As It Happens

Journalism prof says Margaret Wente committed 'capital sin in journalism'

The Globe and Mail issued corrections for two 2016 columns by Margaret Wente in today's paper, but more allegations of plagiarism continue to emerge.
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente, reflects on Sept. 11 as she accepts her National Newspaper Award for columns in Calgary on Friday, April, 26, 2002. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente is facing a new onslaught of plagiarism allegations, similar to the ones she faced in 2012

On Saturday, Ottawa blogger Carol Wainio wrote a post alleging Wente had plagiarized part of her April 23 column, "The great global greening is happening now." BuzzFeed Canada followed up Wainio's post with a piece of their own, noting another recent Wente column where she uses near-identical phrasing to a Slate article published a week earlier. 

If I were her, I would have no alternative but to offer my resignation.- John Miller, professor emeritus of journalism at Ryerson University

The Globe and Mail issued corrections to both columns, and public editor Sylvia Stead, published a response titled "Prose must be attributed." 

Since Stead's column, both BuzzFeed Canada and Canadaland have published further allegations of plagiarism. 

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with John Miller, professor emeritus and former chair of Ryerson School of Journalism, about the allegations and the Globe and Mail's response. The following is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

John Miller: I think the Globe has a very big problem on its hands, and I must say, the problem is not confined to Margaret Wente. There are hints here that this is not being dealt with in a proper manner. I'll use the comparison to an American example. USA Today had a problem with its international reporter Jack Kelley about ten years ago. It reacted by calling in three prominent journalists from outside the organization to direct a thorough revisiting of all of his reporting, and it resulted in not only him leaving the paper, but the top two editors of the paper losing their jobs. 

A similar thing happened with Jayson Blair at The New York Times, when the two top editors that had heard complaints from other reporters of Jayson Blair's work, appeared to have ignored them, and they lost their jobs. 

Carol Off: [The Globe and Mail] are stating in their releases that they are dealing with this issue. You don't think it's sufficient? 

JM: They're not saying how they're dealing with it. They're not saying there's any penalty to be imposed. We have no word of that. We haven't heard from Margaret Wente herself. I don't see any penalties being handed out for what most people would think is a capital sin in journalism, stealing someone else's work and presenting it as your own. 

CO: When Margaret Wente wrote her response back in 2012 she said, "I am not a serial plagiarist...What I often am is a target for people who don't like what I write." The implication is that because Margaret Wente writes from the right-of-centre position, that it's people from the left — the liberal media — who are looking for things...

JM: That's just a ridiculous argument...It's not the issue. The issue is taking someone's words and presenting them as your own. 

CO: What would happen at a university if you found a student was using material this way? 

JM: Number one, there would be a thorough investigation...You couldn't write what she wrote without having the other article right by your side. If this had happened in an academic institution, the student would be expelled.

CO: Do you think that Margaret Wente should be fired?

JM: If I were her, I would have no alternative but to offer my resignation. 

On Monday, As It Happens requested interviews with the Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, David Walmsley, and public editor, Sylvia Stead. Both declined. On Tuesday, As It Happens renewed those requests, but received no reply. Margaret Wente also declined our request for an interview. 

For more on this story, take a listen to our full interview.


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