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:
Also, I love you internet—
BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 24, 2014
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:
The Wikipedia entry for Ted Kaczynski, as of April 10, 2013:
Johnson’s description of Kaczynski:
The Wikipedia entry for Saddam Hussein, as of April 6, 2013:
Johnson’s description of Hussein:
Biography.com on Saddam Hussein’s capture, as of March 10, 2013:
Johnson’s description of Hussein’s capture:
Wikipedia entry for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as of April 10, 2013:
Johnson’s description of KSM:
#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:
Johnson on the 1898 Treaty of Paris:
The Wikipedia entry for Spanish-American War, again, on the beginning of the War:
Johnson, on the beginning of the War:
The Wikipedia entry for Spanish-American War, again, on the sinking of the USS Maine:
Johnson, on the sinking of the USS Maine:
The Wikipedia entry for United States in World War I, as of August 21, 2013, on America’s entry into WWI:
Johnson on America’s entry into WWI:
#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”:
#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:
Johnson reverses the order of the underlined and adds a picture:
#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:
And Johnson discussing the cost of Obamacare to Hill staffers:
Pear defining the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan:
And Johnson describing Coburn’s staff’s coverage through FEHBP:
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:
#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:
Johnson, un-popeishly copying and pasting without credit:
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.
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.