On Tuesday, The Washington Post published an extensive editor’s note to address passages that were “largely duplicated” from stories on the website of Government Executive. The note on page A2 of the print edition cites three stories — from Aug. 17, Jan. 6 and Jan. 7 — that violated the policy of The Post that the “use of material from other news organizations or sources must be properly attributed,” according to the note itself. The offending stories appeared in the paper’s Federal Eye blog.
More: “The articles contained eight sentences or paragraphs that were taken, verbatim or very nearly so, from Government Executive. In several other instances, the reporter who wrote these stories failed to credit Government Executive for being the first to bring newsworthy information to light.”
Here is one example of the overlap:
Government Executive, Jan. 6: “After Government Screw-Up, Contractor Will Resume Control of Army Child Care Program”:
The Army apologized for poorly managing the initial transition from CCAoA to GSA in 2014, and failing to do its due diligence to ensure GSA could handle the increased workload and administration of the program. “We deeply regret the hardships and inconvenience we caused our families and are doing everything possible to regain their confidence and ensure mission readiness for our families,” said Stephanie Hoehne, director of family and morale, welfare and recreation at the Army Installation Management Command.
Washington Post, Jan. 7:
The Army apologized for poorly managing the initial transition and failing to ensure that the GSA could handle the increased workload and administration of the program. “We deeply regret the hardships and inconvenience we caused our families and are doing everything possible to regain their confidence and ensure mission readiness for our families,” Stephanie Hoehne, director of family and morale, welfare and recreation at the Army Installation Management Command, told lawmakers.
Another example from the same story:
Under the current program, child care providers send monthly invoices to GSA for each child, and the agency pays its portion of the bill when it verifies the information it receives from applicants and providers. Families have to pay all child care costs up front while waiting for GSA approval.
The program worked this way: Child-care providers send monthly invoices to the GSA for each child, and the agency pays its part of the cost once it verifies the information it receives from families and providers. Families have to pay all child-care costs up front while they wait for approval.
In addition to publishing the editor’s note, similar notes are now affixed to the offending articles, which were written by Post veteran Lisa Rein. In a statement sent to the Erik Wemple Blog, Rein said, “These were inadvertent lapses made in haste, and they fall short of the standards I have always set for myself. I feel terrible about this, and am committed to seeing that it is never repeated. My apologies to GovExec and to my readers.”
Washington Post Managing Editor Cameron Barr told this blog that Government Executive brought the situation to the attention of The Post in early January. Asked whether the newspaper is doing a full vetting of Rein’s body of work, Barr responded, “We did what we do in these situations; and that’s to try to be thorough and act quickly and to be transparent as we can possibly be with our readers.” Barr didn’t comment on any disciplinary measures against Rein.
Katherine McIntire Peters, deputy editor of Government Executive Media Group, sent a Jan. 8 e-mail to The Post taking issue not only with writing overlaps, but also with a broader issue of crediting. Here is an excerpt from that email, which a spokesman for Atlantic Media shared with the Erik Wemple Blog:
I’d like to point out what appears to be a pattern of improper appropriation of Government Executive’s news coverage by Lisa Rein. While we recognize that there is bound to be some overlap in reporting on federal agencies, the frequent similarities in Ms. Rein’s stories seems to us more than coincidental.
The most recent example was her story Jan. 6, “Hundreds of new federal jobs will be created for Obama’s new gun-control plan.” It is very similar in language and structure to the story we published Jan. 5, “Obama wants to hire hundreds more FBI, ATF staff.” The similarities might not be hugely concerning under the circumstances of a big news story, except that the last paragraph in Ms. Rein’s story is identical to the last paragraph in our story of the previous day.
There are many other examples where a similar Post story by Rein appears a day or two after our own story, so it’s not a question of two reporters simultaneously coming to the same conclusions about how to cover a news story. Some of these are enterprising stories where your reporter should have credited Government Executive with first reporting the information.
For example, on Sept. 2, we published “Obama Gives New Role to Federal Agency Once Deemed Useless by Its Own IG.” Two days later, on Sept. 4, Ms. Rein’s story taking the same enterprising angle appeared in the Post: “This tiny agency’s own watchdog said it should be deep-sixed. Now, it’s helping to save Alaska from climate change.”
Here are three other recent examples where her stories took the same unique angle without crediting Government Executive:
On Aug. 13, GovExec published “One Public Housing Family In New York City Had An Annual Income of Nearly $500,000 in 2013”
On Aug. 17, the Post published “A family in public housing makes $498,000 a year. And HUD wants tenants like this to stay” [Post story includes nearly identical language in places]
On Aug. 18, GovExec reported: “Mail Delays Spike After the Postal Service Consolidates Facilities”
On Aug. 26 the Post published: “Post Office can’t even meet its own lower standards as late mail soars”
On Sept. 23, GovExec published “Facing Renewed Threat, 20,000 Feds Are Still Suing Government Over Last Shutdown”
On Sept. 25, the Post published “As the government barrels toward another shutdown, thousands of federal workers say they weren’t fairly compensated for the last one”
Government Executive has issued this statement: “We appreciate that the Washington Post’s editors have acknowledged ‘serious lapses’ in judgment and systematic misappropriation of Government Executive’s work. We believe that a pattern of plagiarism should be treated very seriously. We take great pride in the original reporting produced by our staff.”