As It Happens

National Post's Terence Corcoran on media's Margaret Wente 'witch hunt'

A National Post columnist says As It Happens and others are on a "witch hunt" over plagiarism allegations against Margaret Wente.
(Left: National Speakers Bureau, Right: Twitter/Terence Corcoran)

In a column in the National Post on Friday, Terence Corcoran defends Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente on accusations of plagiarism.

This week, the Globe's editor-in-chief apologized and issued corrections for two recent columns in which a sentence and a phrase were not properly attributed. Since then, the paper has been silent regarding further accusations of plagiarism against Wente.

As it Happens covered the story on Tuesday. We spoke with John Miller — professor emeritus and former chair of Ryerson University's School of Journalism. He believes Wente "committed capital sin in journalism."

In that interview, Miller mentions two prominent cases of plagiarism by American journalists Jack Kelley and Jayson Blair. Corcoran says Wente's alleged infractions are in no way comparable to those of Kelley or Blair.

"Wente is in no way in any kind of league with those two characters … who were outrageous plagiarizers and inventors of stories," Corcoran tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "It has nothing to do with Wente. That's the point of my column."

Corcoran says CBC's As It Happens along with media outlets like BuzzFeed, The Tyee and Canadaland are on a so-called "witch hunt." In our interview he challenges some of the observations made in this BuzzFeed article.

It's not a firing offense. It's not a major breach of journalistic ethics or journalistic principles.- Terence Corcoran, National Post columnist

The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation: 

CAROL OFF:  Why do you feel the need to stand up for Peggy Wente at this point?

TERENCE CORCORAN: I do think that she's being unfairly attacked. I've read over the allegations against her and the Globe's corrections … And, I really don't find anything of astounding significance. It's not even something I would call plagiarism. There's a bit of maybe a little sloppiness, in terms of using a phrase or two from somebody else's work. Usually the work, or almost always the work, of somebody she's quoting anyways later on in the piece … It's not a firing offense. It's not a major breach of journalistic ethics or journalistic principles.

CO: Had you been the editor of her piece, would you have run it? How would you have dealt with it after you had seen these similarities?

TC: I would have called the writer up and said, "You can't do this." I mean you should have quotation marks around these things. It's not a big deal. But, you got to be more careful.

CO: Do you think the Globe and Mail did that with Ms. Wente?

TC: I don't know. I assume so. It's not even worth a story, unless you want to go after Margaret Wente for other reasons. To call it plagiarism is a wild exaggeration. Not just an exaggeration, but it's off in another world.

To hear more, take a listen to our full interview with Terence Corcoran.

On Friday, As it Happens received a statement from Ottawa blogger Carol Wainio, who is mentioned in Corcoran's column. Here's Wainio's response to his piece: 

Mr. Corcoran wrote several things in the National Post which are incorrect and misleading to the point of being silly:  In an effort to present this as a "witch-hunt", he wrote, "Wainio's blog referenced Wente 78 times in a few postings over the last couple of years". Over the past couple years, six, posts mentioned Ms. Wente, some in passing. Two of those resulted in apologies and corrections from The Globe and Mail, who acknowledged her errors. 

By "reference" I can only assume Corcoran means "use" – as in "use" her name, which I might be expected to do repeatedly in writing even a single detailed analysis. Perhaps more pronouns would make it less of a witch hunt, but it would be less accurate. In Corcoran's sense, I admit I "referenced" a word like "the" perhaps a thousand times. I don't know what it proves.

What I did not say, though Mr. Corcoran claims I did, is that "Wente had committed 'plagiarism'" "It was plagiarism, said Wainio", he repeated in the National Post. 

I myself used the word twice, both times in relation to what had been widely reported as plagiarism in 2012.   A question in the heading asks if the current example is equivalent and concludes it is not as extensive as the previous instance of plagiarism.  The Globe and Mail subsequently agreed that two instances were not properly attributed and Ms. Wente apologized, confirming the issue had merit.

While I did not use the word plagiarism, Mr. Cocrocan's colleague and columnist at the National Post, Chris Selley tweeted on April 26:  "Meanwhile, I don't think the Globe has ever addressed this incident of flagrant, unambiguous plagiarism: ‪ …", referring to an earlier example I'd identified about passages similar to journalist Nicholas Carr which had not yet been addressed.  Perhaps rather than attribute to me things I have not said, Mr. Corcoran could take up the debate with him.

Carol Wainio



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?