Critics of Salon's ongoing series on right-wing activities have been questioning the magazine's credibility recently based on the fact that Salon's current Washington correspondent Jonathan Broder admitted to plagiarizing and resigned from the Chicago Tribune 10 years ago.
On May 11, Philip Terzian reported in the Weekly Standard that Broder resigned from his job as Middle East correspondent at the Tribune for plagiarizing "a number of sentences and phrases" from an article by Jerusalem Post reporter Joel Greenberg.
Terzian, calling Broder a "serial plagiarist," criticized other media for not bringing up the case when interviewing Broder about his recent string of work, which has included: the original bombshell about Arkansas Project payments to David Hale, a portrait of Arkansas Project point man Parker Dozhier, and three articles about the internal conflicts and ethical concerns at The American Spectator.
Broder and Salon Editor and CEO David Talbot said the criticism was a partisan smear job dredging up a regrettable and isolated past incident.
"Ten years ago, I made a mistake," Broder said, reading from a prepared statement. "There is no excuse for what I did, and I'm deeply sorry. It has never happened since, nor will it, I can assure you. But it seems to me that these accusations are not about something that occurred back in 1988. This is about people who now regard me as their political enemy, resurrecting the past to discredit me and my work in 1998.
"Believe me, I'm still sick about what happened. A day doesn't go by that I don't relive it and kick myself in the ass for having been so careless. But I paid for it, and I'm not going to pay for it twice. I'm going to keep working, and if these people keep throwing the past at me, I will take it as a sign that I'm doing my job right," Broder said. "I won't say it's not painful to be reminded of what happened, even 10 years later, but that's my cross to bear."
Talbot said he and former Salon Managing Editor Andrew Ross knew about Broder's history from the days when they all worked at the San Francisco Examiner.
"It was the feelings of the editors at the Examiner... that John had paid for his sins," Talbot said. "You shouldn't do it, it shouldn't be condoned, but it also shouldn't force you out of journalism for the rest of your life."
Terzian hammered Broder for calling Robert Novak "dishonest and politically malevolent," in an April 24 Washington Post article. "I wouldn't call him a journalist," Broder told reporter Howard Kurtz, who himself knew about Broder's past but chose not to mention it. Broder later said he was "sorry I made that remark" about Novak.
Broder's initial offense, made in the Tribune on Feb. 22, 1988, can be found in two descriptive paragraphs about the West Bank that were nearly identical to those in a previous story by Greenberg in the Jerusalem Post.
"The facts in the Tribune story, which included substantial original material, were accurate," the paper announced at the time. "The language taken from the Jerusalem Post column constitutes only a fraction of the total story and contributed significantly only to organization and imagery. But the byline inaccurately implied that it was all Mr. Broder's work."
Tribune editor James Squires said at the time that the incident "deprived us of one of the premier foreign correspondents in the country," but that Broder was "obsessed by the story, wouldn't take any help. He was suffering from the physical fatigue and trauma of watching that story. It's so sad."
In a second incident, Broder also admitted to plagarazing in 1981, when he lifted portions of a previous Newsweek article for a profile on Libyan ruler Mohammar Kadaffi. The Tribune was alerted to the problem by none other than Philip Terzian, who saw it come over the wire, forcing the paper to withdraw it.
But a third Weekly Standard charge is completely bogus, Broder said. On May 18, the Standard published a letter from Middle East Quarterly Editor and Standard Contributor Daniel Pipes alleging that Broder, using the pseudonym Nolan Strong, lifted "many pieces of information" from a Pipes book in a Dec. 12, 1991, article in the Jerusalem Report.
"[I] got a call from none other than Mr. Jonathan Broder, during the course of which he explained that he was 'Nolan Strong' and then offered an excuse about being rushed by a deadline and somehow omitting to credit my story," Pipes wrote. "Mr. Broder, in other words, doesn't just plagiarize in his own name but does so pseudonymously as well."
Jerusalem Report Editor in Chief Hersh Goodman denied the allegations in a letter to the Standard, and explained that the use of pseudonyms is common when reporters for Israeli newspapers file from hostile countries like Syria and Libya.
"I never, ever said to him that it was an oversight and that I omitted crediting his story," Broder said. "That's just fantasy."
Having his past dredged up has been painful, Broder said, but he takes it to be a sign that his current articles are hitting home.
"This is highly political," he said. "Why is this coming up now? The attempt to discredit me is at best ill-informed, and I suspect at worst mean-spirited."
Salon Editor David Talbot said he has no doubts about Broder's credibility.
"He did admittedly plagiarize a story while at the Chicago Tribune, and he was promptly fired for that," Talbot said. "And that's the penalty you have to pay as a journalist. Later, after paying for his misdeed, he really fought back, you know, and rehabilitated himself as a journalist. My feeling is that this is not a case like Stephen Glass, or Janet Cooke, or Patricia Smith, of someone chronically making up stories."
The Standard's Philip Terzian was not so forgiving.
"There is no more despicable action by a writer than stealing someone else's words and, when caught, offering lame excuses for the deed," Terzian wrote. "And yet plagiarists -- Molly Ivins, Ruth Shalit, Nina Totenberg, Jonathan Broder -- seem to go from strength to strength, unbowed by anything like shame, honored and protected by their colleagues."
Former Tribune editor Squires, in a letter to the Standard, argued that Broder never got anything wrong, unlike the Standard's Terzian, who he called a "political attack dog" and a "whining, self-righteous critic."
Talbot said he saw no reason to disclose Broder's past on the Salon site.
"Does someone have to go around the rest of his life with a scarlet 'P' on his forehead?" he said. "I don't think it's necessary."
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