March 18, 2010

Bestselling author openly admits to plagiarism … again


Gerald Posner

Gerald Posner

Now it can be told: Bestselling author Gerald Posner stepped down from his position last month as “chief investigative reporter” of The Daily Beast after a Jack Shafer report for Slate accused him of plagiarizing stories from the Miami Herald about a Mob trial in Miami. As Shafer noted, Posner

… didn’t make any excuses, either. And he made no effort to escape the P-word, which writers caught stealing copy usually do.

Stating that he was “horrified” at what he did, Posner agreed that it constitutes plagiarism. But he couldn’t figure out how he did it.

He said he had no memory of having seen the Herald story, describing himself as “absolutely sure” he did not see it before sending his own story to Beast editors. But that memory must be wrong, he said, because the similarities between the two pieces are too great, and the Herald‘s story was posted before he e-mailed his to his editors at 2:03 a.m. on Feb. 2.

“I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied.” He regards the subtle differences between his copy and the Herald‘s as evidence of him “doing the rewrite” of what he thought was his copy.

Now, in an Associated Press wire story by Hillel Italie, Posner — author of the acclaimed book Case Closed, on the Kennedy assasination — admits just as bluntly to further plagiarism in his newest book, Miami Babylon, about the history of mob activity in Miami.

According to Italie,

Posner said he scanned many documents and books he used for “Babylon,” including from “Clubland,” into a computer database instead of working with the documents all in front of him, as he had done in previous books. Since the book took years to write, he said he should have marked the passages from other sources much better, so that when he went back to work on the chapters, he would be certain which were his words and which were others.

Some of the passages are similar but not identical because he edited them, he said.

As Posner himself says, “If you use something from another book, a statement from another book, it needs to be in quotations, or if you take something and put it in your own syntax and grammar, you still need to cite it.” He also tells Italie, “There is no worse word than the ‘p’ word — plagiarism …. It conjures up the worst elements of the business.”

A statement from the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, says, “We are reviewing the situation and discussing the issues with the author.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.