editor published apparently should have had these two or three extra hyperlinks in them to Zeigler's article.

      But that gets us nowhere, because the article still contains a lot of material from elsewhere that has no citation. The passage about Bob Carlin and the Michael-Jordan-signed ball, the entire sentences by Gene Schmiel from an article he wrote in 2000 but apparently repeated to Thayer word-for-word, the Rick Santorum quote from 'last year' that is in Zeigler's 2006 article, to give three examples.

      So the article still contains plagiarism. You can call a thousand people, but it won't change that material from other people's work that is reproduced but not cited is plagiarism, and that there is plenty of that still in this article. This is simply logic. And close reading.

      I don't yearn any Plagiarism-Hunter title. I just hate plagiarism, and that people get away with it.

    5. To say that not attributing a quote is the essence of plagiarism is totally off-base. That's an attribution error, at worst. You seem on a witch-hunt - as if you have some bizarre axe to grind regarding Thayer. The essence of plagiarism in my view is lifting other peoples' ideas and words and presenting them as your own. Nowhere do I see you even accusing Thayer of that. At worst, you make his work appear poorly or not adequately attributed, in terms of quoted material. At best, he comes out looking like a guy who is under unfair and weirdly dogged attack. By the way, if you didn't know who Thayer was before this, it tells me a good deal about your level of understanding of journalism over the past 20 years or so... Check out the work he did in the field for The Far Eastern Economic Review, which could have saved many lives... ech. I should add that I never heard of anyone named "Jeremy Dun" before that name was connected to Nate Thayer.

    6. I also think it would be very interesting for you to tell all of this to Thayer - to his face.

    7. No, Jay: using other people's material without attribution is plagiarism. Nate Thayer knows this himself:

      This is not simply about quotes - read what I've written, please. Closely! Thayer's passage about the Michael-Jordan-signed ball on Albright's trip is lifted directly from Zeigler's article. It is not a quote from a source, and neither is it in quotes. According to the Columbia Journalism Review on March 7 Thayer 'maintained that the reporting in his piece, unless attributed elsewhere, was his own.' And yet this is still not attributed as the piece stands right now.

      It is incontrovertible plagiarism.

      And as Thayer claims all his attributions are now in the article, the blame cannot be laid at his editor's door. It is his missing citation.

      The fact you can't even get my name right while chiding me for my attention to detail tells me rather a lot about your own abilities in that area. Scroll to the top of this page. It's in a large font, and fairly easy to spell.

      I called Nate Thayer yesterday. He refused to speak to me on the record - which made me calling him fairly pointless, of course - and while I tried to persuade him to go on the record he shouted at me for about an hour before hanging up. His replies were rambling, self-righteous and very hard to follow. Whenever I got to specifics about his article he raised the volume, became even more indignant - and offered not a single convincing explanation for the obvious plagiarism in his piece.

      I didn't need to contact Nate Thayer, or any of the people he quoted, to come to my conclusion here. There is material in his article that is word-for-word or close to word-for-word from earlier sources, which I read, that is either not attributed at all or attributed falsely as having been said directly to him. In one case he has even doctored a quote - and it's still doctored, despite the addition of a hyperlinked word taking you to the source. When quoting material, I'm not sure adding a single hyperlinked word to another article without mentioning either the author, the article's title or the publication is really a sufficient citation - but even if you take it that is acceptable, it is unacceptable to change someone else's quotes and not show it.

      That alone is indicative of someone who is playing very fast and loose with attriubtion rules. Pretending someone said something to you that they in fact wrote verbatim 13 years ago is something else.


    8. Misattribution is a good faith error in citing sources. Plagiarism is deceit.

      So either Mr. Thayer is appallingly incompetent for a supposedly professional journalist due to the seriousness and frequency of misattribution errors, or he's being deceitful. Either way, an undergrad would get a mark of 0 for handing in a paper with such serious errors, so I don't know why anyone would expect the standards to be lower for a professional.

  3. Nintendowned. Good job Mr. Duns.

  4. Doesn't look like he added a link on the word "said" to the version of the story he posted on his blog yet.

  5. Do you know for certain that Albright's statement was given exclusively to Zeigler or did Zeigler obtain her words via a press release?

    If it's the latter, then surely Thayer is at liberty to quote what she "said". "Said" does not mean "said to me", if Albright verbally said these words in a conference or press release, then reporting in an article that she "said" this or that isn't plagiarism, even via a secondary source.

    Reading Thayer's article, there is information that isn't in the copy. For example the anecdote about Kim Jong Un travelling "by limousine to Paris to watch the Chicago Bulls" - nowhere to be seen in Zeigler's article; more's the pity.

    Thayer's article is a more entertaining piece and far more readable than Zeigler's, which is good but appears to be hacked out in a short period of time. They are both writing on the same subject and, yes, Thayer has recklessly used selective referencing.

    There is strong evidence that Thayer had read Zeigler's article prior to writing his own. He's not done a very good job in referencing it but this isn't, as you say, "blatant plagiarism".

    If you hold *that* as plagiarism then you had better also criticise the BBC, Reuters, Washington Post etc. all of whom regularly run pieces on exactly the same off-diary events with very similar angles.

  6. No, you just haven't read what I've writen carefully enough. I don't discuss a statement by Albright at all, but by Bob Carlin. If you read what I wrote carefully you'll see the problem is as I say - the earlier part of the passage, before the quote by Bob Carlin (not Madeleine Albright) is birtually identical.

    Because it was plagiarized.

    The fact that he didn't plagiarize everything in Zeigler's article, and had some stuff in his that wasn't in Zeigler's article, does not change this fact. There are huge chunks of Zeigler's article in Thayer's, uncited and passed off as his own. In several cases, Thayer claims people told him something this week (twice), on Friday and quotes Santorum as saying something 'last year' - and they are all in Zeigler's piece from 2006.

    Instead of rushing to be contrarian about this, read what I wrote. Carefully, please! And when you do, you'll see there a massive amoung of clear-cut plagiarism in the article.

    1. 'Virtually', not 'birtually', obviously.

    2. But I like birtually better...

    3. Jeremy hold the nightbus for just a minute.

      Failure to properly give credit, yes, guilty.

      However, unless anyone can prove that Carlin's quote ceased to be his view of matters, anyone who quotes him, even 100 years after it was written, walks free on any charges you may be implying of misrepresentation.

      If there is a quote out there where Carlin (George Carlin please stop coming into my mind's eye, it's not you I'm referring to) changes his view - surely the quote stands?

      Yes it implies it was freshly obtained but it isn't an inaccurate statement unless Carlin's said so.

      I am not Mr Thayer and can provide evidence for that, I'm simply interested in this case. Whereas I do recognise failures in Thayer's work I would not uphold it as "blatant plagiarism."

    4. Denise, I wasn't talking about Bob Carlin's quote - I was talking about the passage just before it.

      Zeigler's article in 2006:

      '... in October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first senior-level U.S. government official to visit Kim in North Korea. Their talks lasted two days, and before leaving, Albright presented the 5-foot-3 Kim a gift – an authentic NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. Accompanying Albright on the trip was Bob Carlin, who recently retired after three decades as the chief North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department...'

      Thayer's article, 2013 (as it stands right now):

      'In October 2000, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Pyongyang in the highest-level U.S. visit ever to the country. Albright, after two days of talks, presented the 5-foot-3 Kim Jong Il a gift – a NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. Bob Carlin, who was with Albright on the Pyongyang trip and for three decades a top North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department, said...'

      This is plagiarism. Quite simple. Thayer has clearly taken all the information in his passage from Zeigler's article: the date of the visit, that Albright was the first senior oficial to visit, how long the talks lasted, Kim Jong Il's height, the specifics of the gift, Carlin accompanying her on the visit, and the details of his career. He has slightly reworded Zeigler's material, but it's plain as day this is what he's done - it's even in the same order. The chances of this being coincidence are nil, because Thayer then quotes Carlin, and has cited Zeigler for that quote (now - he didn't until I asked him why he hadn't cited Zeigler). But he hasn't cited any of this, as well as a lot of other stuff in the article. So there's no chance of any other interpretation here. It's open and shut plagiarism.

  7. Get a life. Plagiarism doesn't matter anywhere near as much as everyone pretends it does. It's all information and it should all be free to use. Copying and pasting without attribution is, of course, not acceptable, but that's not what Nate Thayer did. Who cares if he summarized a passage from a 7-year old article? Does that change anything about the semantic content of the article? Writing is about communication, not following archaic intellectual property rules.

    Citations add credibility and represent "best practices" for web writing, but they really aren't always necessary or meaningful. In the cases you've highlighted here, they really would have added nothing to the piece or enhanced the well-being of the person who wrote it. So who gives a fuck other than disgruntled writers looking for somebody to blame for the fact that they can't make a living selling what others give away for free.

    1. Nothing more entertaining than someone going to the trouble of typing 'get a life' on the internet to others.

      And copy and pasting without attribution is precisely what he did.

    2. 1. So, 'plagiarism doesn't matter' yet 'copying and pasting without attribution is...not acceptable'. Got it.

      2. 'Information' is a broad term. There's a lot of information online (and in print) that is inaccurate or just plain untrue. Verification of source material is essential. Why? We'll have to discuss that later because a wealthy Nigerian official needs your help transferring $21,230,000...

      3. Summarizing an article, regardless of its age, still merits citation. Regurgitating another's ideas do not make them yours. Cite your shit.

      4. Jeremy Duns is protecting his livelihood. It's difficult to make a living off of writing. Just because you and I know how to post comments online, does not mean we're writers.

    3. You're totally missing the irony that Nate Thayer rages against plagiarism on his own blog and then blatantly commits it in another article. That's why this piece was written, not necessarily to "Defend Journalism Everywhere." And Nate Thayer isn't part of some Occupy Journalism movement that seeks to make all information free and uncitable and non-property, he's just a lazy journalist. So you're points are overly forceful and you obviously didn't read the full article and that makes me want to dismiss your views entirely.

    4. Also, read this little blurb from NPR's two way blog book news (it will explain things more clearly):

    5. Your premise that plagiarism doesn't matter completely bowled me over. Thayer, himself, understands the destructive nature of plagiarism because he mentions the threat of libel when confronted by Duns. Plagiarism is exactly the kind of baseness Thayer rails against in his diatribe of the Atlantic. Plagiarism, similarly to writing without pay, undermines the work of a writer. Your willingness to perpetuate this culture of haphazard writing is so utterly tragic that I have to wonder if your reading habits are a strict diet of blogs and online content.

  8. Something else that may also speak to the whole topic of writer "honesty": Thayer's beef with The Atlantic is that they didn't want to pay him for a new, shorter version of the piece. But how much did give him? Every indication is that the volunteer-run DC site has very limited resources. The drop to "unpaid" for The Atlantic may not be as harsh as he is making out (?)

  9. Interestingly, the whole idea of "disgruntled writers looking for somebody to blame for the fact they can't make a loving selling what others give away for free" was Nate Thayer was addressing when this all began. It shouldn't be given away for free. I don't ask my plumber to fix my toilet on spec and then decide if I'm going to pay for the job. Professionals should be paid for their work, whatever their work may be.

    Plagiarism does matter, whether it's in print or "web writing." It's intellectual property theft and the "everybody does it" argument isn't a defense.

    Certainly plagiarism shouldn't be tolerated or defended, nor should improper attribution/citation or however people choose to look at this issue, but does it negate the fact that Mr. Thayer did bring to the forefront a real issue of bad policy in journalism?

    The point he made in regard to The Atlantic asking an experienced writer to work for nothing is valid regardless of any concern of questionable ethics on his part. It would be a shame for that original point to get lost in the murkiness of all of this.

  10. I think his point was very valid indeed, and his plagiarism doesn't negate the point at all. Pay the writer. But pay the original writer. And don't plagiarize. It's not my fault that he was idiotic enough to do this, it's his. And I'm not going to ignore his plagiarism because he made an entirely separate and valid point about journalism.

    Let's walk and chew gum.

    1. I have no problem walking and chewing gum. ;) I wasn't implying that his point means his plagiarism should be ignored. I just meant it didn't invalidate it. Not his smartest move taking the stand of "pay the writer" with that article, that's for sure.

    2. No. Amazing, really. But we agree - his plagiarism doesn't mean writers shouldn't be paid for their work (provided it is in fact their work).

  11. What matters with plagiarism is that it is dishonest. Thayer claimed to interview people this week, yet the quotes are practically identical -- and "just happen" to be from the very same people -- as were interviewed for the 2006 article. Honesty in journalism is important, if we are going to trust it as anything more than creative fiction.

  12. Apply your principle to presidential history, say, and it falls apart. Once an official tells an anecdote to a writer, no later historian can interview the official without citing the first writer? Nonsense. The underlying facts do not belong to the writer.
    You've cited one clear example of missing attribution, and it's pretty obvious Thayer got the idea from Zeigler, which warrants more generous acknowledgement. That doesn't make Thayer a plagiarist.

    1. I suggest you read my article more closely, Jon. Zeigler's quote from Bob Carlin is *identical* to the one in Thayer's piece. It was not cited, and was presented as though Thayer had got the quote. Neither were these 68 words cited:

      'In October 2000, then Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Pyongyang in the highest-level U.S. visit ever to the country. Albright, after two days of talks, presented the 5-foot-3 Kim Jong Il a gift – a NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. Bob Carlin, who was with Albright on the Pyongyang trip and for three decades a top North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department, said...'

      They were plagiarized from Zeigler's piece:

      'President Clinton's administration began thawing relations in the late 1990s, and in October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the first senior-level U.S. government official to visit Kim in North Korea.

      Their talks lasted two days, and before leaving, Albright presented the 5-foot-3 Kim a gift – an authentic NBA basketball autographed by Michael Jordan.

      Accompanying Albright on the trip was Bob Carlin, who recently retired after three decades as the chief North Korea analyst for the CIA and State Department...'

      Zeigler also doctored the quote.

      This is very obvious plagiarism. There are many other examples - the Gene Schmiel quotes, for instance.

  13. It may not be plagiarism but, reading the two pieces side by side, it is certainly lazy writing, and certainly not reporting - more a mimic of Zeigler's work from seven years prior. Attributions or not, it's a clear sign that Thayer did no heavy-lifting in writing a piece with every identical source - Coyne, Ronzone, Schmiel, Carlin - that Zeigler used. Just plain lazy, let ye be so branded. The low point and the real tell has to be Thayer's use of the identical Santorum quote that Zeigler attributed in his 2006 piece to "a few years ago," with Thayer then noting this year that Santorum made the exact same statement "last year." Even if Santorum repeated, Thayer finds it relevant to reflect the exact same statement from the exact same person pulled out of nowhere. Loser.

    1. It's lazy, yes, but there's no maybe about it: this is plagiarism. Have a look at the Bob Carlin passage again - he just reproduced it whole, with no citation. That's the definition of plagiarism. And there are several other examples of it in the piece. The only way Gene Schmiel told Nate Thayer precisely the same things as Ziegler quoted in 2006 is if Schmiel read Thayer aloud what he'd written over seven years earlier.

      Take a close look at both articles. Take an hour. Read them like an editor. It's not just plagiarism, but brazen plagiarism: there are several lifts of large chunks of Zeigler's article. There's also fabrication, because Thayer claimed people said things to him they couldn't possibly have, like Schmiel saying whole sentences verbatim from an article he wrote (which Zeigler quoted). This isn't a case with any ambiguity to it: it is, if you like, a slam dunk for plagiarism. Any editor worth the name should have seen it - and will see it now if they take the time to look.

      Simply saying it isn't or might not be plagiarism isn't good enough. Look at the examples I've given. Read the pieces. It's incontrovertible.

  14. From Thayer (2013):

    "Ri Gun “then moved to the TV, turned it on and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball of the NBA basketball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Schmiel recalled in an interview this week."

    From Zeigler (2006):

    "Wrote Schmiel in an article posted on an American diplomatic Web site: “He then moved to the TV, turned it on, and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers."

    That "this week" is really problematic.

  15. Look at it this way, Jeff, maybe Nate Thayer literally hasn't been able
    to wrap his head around why a post that took him about 15 minutes to write on an irrelevant blog a few days ago has now gone viral to a few million people, and
    morphed into people accusing him of the most egregious of ethical
    journalistic errors -- plagiarism. Ouch. There is not a scintilla of truth to the
    charge, which if one of these bloggers had bothered to actually call him or
    email him and ask him before writing it, would be easily shown to be pure 100%
    BS. But that would have made a nonstory into a nonstory --- so they
    chose to go with it to meet their deadline, having no interest that it
    would permanently smear the reputation of someone who has spent 30 years
    pursuing his beloved profession.

    At the end, once someone actually does the leg work and asks, it is easily
    shown that Thayer has never plagiarized a single word in his entire career.
    Unfortunately, that will be too late to salvage his reputation, which has
    now been permanently damaged. One hopes they are enjoying their expense
    account after so-called work drinks. But you can bet that Nate will make sure
    these people will be shown to be wrong. Not that anyone gives a damn.

    #4 Posted by danny bloom, CJR on Fri 8 Mar 2013 at 11:47 PM

    1. "Once someone actually does the leg work and asks, it is easily
      shown that Thayer has never plagiarized a single word in his entire career."

      Really? - I see -
      please forewarn the world not to employ you in any job that requires avoidance of dumb exaggerations for effect, (are you Thayer's dad?)
      ...nor any writing role that requires researching the name of who it is you are talking to... Dave,

    2. "At the end, once someone actually does the leg work and asks, it is easily
      shown that Thayer has never plagiarized a single word in his entire career."

      proving a negative is simple for the energetic person who attaches themselves to a writer from their birth you say, Dave... mmmmm

      NB. Blog site:
      not "unknown" BTW - at least not as in "The unknown writer" -
      but sign in could do with some work so email address or Twitter name can be used -

  16. Jeremy, or all.
    I think you are right on by definition. The intent and "mistake" parts we can argue over forever.

    My wife teaches high school English. When students submit a paper they have to upload the paper to a site called "" where it is checked for plagiarism and the student is then told that the paper has uncited work or is OK to turn in.

    I would be interested to see if his article - as first posted - would pass muster on this site. I would think that this would be something that every publication would run on every submission - at least initially.

    I applaud you taking this on - it will not be good for you because laziness is the nature of our "beastness." We are called to more.

  17. Quite apart from the issue of its source, the timing Thayer gives for the Santorum quote can't be right. If Santorum said that "last year", i.e. 2012, he wouldn't have been referring to someone who "doesn't want to die"- Kim Jong-Il was already gone, having expired in December 2011.

  18. It is astonishing to me how many people in this comment section don't understand what plagiarism is. I'm a freelance writer and it concerns me that someone could lift my words like this and so many misguided individuals would be like, "So?"

  19. The definition of plagiarism is well established. It is representing someone else's work as your own. "Work" means just that -- research, ideas, art -- not just the writing. Say a person reads one book, then writes another book based on it. The new book cites the original sources of quotes and data and never mentions that it is rehash of another person's research. So an entire book of research and ideas are not attributed to the first author. That is unequivocal plagiarism, even if not one phrase is used word-for-word. It is why Alan Dershowitz is a liar and plagiarist for his book _The Case for Israel_. This is not nitpicking, it is the difference between honorable and dishonorable, liar or truth teller.

    Lotta cheaters in this thread making excuses.

  20. Bravo! It is shocking to read some of the comments here, but refreshing to read your excellent work. Thank you , from someone else who cares and thinks this is critically important.

  21. Bravo for an outstanding piece!

  22. The losers in here trying to defend an obvious plagiarist are pathetic. You are the same people who need absolute proof and forget about common sense. Were some of you on the Casey Anthony jury by any chance? It's the CSI effect. If it's not 100 percent spelled out for you, your brain can't function and figure out something that's completely obvious to normally-functioning human beings.

    Thayer is an OBVIOUS plagiarist. Keep arguing otherwise. You're providing excellent unintentional comedy for the rest of us. Great job Duns! I just gave you props on Twitter (and I have more followers than even you my friend ... ha ... but seriously it will help get word out about your fine work even more).

    Also, the cherry on top in this entire situation is Thayer had the balls to go off about how someone had the audacity to ask him to re-print a slimmed-down version of a story that HE plagiarized. You can't make this stuff up! (Well, Thayer probably could. His imagination seems that vivid. Is he good friends with Jonah Lehrer and Jayson Blair?)