After Globe & Mail resident plagiarist Margaret Wente returned to work this week following a brief hiatus to lick her wounds after plagiarism allegations from blogger Media Culpa went viral, the National Post waded into the fray yet again, this time via Jonathan Kay. Kay provides a superb and scathing review of the aftermath of the plagiarism affair, calling Wente guilty of a “delusional stupor” and dismissing the bizarre management response — first denial, then a “secret” and unspecified punishment — as “creepy and Soviet.”
But then Kay comes back to what has been all too common in the media coverage, and something that Wente basically replicated in her latest “apology”:
It seemed to be a sloppy copy-and-paste notes-to-column exercise gone awry… But it wasn’t a firing offence (although I will concede that it wasn’t an entirely isolated incident). And it would have passed relatively quickly, I think, if Wente had addressed it in simple, contrite terms, as she belatedly did today.
But that’s the problem: she hasn’t. Wente issued a vague apology for one or more incidents in which she made unspecified “mistakes.” But how can we accept such an apology when we don’t know which incidents she’s apologizing for? Just the one? All of them? The ones we’re not aware of yet? It’s simply not good enough, especially because Kay himself acknowledges that it “wasn’t an entirely isolated incident” (whatever that means — a plagiarism incident can be either isolated, or not isolated; it’s not partially isolated).
To show you what I mean, let’s take as an example this apology, which I hereby offer to all of my readers and to everyone that I know (the ones who read this blog, anyways):
I, Sixth Estate, apologize for some occasions on which I caused offence, did something wrong, or failed to do something I should have done.
Now, is it reasonable to accept this apology? Without even knowing what it’s referring to? To know for sure that the incident you were upset about is included in the above? Without knowing whether are other incidents, of which you are still unaware, which are magically covered by this blanket apology? Especially since nobody at the Globe that I am aware of has yet owned up to the charge of plagiarism, i.e. that Wente repeatedly took not just some ideas but virtually entire sentences from other writers, without quotation markets or even (in many cases) proper attribution? I’m sorry, but we’re past this point now.
To demonstrate why another vague apology for various errors simply isn’t enough, it’s time to turn to yet another instance of apparent plagiarism by Wente, once again to my knowledge heretofore undocumented. This one comes from a typically smug column from 2011 in which the woman laments that even high-skilled professional jobs, like law and accounting, are now being outsourced to Asia through the magic of the Internet. And she lists several intriguing examples of what she means. I wonder where she got it from?
For instance, she writes that:
Last November, Thomson Reuters, one of the biggest information companies in the world, bought Pangea3, a legal-process outsourcing firm with most of its lawyers in India.
Wente’s source for this might well have been the Chicago Tribune, which previously wrote the following, although of course they could both have a common source:
Thomson Reuters, a media and information-services company, bought Pangea3, a legal-process outsourcing firm with most of its lawyers in India, in November.
Here’s what Wente immediately follows that up with:
These lawyers do the grunt work traditionally assigned to junior lawyers in North America — document review, due diligence and contract management. Prestigious North American law firms charge $300 an hour for this kind of work. Lawyers in India charge $30 an hour. These services have been slow to catch on. But now the toothpaste is out of the tube, and revenue at India’s legal outsourcing firms is soaring.
Got it? Now, here’s a New York Times piece from the previous year, which, entirely by coincidence, is also discussing outsourcing to Pangea3, and also describes it using that very metaphor. I guess it’s just a common one where legal outsourcing is concerned, right?
A team of Indian lawyers who do the grunt work traditionally assigned to young lawyers in the United States… document review, due diligence, contract management and more… “I think the toothpaste is out of the tube,” said Mark Ford.
The Times doesn’t give Wente’s pay figures (and I can’t find any source for them), but it does say that “outsourcing firms charge from one-tenth… what a Western law firm bills an hour.”
Later, Wente moves to a discussion of Sri Lanka, evidently another outsourcing hotspot. Again she provides no source for this information. Maybe she went to Sri Lanka herself on a research trip:
In Sri Lanka, best known for its bloody civil war, accountants are doing financial work for some of the world’s biggest companies. And it’s not just payroll and bookkeeping — they’re doing things such as derivatives pricing and risk management for hedge funds. English is widespread, and the literacy rate is more than 90 per cent. The average annual wage for a Sri Lankan accountant is $5,900.
Once again the New York Times scooped Wente on this story, and used her own words, to boot!
As this tiny island nation staggers back from a bloody, deacdes-long civil war… Offices in Sri Lanka are doing financial work for some of the world’s biggest companies, including the international bank HSBC and the insurer Aviva. And it is not simply payroll and bookkeeping. The outsourced work includes derivatives pricing and risk management for money managers and hedge funds… With widespread use of English and a literacy rate over 90 percent… Sri Lankan workers in the accounting profession receive an average annual pay package of $5,900.
I’m glad we have Wente in Canada to import news from the New York Times for us. I don’t know how Canadians would ever be able to read the Grey Lady, if we didn’t have an intermediary for us at the Globe & Mail.Tweet