Monthly Archives: June 2014

Another Media Plagiarist (Or, Why I Wish I Were—But Probably Shouldn’t Be—Surprised By Chris Hedges)

Journalist (and accused plagiarist) Chris Hedges

Journalist (and accused plagiarist) Chris Hedges

For the past several years I’ve been teaching various journalism courses at Rowan University. One of them is called Media Ethics. In addition to touching on a whole host of interesting matters pertaining to, well, ethics and the media (and getting to dig into the likes of Aristotle and Immanuel Kant) we also spend several weeks looking into some of the most infamous plagiarists and fabulists in modern journalism. We watch the film Shattered Glass (and read the namesake Vanity Fair article that inspired it), marveling at the brazen and perplexing neuroses of Stephen Glass. We read through old articles written by Jayson Blair and shake our heads at the tragedy of a young man who traded laziness for opportunity and potential. And we critique the actions of Janet Cooke, a former Washington Post star reporter who won the Pulitzer for an article that was—for the most part—an elaborate fabrication. It’s always one of the most interesting and engaging units of the semester, and at the end of it I always ask my students two overarching questions: Why did they do it? and Will it happen again?

As one would assume, answers to the first question are varied and nuanced. My students point to factors that run the gamut from laziness to a veritable addiction to the rush one might get from creating such elaborate fictions and passing them off as fact. And always their critiques are delivered with past-tense derision, which inevitably steers the discussion toward question number two: Will it happen again?

With the exception of one or two outliers, the resounding response to this question is no. How could it, they seem to say. We now know the tricks these journalists used in the past, and anyone would be downright foolish to step into the waters of plagiarism and expect to come out unscathed in this day and age. I mean, if Google were around in the age of Glass or Cooke they would have been outed almost immediately. Right?

Fair enough. But after prodding my students a little further they eventually agree that, sure, maybe in some far distant future—once the likes of Glass and Blair and Cooke are long forgotten—just maybe someone will try this again.

And yet last year I returned to Rowan’s campus in the fall with a newly minted plagiarist on the syllabus. Jonah Lehrer, a science writer I had come to admire from both his work in Wired magazine and his regular appearances on WNYC’s RadioLab, was outed in 2012 as a serial plagiarist who had committed a whole host of ethical sins (detailed here in a comprehensive article from Slate.com). I have to admit, I was shocked to read about what Lehrer had done—not only because I respected his work but also because I think I naively harbored the same assumptions as my students. Sure, another plagiaristic journalist would eventually crop up…but only in the distant future. Right?

Wrong. Because here we go again.

Woefully, I must say I wasn’t all that shocked to find out just a few days ago that we have yet another plagiarist in our midst. According to a June 12, 2014 feature from the New Republic (how fitting), celebrated journalist and best-selling author Chris Hedges has been plagiarizing large chunks of his work for many years now. Everything came to a head when fact checkers at Harper’s began digging into a feature Hedges wrote for the magazine in 2010 about Camden, New Jersey. And what they found was most disturbing indeed. Here’s a passage from the New Republic feature:

The trouble began when [editor at Harper’s, Theodore] Ross passed the piece along to the fact-checker assigned to the story. As Ross and the fact-checker began working through the material, they discovered that sections of Hedges’s draft appeared to have been lifted directly from the work of a PhiladelphiaInquirer reporter named Matt Katz, who in 2009 had published a four-part series on social and political dysfunction in Camden.

Given Hedges’s institutional pedigree, this discovery shocked the editors at Harper’s. Hedges had been a star foreign correspondent at the Times, where he reported from war zones and was part of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for covering global terrorism. In 2002, he had received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He is a fellow at the Nation Institute. He has taught at Princeton University and Columbia University. He writes a weekly column published in the widely read progressive website Truthdig and frequently republished on the Truthout website. He is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling American Fascists. Since leaving the Times in 2005, he has evolved into a polemicist of the American left. For his fierce denunciations of the corporate state, his attacks on the political elite, and his enthusiasm for grassroots revolt, he has secured a place as a firebrand revered among progressive readers.

A leading moralist of the left, however, had now been caught plagiarizing at one of the oldest magazines of the left.

For a detailed description of Hedges’s transgressions (and there are many) I suggest you read the full New Republic story. In the end it appears that Hedges—whose journalistic pedigree had once been unassailable (he taught at fucking Princeton and Columbia)—was duping editors and publishers for quite some time. What’s more, he has yet to own up to his ethically nefarious deeds and, in keeping in line with all of the aforementioned journalists of his ilk, is trying to justify and rationalize what he’s done.

Sigh.

Once again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But part of me can’t help but hang my head in perplexed disenchantment, asking myself the same questions I ask my students: Why the hell would someone like Hedges decide to do this? And how did he go so long without being caught?

To be sure, a lot of ink will be spilled on this topic in the coming months. And some small part of me wants to say that, Okay, this is the last time we’ll see the likes of Hedges for a very long time. But at the risk of sounding cynical, I don’t think that’s the case. In every profession—whether it’s journalism, medicine, law, or roofing—corruption and unethical behavior will inevitably rear its head over and over again. But why? What drives these writers to take the lazy road, and to have the audacity to think they won’t be discovered? Perhaps we can learn something from the case of Chris Hedges…but what lessons have we not already been taught? And what do we still have yet to learn?

Happy Fathers Day

This is my dad. And I’m insanely proud to be his son.

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Happy Saturday Interwebs

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Like Records? Check Out “The Spin”

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If you fancy yourself any sort of vinylfile you might want to pay a visit to my Tumblr blog, The Spin. The blog is dedicated to my record collection and each entry provides some background on a specific record along with some tidbits about how it came to find a place on my shelf. So, why not do yourself a favor and head on over. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a sample post. It’s about The Avett Brothers:

I am truly loath to shroud any blog entry about my beloved Avett Brothers in even a modicum of negativity (I love these guys the way some people love Shakespeare…or kale) so rather than drone on about my slight—and sometimes not to slight—disappointments regarding this record, I’ll instead open with a grand ‘ol “YIPEE,” because this is my first (and certainly not last) vinyl volume from these North Carolina brothers, and having them in the collection is unequivocally awesome.

So excited was I about a new full-length studio effort from The Avetts that I pre-ordered this one just to make sure it arrived on my doorstep the day it dropped on September 11, 2012. And, on the whole, it’s not a bad record. About 60 percent of it provides some well-rendered and enduring classics, like “The Once And Future Carpenter,” “Pretty Girl From Michigan,” “I Never Knew You,” and “A Father’s First Spring.” That being said, The Carpenter (and most surely its 2013 followup Magpie And The Dandelion) is just a little too short on the stuff that made me first fall in love with this band—i.e. their signature rough, rollicking, unpolished fusion of punk and bluegrass. In fact, there’s very little about this record that contains traces of either the former or the latter. And don’t try and tell me that dreck like “Paul Newman vs. The Demons” is supposed to somehow make up for the fact that not a single track here comes even close to the uncooked intensity of “Talk On Indolence.”

Look, it’s not that I don’t like this record…I just find myself continually reaching for other studio efforts in lieu of this one, which is never a good sign.

But even at their most mediocre the Avetts are better than the majority of their contemporaries, so I once again return to rejoicing. What’s more, the record’s packaging is gorgeous (see the gatefold above and sleeves below) and whenever I give it a spin, The Carpenter will always remind me that my love for these guys is undying enough to forgive them for even their most egregious sins.

Now I feel guilty. I shouldn’t have slandered at all. As I listen to it right now, I kind of feel like a bully. These guys have done so much right by me, inspired so much soul-chattering introspection, brought me to such phenomenal heights of concert sublimity that I really can’t pick at the specks in their eyes while nursing a juggernaut log in my own. So ya know what, forget I put it down at all. Long live The Avett Brothers!

 

Doctor Who Marathon: The Mind Robber

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Writer: Peter Link
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 45
Number of Episodes: 5 (20 minutes each)
Season: 6

Since I first began this Doctor Who marathon mission of mine oh so many months ago, I’ve come to realize something maddening about story titles. Some of the most intriguing ones wind up being absolute rubbish (I’m looking at you Dominators). And that’s why I was cautiously optimistic when I found out the next installment was called “The Mind Robber.” Now doesn’t that sound damn cool? Well, I’m delighted to report that this one lived up to its namesake expectations—exceeded them actually. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say this is one of my favorite classic Who episodes to date.

The Plot: In order to escape a Dulcian volcano of doom (please get off that damn planet A-SAP!), The Doctor has to revert to rather unconventional measures and remove the TARDIS from “normal” time and space. He doesn’t want to do this because, you know, “normal” time and space is where everyone is most cozy. But he has no choice. If he doesn’t, he and his companions will wind up as little more than mummified remains in an intergalactic Pompeii exhibit of the future (or is it the past?).

The plan works. Kind of. The good news is that it gets them off Dulkis. The bad news is that The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie suddenly find themselves floating in a frighteningly empty void that explodes the TARDIS into a dozen pieces and leaves them clinging to the control console, terrified and completely alone. Oh yeah, it’s pretty cool.

The next few minutes unfold with dream-like perplexity as Jamie and Zoe suddenly find themselves surrounded by an unending white expanse where they are each beckoned by illusory temptations from their respective time periods. Then some intimidating white robots show up and escort our heroes into, well, we don’t know where.

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The robots! They’re so…white!

Meanwhile The Doctor awakens in a surreal forest of some kind, which he eventually comes to realize is a land of fiction inhabited by creepy wind-up soldiers, Gulliver (ya know, the one who had all the travels), Rapunzel, a smattering of mythological baddies, and a hoard of irritating school boys and girls who speak only in riddles (Are you my mummy?).

To make a long (and fascinating) story short, it turns out that this obtuse universe is presided over by a man known as the Master (no, not that Master…sadly). He’s an English writer from 1926 who is being controlled by something called the Master Brain. Anxious to free himself from the clutches of the Brain, the English writer has devised a cunning plot: Make The Doctor take over his compositional duties so he can get the hell home. Oh yeah, and the Master Brain wants to take over the Earth…but more on that later.

That’s about as far as I’ll go in explaining the plot, because half the fun of this episode is winding through the surreal mystery along with out heroes (and there is a lot of surreal mystery to be had here).

The Pros: Doctor Who is often at its best when the story puts its main characters in terrifying situations that bend everyday perceptions of time and space, especially when those situations are being controlled by an unseen and unknown, outside force. Sadly, I’ve come to realize there is a real dearth of this in the show’s first few seasons (with the exception of gems like The Edge of Destruction, The Time Meddler, and The Invasion). “The Mind Robber”, however, goes further in this regard than any episode I’ve seen thus far, and fans of the show’s modern-day manifestation will not be disappointed, as the story is an undeniable harbinger for contemporary classics like Amy’s Choice, The Girl Who Waited, and Midnight. The direction is fluid and surreal while the story itself (for the most part) employs some truly novel conceits that are at once suspenseful and thought provoking. One can even go so far as to ruminate on some potentially meta-fictive themes going on here. Consider: If The Doctor suddenly finds himself in a world of fiction, does that mean he too is a work of fiction? Because, well, he is…at least to us…I mean, in this world…but he doesn’t know it…I mean, in his world…oh you get the point. It’s a genuinely clever and entertaining story from start to (almost) finish.

The Cons: Well, I probably could have done without Karkus, a fictional (to us) cartoon character from the year 2000 (woah, future!). He’s an unnecessary bit of childish camp thrown into an otherwise taught, mature story.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

I am Karkus. Fear my muscles.

But even more frustrating than Karkus is the way the story ends. After everything we’ve been through we find out that the Master Brain is interested in luring everyone on Earth into this fictitious world, rendering them helpless and leaving the planet free for the taking. Ugh…really? It’s a disappointing and far-too-literal conclusion to a story that was, up to that point, thick, heady, and abstract in all the right ways. It kind of feels like Peter Link got to the last episode and was like, “Hm. I’ve painted myself into a pretty tight fucking corner here, haven’t I? Bullocks. Well, um, yeah. Takeover the Earth. That’s it!” In the hands of someone like Steven Moffat the conclusion would have been far richer and probably involved some kid of plot to make sure literary characters never died, even at the expense of the humans that created them. Or something. But the story’s lackluster denouement is certainly not enough to throw the baby out with the bathwater. All told, “The Mind Robber” is one for the ages, and it’s one of the reasons a chap like myself marches on through such a daunting marathon.

Final Rating: 8/10 (points lost for Karkus and the conclusion)

Charlie Brown (Revisited)

This is awesome. Find the source here: http://bit.ly/SOUJMd

This is awesome. Find the source here: http://bit.ly/SOUJMd

So there’s a podcast called Book Fight, and if you have any modicum of love for literature, you should definitely check it out. Hosted by local Philadelphia authors Mike Ingram and Tom McAllister, the podcast is a consistently entertaining conversation about, well, books. According to their website description, Ingram and McAllister taylor their weekly program around “the conversations writers have at the bar, which is to say they’re both unflinchingly honest and open to tangents, misdirection, general silliness.” It’s a joy.

Anyhow, I was listening to a recent episode this afternoon and Ingram and McAllister—who both teach writing at Temple University, my alma mater—were discussing various writing exercises they use in class to spur students’ imaginations. You know, giving them all the same first sentence or asking them to concoct a short story from a single photograph. And it got me thinking back to my days at Temple and similar exercises my creative writing professors would use to elicit interesting material. And that’s when I remembered Charlie.

The task was simple: Take a classic tale of some kind and expand it beyond what we already know. Continue the story, if you will. I think we had just finished reading Donald Barthelme’s Snow White (go ahead and bend your brain a little). I can’t remember why I decided to write the piece I did, but I do remember thinking that it was going to blow the socks off of my professor. Looking back on it now I can of course see how reductive it is and oh-so-full of unearned undergraduate angst (I was reading a lot of Ginsberg and Kerouac, okay!). But there’s something really comforting about the singularity of my vision at the time. I was so insanely confident about my writing and not yet entirely schooled on the virus of cynicism and second guessing that inevitably worms its way into one’s brain. When I wanted to write I just wrote, and as I continue in my pursuits as a writer to this day I think there’s still a lot I can learn from that younger version of myself, despite how much self-absorbed and cliched dreck he occasionally churned out.

And so, submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this tale…

“That World With the Funny Dance Re-visited…”
by Nick DiUlio

Charlie was thinking of Christmas again.  He sipped a beer and sat at the small table in his New York City apartment listening to jazz on a countertop radio.  The night blazed on outside his kitchen window, cold, and the neon signs flashed intently with habit to the rhythm of his thoughts.  He lit a cigarette and closed his eyes, letting the bbbblamm…yeaaah…and “oh, how about that” music swing his mind away from the world.  He was thinking about Christmas again.

Clangs and horns and voices brought the streets to life and Charlie felt like getting out.  He quickly finished his beer and threw on an old overcoat his mother had sent him five years ago.  After shutting off the radio he made sure that his mini-cassette recorder was in his pocket.  It was a cold, angel night and Charlie was thinking of Christmas.

Mrs. Fittermall surprisingly greeted Charlie as he stepped out into the hall.  “Oh, Charlie!  How are you sweetie?  I heard about your father.  I am so sorry.”

Good grief, he thought.  “Happens to us all I suppose.”

“But such a shock.  Are you all right?  Is there anything I can do for you darling?”

“No thank you Mrs. Fittermall.”  Charlie didn’t want to talk away the night and his night, his night of screeching lostness, was on the tip of extinction.  He had to leave.

“Well, perhaps I’ll stop by later this week and drop off one of my pound cakes.”

“Alright,” he began walking towards the stairwell.  “Thank you Mrs. Fittermall.”  She turned and left Charlie to his business of getting gone.  So he headed for the streets with his hands in his worn out pockets.

It had started snowing and a lonely wind watered his eyes.  Collar up and there was music…“I heard the bells…silent night…I’ll be home…(and) have yourself a merry little…drummer boy.”  Charlie would stop every so often and stare up at the December sky knowing that his absence of heart was sure to come and go in waves as it had since he was a child—since those times of a tree, a song, and some friends gathered around a snow pile discussing the taste of winter flakes.  Since those times of his sister asking Santa for bills and unmarked generosities in the form of “cold hard cash.”  Since those times of his dog playing tricks with the bird.  Since these and a forever list of fading memories.

And with the city in a circling, voiceless mess of lost ambitions his heart made reference to these times over and over again.  His heart and times passed.  His heart and a look to the ground.  His heart and he kept on walking.

At Times Square he could hear a trumpeter somewhere far off playing “Basin Street Blues” and the movie posters loomed heavy and god-like over the people of New York.  One sight after another—family with a tree, delis with warm soup, tattooed bald headed rockers, empty lights-out rooms, shadows, ghetto poets, gutter deaths, and all under falling snow.  Charlie took out his mini-cassette and hit record.

“When all of this fades and the night falls away fully
To the potential of nothing but a lost and hungry solace,
Where will Christmas be then?  These trees and liquid hopes
And ‘yeah, let’s sing that one again honey’
Just don’t make sense any more.
Christmas.  Oh, you forgotten child…
Was it yesterday that Lucy called and asked me to a party?  Was it
Yesterday that she told me about her new husband (again
And again with that)?  Was it yesterday or three years ago?
Nothing comes together the way it used to and beliefs just fall to pieces
And my dog was not supposed to

Charlie stopped to light another cigarette.  He took a drag, looked around and decided to go see Schroder playing at the Cat Scratch.  He looked for a cab and as he stood on the curb and watched the ghostly faces rush around he realized that he thought passing time would have been easier.  He thought that all of those days in class as a child (trumpet voices, wa wa wa…) would have yielded something greater than this—cold and hungry jazz American Decembers.  He thought about Linus and how he was probably better off in Tangiers anyway.  He thought that happiness was infinitely far away at the age of 25.  He thought and thought and realized that it all came back to thinking of Christmas again.

Let Us Now Praise…Conor Oberst and Dawes

 

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To be honest, it’s been a long day of writing, house tending, dog walking, and all around life-izing—and I don’t really have much blog power left in me this evening. But in the spirit of keeping up with the goal of filing a post every day this month I thought I should at least share something. And that something is Conor Oberst and Dawes.

For those who have been following the ‘ol Twenty Pounds pub since its inception, you know that I’ve written extensively about Conor in the past. And he does indeed deserve all (er, most of?) the digital ink that has been spilled in his name over the past decade. But I don’t think I’ve touched on Dawes all too frequently (if at all). Let me do so…now.

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I first came to know about this band about five years ago, courtesy of the incomparable Joseph Master. He sent me an Mp3 of “That Western Skyline,” the first track from their debut record North Hills, and I experienced that exceedingly rare moment when you know you’re listening to a band that is still relatively unknown but perched on the precipice of great acclaim. And they have not let me down since.

To date, I’ve seen Dawes perform live at least five times (the first being a Free At Noon concert in West Philly hosted by 88.5 WXPN), and their live presence only further cemented my confidence in their eventual ascension to greatness. Since the band’s righteous debut they have released two additional studio efforts, Nothing Is Wrong in 2011 and Stories Don’t End in 2013, both of which have not disappointed. So when I found out they were going to be touring this summer with Oberst (who is promoting his current solo effort Upside Down Mountaindig the play on words there?) I knew I couldn’t miss a show if it happened through Philadelphia.

And happen it did. I had the pleasure of seeing both acts perform at Union Transfer (my 100 percent, no joke favorite Philly concert venue of all time) on May 21, and the vibe was unmistakably incendiary. Not only did Dawes come out and rock a 90-minute-plus opening set, but they then returned to the stage less than 30 minutes later to back up Oberst for nearly two juggernaut hours of foot-stomping, hand-clapping musical brilliance. Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith (along with drummer and brother Griffin) leant gorgeous harmonies to Oberst’s originals while also searing into regular guitar solos with the type of piercing nuance practiced by the timeless likes of Mark Knopfler and Robbie Robertson. It was, in short, one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever attended—a fitting tribute to two musical acts that I have respected for many years now.

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Dawes backing Oberst. Photo courtesy of yours truly.

Leading up to this summer’s joint tour, Dawes and Oberst released a limited edition Record Store Day seven inch that found each covering the other. The exclusive split featured Dawes covering the Bright Eyes song “Easy/Lucky/Free” and Oberst covering Dawes’ “Million Dollar Bill.” And now, for your listening enjoyment, here are both tracks (and my lord, what they do with each other’s respective work is truly beautiful):

Here’s the original “Easy/Lucky/Free” (and a cool video to boot):

Here’s the Dawes cover:

Here’s the original “Million Dollar Bill”:

And here’s the Oberst cover: