Politico plagiarism: Too much sympathy?

Some commenters have responded unkindly to this blog’s reporting on the Kendra Marr episode at Politico. Last Friday, the Erik Wemple Blog argued that Marr’s plagiarism case may well speak to problems with how Politico, a highly successful news operation, recruits and deploys young people. An excerpt:

[W]hen you combine Politico Pro’s pressure for originality with Politico Regular’s factory conditions, you get a force powerful enough to corrupt an otherwise good journalist. As The Post’s Paul Farhi reported this afternoon, a Politico co-worker said Marr “felt ‘extreme pressure’ to get up to speed.”

Those words and others like them struck several people as too indulgent of Marr, too willing to excuse the inexcusable. Post commenter Parker1227 wrote in response to that posting:

Poor thing was forced to steal other reporters’ hard work. And she was too lazy to even take the time to paraphrase so she wouldn’t get caught.

That makes her dishonest and stupid in my book.

Yet everyone keeps making excuses for her.

Another commenter, aoli, wrote:

The so-called sweet, industrious and earnest Marr, who is apparently “dedicated to journalism,” has no excuse for plagiarizing. If she couldn’t keep up with Politico’s “go-go newsgathering culture,” which she apparently could not, it was up to her to say something or alert her editors to the fact that she was not up to the task. I don’t care how overwhelmed she was by the transportation beat, the “twenty-something whippersnapper” should have known better than to simply use other reporters’ work without attributing it. I refuse to believe Marr was corrupted by Politico’s “factory conditions” and “pressure for originality” — I want proof that she hasn’t been plagiarizing throughout her entire career, both at Politico and when she was at the Post.

So do I. Toward that end, the Erik Wemple Blogger renewed efforts to check on the results of the Post’s inquiry into the matter. No reply just yet.

But sure — call me a softie for writing a piece that explores the scandal from the viewpoint of its perpetrator. Guilty. I’ve reached out via e-mail and phone several times to get Marr’s side of the story, and I am still hoping to interview her. If that effort produces more plagiarist sympathy, then sorry about that.

Sometimes reporting has that effect. The more you understand about a certain situation, the better you can explain it. Explanation, in turn, often reveals that fallible people end up making big mistakes that cost them a job, or even a career.

The quest for more information on how this came to pass will never excuse the behavior. There’ll be no exonerating Kendra Marr. Her work borrowed unethically from the work of others. No crediting, no linking, no quoting — not only does that enrage other journalists but it short-changes readers as well.

Yet finding out just what happened and why it happened might tell us all how to keep it from happening again. The facile approach is to stand at a distance, condemning and vilifying and frothing.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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