So why did a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a woman known for her diligence with sources, her line-by-line fact checking, do this?
In an interview, Horwitz asked not to be quoted except for what she wrote in her apology. She was contrite and did not make excuses. A Tucson native, she cares about her home town and the Giffords story, and she volunteered to leave the investigative unit to be the lone Post reporter doing follow-up stories there.
According to Post colleagues, Horwitz was under deadline pressure to file for The Post’s Web site, rushing to write between two other scheduled interviews for a longer story. And she had been helping her mother, who still lives in Tucson, with some difficult health issues.
Scott Higham, her collaborator on several investigative pieces for The Post, including one that won a Pulitzer, said that Horwitz’s conduct was completely out of character. “Sari is an astonishing reporter, meticulous, relentless, conscientious, the most ethical person that I know. This is a complete aberration.”
The underlying theme here is the pressure that today’s minute-by-minute, Web-driven, do-more-with-less news culture puts on reporters and editors. The financial and competitive pressures are so intense that journalists are always looking over their shoulders, reading the competition obsessively. This leaves too little time for reflection, for standing back and asking what is really worth writing and what isn’t.
“We’re in a cut-and-paste world right now,” said Higham. “News is breaking every second. It’s a good lesson for all of us to take a deep breath, assess the situation and slow down a little bit.”
A Post reader, a local schoolteacher, called last week to comment on Horwitz’s mistake. Teaching her students about plagiarism, she said, has become her hardest task of the year because they are so accustomed to lifting information off the Internet with no attribution. She often uses The Post as a model for how to do it right. Her job just got harder.
Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at email@example.com.