Slate magazine's eagle-eyed media critic Jack Shafer noticed earlier this week that a paragraph mentioning him on the subject of the New York Times read too similarly in both the Washington Post and L.A. Times. Both the Post's Howard Kurtz and the LAT's Eric Slater said they hadn't seen the other's story, which is entirely plausible since the NYT news — about the paper's coverage of Iraq WMD's — broke late in the day. Turns out an LAT editor cobbling together the late-moving Slater-bylined story from wire stories picked up a graf out of Kurtz's story without attribution. An Editor's Note in today's LAT corrects the omission, but Shafer doesn't like the note's wording that the similarity was "accidental."
If the editor merely clipped and pasted Kurtz's work into the story and tweaked a few words, hoping that nobody would catch his dubious short-cut (which is my guess), why won't the Times come clean and say so? The similarity was accidental is the sort of excuse that a kid uses when he gets caught copying his book report off the Internet.
I'm not saying the Times editor committed a capital crime. I'm not saying that such an accident of similarity could never, ever befall me. But if it does, I hope I have the courage to refrain from offering excuses for my sloth and sloppiness and volunteer to take a two-week suspension without pay.
Two weeks without pay for this? Absurd. Both links, by the way, contain the paragraphs in question, if anyone cares to see them.