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Juan Williams plagiarism case and the plight of the researcher

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Salon has busted Fox News contributor Juan Williams. It spotted a column that Williams had written for the Hill, titled “Dispensing with a new ‘dagger’ against immigration reform.” Published on Feb. 18, the piece dismissed the notion that the U.S. border with Mexico is porous and that illegal immigrants are just marching into the country.

And it dismissed that notion with some rather unoriginal writing. Have a look at what the Center for American Progress (CAP) wrote on the topic, versus what appeared in Williams’s column.

The Center for American Progress:

According to the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants will add a net of $611 billion to the Social Security system over the next 75 years. Immigrants are a key driver of keeping the Social Security Trust Fund solvent, and Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy finds that cutting off immigration to the country would increase the size of the Social Security deficit by 31 percent over 50 years.

And Williams, in the original version of his column, which Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald found in a Google cache search:

According to the independent National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), immigrants will contribute $611 billion to the Social Security system over the next 75 years. Indeed, immigrants are a key force in keeping the Social Security trust fund solvent for older Americans who are at or near retirement. NFAP also found that halting all immigration into the United Size [sic] would explode the size of the Social Security deficit by at least 31 percent over 50 years.

Seitz-Wald uncovered other, very worrisome liftings by Williams.

The Hill’s response was to affix a note to the bottom of the column, stating that it “was revised on March 2, 2013, to include previously-omitted attribution to the Center for American Progress.

Hugo Gurdon, editor in chief of the Hill, told Salon, “All parties — CAP, The Hill, and Juan — were satisfied that we had not dramatically changed the column after the fact to conceal what had happened.”

Count the Erik Wemple Blog on the list of unsatisfied parties. The nature of the infractions plus the stingy disclosure in the italicized text make clear that the Hill was looking to stifle this story about a prominent TV personality. A better italicized footer would have declared: “This column was revised on March 2, 2013, to clean up and attribute passages that were purloined, robbed, stripped, and taken without any trace of credit from the Center for American Progress.”

In a noon interview, Gurdon told the Erik Wemple Blog that he was pleased with the level of disclosure in the note: “What we did was we deliberately did not change the article, as it were, to conceal what had been there in the original,” says Gurdon. Following the discovery of the problems, the publication investigated Williams’s archive and found it to be clean. “There’s nothing to suggest that this was other than an isolated incident,” says Gurdon.

Nor is it an isolated incident when a prominent person blames the help for some misdeed. Williams’s addition to this genre, as delivered to Salon:

I was writing a column about the immigration debate and had my researcher look around to see what data existed to pump up this argument and he sent back what I thought were his words and summaries of the data. I had never seen the CAP report myself, so I didn’t know that the young man had in fact not summarized the data but had taken some of the language from the CAP report.

So what Williams is saying here is that he lifted his researcher’s words. Why, then, wasn’t the researcher credited in the piece? When asked about that matter, Gurdon replied, “I’m not sure that researchers always do get credit.”

They should. The only time they rear their heads should not be when they allegedly screw up.