July 30, 2014

FishBowlNY spotted some similarities between a Wikipedia entry for Italian Renaissance painter Piero di Cosimo and a passage in a July 24 item by New York Times reporter Carol Vogel.

The Wikipedia entry says:

During his lifetime, Cosimo acquired a reputation for eccentricity — a reputation enhanced and exaggerated by later commentators such as Giorgio Vasari, who included a biography of Piero di Cosimo in his Lives of the Artists. Reportedly, he was frightened of thunderstorms, and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food; he lived largely on hard-boiled eggs, which he prepared 50 at a time while boiling glue for his artworks. He also resisted any cleaning of his studio, or trimming of the fruit trees of his orchard; he lived, wrote Vasari, “more like a beast than a man”.

The Times item says:

Artists can be eccentric, but the quirks of the Italian Renaissance master Piero di Cosimo are legendary. He is said to have been terrified of thunderstorms and so pyrophobic that he rarely cooked his food, subsisting mostly on hard-boiled eggs that he prepared 50 at a time while heating glue for his art. He didn’t clean his studio. He didn’t trim the trees in his orchard. Giorgio Vasari, the Renaissance biographer, described Piero as living “more like a beast than a man.”

In a column today, New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan quotes Philip Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, as follows: “We are aware and we are looking into it.” Last week, BuzzFeed fired staffer Benny Johnson over 41 instances of misappropriation.

Such is the proper response to any allegation of plagiarism, simply because the slightest indication of illicit borrowing must trigger an exhaustive review of the reporter’s oeuvre. Plagiarists have a tendency, after all, to act serially.

Vogel has been with the New York Times since 1983, and she declined to comment for Sullivan’s item.

As for the debate, inspired by a Gene Weingarten column, over “real plagiarism” — i.e., stealing authentic and creative writing with “intrinsic value” — versus lesser offenses involving “boilerplate” arrangements of fact, Sullivan writes:

It’s pretty simple, at BuzzFeed or at The New York Times: Write your own stuff; when you can’t or won’t, make sure you attribute and link. Use multiple sources; compare, contrast, verify.

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