Jewish World Review April 27, 2004 / 6 Iyar, 5764
Repeat at your own risk
Proving that Jayson Blair may have gotten the last laugh after all, a Houston Chronicle sports columnist has been suspended without pay for a month after it was discovered that he had been lifting quotes from … himself.
Mickey Herskowitz's column last month about former UCLA coach John Wooden apparently repeated phrases and short passages Herskowitz had written 14 years ago while working for the now-defunct Houston Post.
Chronicle management apparently stopped huffing bus fumes long enough to concede that Herskowitz's dastardly act was not, technically, plagiarism, but rather "bad form."
Upper management then flayed Herskowitz mercilessly with a cat-o'-nine-tails and forced him to carry his own cross to his crucifixion. (Mel Gibson, or possibly Mel Brooks, is reportedly interested in obtaining the rights to the movie, which has been tentatively titled, "The Passion of Some Poor Schlep Sports Columnist Who, After 40-Some Years in the Business, Staring Down Thousands of Killer Deadlines While Subsisting on Nothing More Than Vending-Machine Coffee and Ding Dongs, Somehow Managed to Repeat Himself Once or Twice.")
The Chronicle's action is especially disturbing to me, since I have probably not written more than five or six completely original columns in the nearly 30 years I've been with the paper. (In the interests of full disclosure and, more importantly, an uninterrupted stream of paychecks, I'd like to point out that this particular column appeared originally in 1976 and was reprinted, with virtually no modification, in 1981, 1987, 1992, 1999 and 2002.) The only thing that has saved me is that I work in Sarasota, a city that has a high "turnover," if you will, of readers so that I'm basically writing for an entirely new audience every two or three years. (Also, since I have a tough time remembering where I parked my car, let alone what I wrote 25 years ago, my conscience is clear.)
The good new for Herskowitz is that he may be able to make some money off this. Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who resigned after it was learned that he had deceived his editors by inventing important parts of major stories (Example: "NEW YORK - The American Obesity Association said today that nearly two-thirds of Americans are watching too little TV and eating insufficient quantities of sugary snacks."), was given a six-figure advance for his tell-all book, "Burning Down My Masters' House." The scandal rocked the Times and several top editors, including executive editor Howell Raines, eventually left the paper. (I might respectfully suggest that the Chronicle editor who suspended Herskowitz do the same. To preserve journalistic integrity, of course.)
Since Herskowitz's crime is somewhat less serious than Blair's, and because it happened in Houston rather than New York, he might have to settle for a two-figure, rather than a six-figure, advance for his book, which he may want to title, "How I Got Suspended For Using the Phrase, 'Six-Figure Advance' Twice in the Same Decade."
I would actually shell out my own money to buy Herskowitz's book, which is something few people did with Blair's.
And, once he returns to work, if he wants to borrow a phrase from this column like, maybe, "huffing bus fumes," he's more than welcome.
Because there's a good chance I borrowed it from someone else.
Assuming I can remember.
Which, of course, I can't.
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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.
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