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Editorial: MAXIMum Protection?

Thu 20 Oct 2005 In: Comment

There's no doubt that several of New Zealand's major newspapers have been caught with egg on their face following revelations that anti-gay Maxim director Bruce Logan has been stealing huge portions of his guest editorials from overseas sources without attribution. But how quick have those papers been to pick up a cloth and wipe that egg off? Christchurch newspaper The Press, already caught with its pants down by the plagiarising actions of its columnist Alexis Stuart (daughter of Logan), was unequivocally clear that Maxim's actions were damaging not only for itself, but potentially for any media organisation whose pages their poison pen touched. Within the copy of the Press's take on the affair, “Maxim Institute boss says sorry”, Press editor Paul Thompson even saw fit to comment that Logan's actions had possibly destroyed Maxim's reputation as a credible commentator. "I suspect few editors would now touch them with a barge pole," he said. "While this looks like an extreme example of what can go wrong, it does show how vulnerable newspapers are to this type of bad faith from contributing writers. It is no longer enough for newspapers to accept that their material is sound. Our checking systems will need to be vastly improved." Over at the Herald, readers get no such assurances. In comparison to the Press article, the Herald's piece “Copied quotes backfire on think tank” comes across almost as a damage control exercise for Maxim. Logan does not apologise, and neither does the newspaper. Logan is merely “embarrassed”, and the extent of his plagiarised work is minimised. "I have a habit of writing things down and forgetting where I get them from and there is so much I write in a run ... it's a bad habit,” Logan comments nonchalantly. To cap things off, Logan even gets space to hit back at the Rationalists, whose online publication “The Fundy Post” exposed the extent of Logan's nicking in the first place. The website article's tone was designed to "make us look as silly as possible...The Fundy Post says we are a fundamentalist organisation but we are not at all,” Logan says. Of course not. And the Herald even corrects any of its readers who might be thinking so by reciting the Maxim mantra in the following sentence: “The institute is a social research and policy think-tank, and Mr Logan said he still had ‘plenty to say', though would be more careful about naming his sources.” Compare this to the Press, who report that even Maxim themselves have been clearly rocked by the revelations of Logan's ideological kleptomania. Managing director Greg Fleming reveals that Logan had to explain himself to the board of directors, who could not excuse his actions. The article ends by saying Logan will be “taking time off from his Maxim duties and having a rest”. None of this is in the Herald. Yesterday, we wrote to Herald editor Tim Murphy for comment on the Logan affair, seeing as Logan's plagiarism had occurred three times within its pages in the last year. We asked whether the Herald would be printing an apology, as the Press had done. We asked whether the Herald would be accepting any future material from Maxim, and what policies have been put in place to assure readers that situations like this will not recur. To quote Billy Connolly, we have received the centre of a donut in reply. Nothing. It's a strange affair, seeing as Mr Murphy was very quick to apologise when one of his staff writers was caught nicking material in August last year. When it was revealed that 25-year-old Herald reporter Renee Kiriona had “done a Logan” and lifted a profile of former league star Tawera Nikau from the Waikato Times and incorporated it into an article of her own, the Herald printed no less than three apologies for its mistake. Mr Murphy described the affair to the National Business Review as a “ghastly” matter which was being treated as a grave breach of editorial standards – the worst of its kind he had encountered during his time as editor. Feeling “devastated”, Mr Murphy told the paper the Herald “would move swiftly to put in place greater checks and balances against any possible reoccurrence”. He promised that spot checks for borrowed phraseology would occur in future. And this was just a lifestyle piece in the Weekend Herald's “Canvas” magazine, written by a young writer fresh out of journalism school. Logan sells himself to newspapers with a bio that claims he is “held in high regard for his thought provoking, well-researched commentary on social and philosophical issues confronting New Zealand”, and when the Herald discovers he has misled them and their readership on multiple occasions with this “well-researched commentary”, it warrants only a brief article buried on page A13. The Press carried the story as front page news. It is intriguing also to note that of the three examples of plagiarism recorded by “The Fundy Post” in Logan's Herald columns, the Herald article covering the scandal only mentions two. The one they left out? An anti-gay rant about the United Nations that Logan stole from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing back to the stone age think-tank based in the United States. Why is Maxim being protected by the Herald? One Herald reader who emailed Murphy yesterday about the plagiarism scandal forwarded us a response they received which sounded almost disinterested. When this reader sent Murphy a link to “The Fundy Post” and asked for his thoughts on it, Murphy replied by saying if he responded to every similar request from those “who expressed interest in my comments on something on an internet site I would very likely get nothing else done in my day.” It seems clear that whatever Mr Murphy does do with his day, it doesn't involve checking on the originality of his sources for guest editorials, which the paper now charges for as “premium content” on its website. It seems paying customers deserve no assurances that this “premium content” is original, and commentators around the world should now start paying careful attention to the Herald's pages: you may find yourselves being unwittingly syndicated, without pay and without attribution. Chris Banks - 20th October 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Thursday, 20th October 2005 - 12:00pm

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