More Plagiarism From “One Of The Web’s Deeply Original Writers”

Uncategorized

By @blippoblappo and @crushingbort

Yesterday, this blog posted an article about serial plagiarism by Buzzfeed’s Benny Johnson that came after said reporter called out another publication for plagiarizing his own work. Gawker’s J.K. Trotter eventually managed to get a response from Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith on Johnson’s plagiarism:

 

We’re grateful to @blippoblappo and @crushingbort for pointing out these serious failures to properly attribute two quotations and to credit a source in a third post. We’ve corrected the posts.

 

Benny Johnson is one of the web’s deeply original writers, as is clear from his body of work.

 

First off, a big “you’re welcome” to Ben Smith! There are a lot of good people at Buzzfeed who deserve credit for their great work, whether it’s covering LGBT policy or writing in-depth profile pieces on Ted Cruz. But Smith is being coy about what exactly Johnson did here. Benny didn’t just fail to credit sources, he did so while appropriating their work in a way to avoid detection by rephrasing and chopping up blocks of text. That’s not the sign of an innocent mistake. That’s just plain old bad faith plagiarism.

And while the admission of “serious failures” is nice, Johnson himself has yet to make any apology or admission of wrongdoing himself. For context, when Maureen Dowd stole a single sentence from TPM editor Josh Marshall in 2009, she fessed up and apologized. Yesterday’s piece showed that Johnson swiped sentence after sentence from reporter Rick J. Newman, but Johnson’s only comment has been this:

In what was probably not sarcasm, Smith stood by Johnson’s work by calling him a “deeply original writer,” apparently brushing off Johnson’s errors as a rare instance of misconduct (or three).

So giving Ben Smith the benefit of the doubt, here are a half-dozen more articles where Johnson stole others’ work without credit. This time the victims include Heritage Foundation scholars, a New York Times reporter, an intern for the National Review Online, and probably dozens and dozens of Wikipedia editors. In no particular order of egregiousness:

#1: BENNY JOHNSON PLAGIARIZED FROM NUMEROUS WIKIPEDIA ENTRIES IN AN ARTICLE ON MANHUNTS

On April 19, 2013, following the manhunt of the Boston Marathon bombers, Johnson published “How 9 Other Massive Manhunts Ended.” The piece consists of pictures of various criminals and text describing their crimes, capture, and punishment. Much of the text is copied and pasted from Wikipedia with minimal alteration.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for “Timothy McVeigh,” as of April 18, 2013:

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And Johnson:

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The Wikipedia entry for Ted Kaczynski, as of April 10, 2013:

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Johnson’s description of Kaczynski:

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The Wikipedia entry for Saddam Hussein, as of April 6, 2013:

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Johnson’s description of Hussein:

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Biography.com on Saddam Hussein’s capture, as of March 10, 2013:

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Johnson’s description of Hussein’s capture:

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Wikipedia entry for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as of April 10, 2013:

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Johnson’s description of KSM:

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#2: BENNY JOHNSON COPIED-AND-PASTED FROM NUMEROUS WIKIPEDIA ENTRIES IN AN ARTICLE ON AMERICAN WARS

On September 1, 2013, Johnson published “11 Times Congress Has Declared War On Another Country, And Why.”  Much of the text is copied and pasted from Wikipedia with minimal alteration.

Wikipedia entry for Spanish-American War, as of August 27, 2013, on the end of the conflict and the 1898 Treaty of Paris:

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Johnson on the 1898 Treaty of Paris:

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The Wikipedia entry for Spanish-American War, again, on the beginning of the War:

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Johnson, on the beginning of the War:

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The Wikipedia entry for Spanish-American War, again, on the sinking of the USS Maine:

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Johnson, on the sinking of the USS Maine:

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The Wikipedia entry for United States in World War I, as of August 21, 2013, on America’s entry into WWI:

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Johnson on America’s entry into WWI:

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#3: SHARING A BYLINE WITH A FORMER AP REPORTER, JOHNSON STOLE TEXT FROM A HERITAGE FOUNDATION REPORT FOR AN ARTICLE ON PUTIN

Buzzfeed has actual, legit reporters who have covered any number of important issues and events. Like former AP reporter Max Seddon, who has been on the ground in Ukraine covering the MH17 crash.  So it’s probably a safe bet to presume that in this co-authored September 12 article from last year, “9 Times Putin Pwned Obama,” the plagiarizer who swiped from a Heritage Foundation report was Johnson and not Seddon.

Here’s the Heritage Foundation’s Ariel Cohen, Baker Spring, and Michaela Dodge on U.S. and Russian relations in their June 2011 report, “Reset Regret”:

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And Johnson:

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#4: BENNY JOHNSON RIPPED OFF A NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE INTERN’S WORK FOR A PIECE ON ASSAD

On September 12, 2013, Benny published an article titled “When The West Romanced Assad” that repeatedly lifted work from from a National Review intern.

 

The National Review’s former editorial intern Noah Glyn, July 27, 2012:

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Johnson:

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Glyn:

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And Johnson:

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Glyn:

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Johnson reverses the order of the underlined and adds a picture:

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#5: BENNY JOHNSON [INSERT SYNONYM FOR PLAGIARIZED] THE WORK OF THE NEW YORK TIMES’ ROBERT PEAR IN AN ARTICLE ON OBAMACARE

On August 1, 2013, Johnson published a piece titled, “Senate Conservative May Push To Exempt Congressional Staff From Obamacare.” To Johnson’s credit, he actually managed to land an original quote from an aide to Senator Tom Coburn on a proposal to let staffers get out of singing up for Obamacare. But when it came to filling out the rest of the article, Johnson appears to have borrowed from a July 29, 2013 New York Times article by reporter Robert Pear. See below:

 

Pear discussing the cost of Obamacare to Hill staffers:

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And Johnson discussing the cost of Obamacare to Hill staffers:

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Pear defining the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan:

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And Johnson describing Coburn’s staff’s coverage through FEHBP:

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The real kicker is when Johnson then links to “a recent article in the New York Times” about staffers being “freaked out.” It’s the same Pear article he’s been lifting all along:

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#6: BENNY JOHNSON LIFTED TEXT FROM ABOUT.COM FOR AN ARTICLE ON THE POPE

In early March of last year as the world was waiting to see who would be the next pope, Johnson published an article titled “Technically, Any Catholic Man Can Be The Next Pope.” It’s a misleading headline, which Johnson would have realized if he’d looked closer at the About.com article he copied and pasted it from.

Here is About.com’s Austin Cline in an article about who can be the next pope, archived September 15, 2012:

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Johnson, un-popeishly copying and pasting without credit:

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A look back at older articles by Ben Smith during his time at Politico show he’s no stranger when it comes to covering plagiarism. So in this next hyperlink-free sentence, it’s worth asking if this is really what constitutes a few “serious faults” or if it’s in fact something worse. The smart money is probably on the latter.

These were just six more of Benny Johnson’s articles on top of the three featured yesterday. Some on Twitter already have found others. More will probably be on the way.

 

UPDATE: Thanks to @daveweigel for pointing out an error in the first image of this piece that failed to include all of Johnson’s plagiarism; it’s been fixed above.

3 Reasons Benny Johnson Shouldn’t Call Out Plagiarism: He’s A Plagiarist, He’s A Plagiarist, and He’s A Plagiarist

Joint Post, Uncategorized

By @blippoblappo and @crushingbort

Yesterday morning, Buzzfeed’s “viral politics reporter” and resident ex-College Republican Chair Benny Johnson took the unusual step of calling out another outlet on Twitter for plagiarizing his work, a masterpiece on the socks that George H.W. Bush wears. “Repeat after me,” said Johnson, “copying and pasting someone’s work is called ‘plagiarism[.]’”

 

Johnson didn’t let up on The Independent Journal Review for stealing his socks articles, either:

 

 

The move struck many as odd, because for Buzzfeed, which reportedly valued itself at $1 billion earlier this year, a substantial part of their business model is just that: ripping off others’ content for profit. Time and time again, Buzzfeed “reporters” have either copied and pasted articles or just lifted individual tweets, photos, or other social media without paying a cent to those actually bringing in the pageviews. It doesn’t appear to be an issue of any concern at the top, either—despite recent reports of new “editorial standards,” editor-in-Chief Ben Smith recently told a tweeter who didn’t like their work being appropriated that they could always just “take it down.”

 

But there’s another reason why Benny Johnson’s complaint yesterday should raise eyebrows. A brief dip into the cesspool that is Johnson’s Buzzfeed articles quickly turned up several incidents of Johnson directly lifting from other reporters, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! Answers, a website where people go to ask if they can get pregnant from stepping on a rusty nail. In other words, he plagiarized.

 

Johnson has written 522 articles for Buzzfeed. The following are just three instances where he’s copied someone else’s work without credit:

 

#1: BENNY JOHNSON RIPS OFF U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT AND WIKIPEDIA IN AN ARTICLE ON LIVING CONDITIONS ON NORTH KOREA

On April 24, 2013, Benny posted a piece titled, “What Would Your Life Be Like If You Were Born In North Korea?” The piece is a compilation of horrible conditions that residents of North Korea live under, with each item accompanied (in typical BuzzFeed fashion) by a picture scrounged from Google Image Search. But if you take out the pictures, all you’re left with is a bulleted list, the beginning of which closely mirrors the one published two weeks earlier in an article titled “Here’s How Lousy Life Is in North Korea” by U.S. News & World Report’s Rick Newman. Both articles reference the Korea Institute for National Unification’s “Quality of Life of North Korean” report, but it’s clear that Benny repeatedly just appropriated Newman’s reporting and phrasing without giving credit.

 

For example, here’s Newman on the “corn and kimchi” diet the poorest North Koreans live on:

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And here’s Johnson, lifting the same phrasing:

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A look at the actual report shows how Johnson’s language clearly came from Newman’s paraphrasing:

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Newman on malnutrition:

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And Johnson, tweaking the phrasing just enough to confuse the cause of stunted North Korean children:

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Newman on government pay:

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Johnson, again:

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Newman on North Korea’s medical system:

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Johnson, lifting again (but adding a picture!):

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Newman on electric power:

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Johnson, who didn’t even have the courtesy to list Newman’s facts in a different order:

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Here’s Newman on education:

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Johnson decides to insert some quotes from the KINU report as “added value” to Newman’s reporting:

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From here on in, Benny’s list appears to have stopped ripping off Newman’s article and moved to plagiarizing a number of other sources. Below is text from each source with a date and link, followed by Benny’s “original work.”

 

Country-Data.com, as of April 1, 2012:

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Johnson:

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Wikipedia, as of April 22, 2013:

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Johnson is tricky here, splitting the copied text into two chunks:

 

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The Guardian, February 22, 2010:

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Johnson, going far enough to use quotes, but not enough to give a citation:

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#2: BENNY JOHNSON COPY-AND-PASTES FROM YAHOO! ANSWERS IN AN ARTICLE ON CITIES DEFYING TERRORISM

On April 22, 2013, Benny posted an article titled “7 Cities That Defy Terrorism.” Besides the standard citations for images, there are no attributions for the text in the piece. Benny listed London as an example of a terror-resilient city, but apparently forgot what terrors were exacted upon it, because he copy-and-pasted a Yahoo! Answers submission about the Blitz.

 

Yahoo! Answers User “Jason B.,” April 2009:

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Johnson:

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#3: BENNY JOHNSON PLAGIARIZES A PRESS RELEASE IN AN ARTICLE ON REP. SAM JOHNSON

On February 14, 2013, Benny posted an article titled “The Most Romantic Story In Congress,” which looks like pretty standard BuzzFeed fare. It’s a fluff piece about Texas House Representative Sam Johnson’s relationship with his wife during Vietnam, one so positive it was reposted in entirety on Johnson’s congressional website. But Benny goes beyond the typical BuzzFeed repackaging of friendly source material by copying and pasting entire parts of earlier articles into the piece, unattributed.

Here’s a section of Benny’s article discussing Shirley Johnson’s role in creating the National League of Families:

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This is a section of text discussing Shirley Johnson’s role in creating the National League of Families  from an October 4, 2006 press release by the office of Rep. Johnson:

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TO CONCLUDE: WE WILL PAY $5,000 TO ANYONE WHO FINDS EDITORIAL STANDARDS AT BUZZFEED

Now to be fair, plagiarism may be small potatoes for someone whose biggest newsworthy accomplishment so far has been giving government officials anonymity to fantasize about murdering a civilian. And the Buzzfeed higher-ups must have a tolerance for his sugar-coated brand of Family Research Council Republicanism as long as it brings in the clicks, because it’s definitely clear Johnson has no fucking clue when it comes to writing an actual news story. But if barely scratching the surface of his inane listicles reveals a history of plagiarism, then maybe it’s time to ask just how deep Buzzfeed’s new “editorial standards” go.