The Mexico bureau chief for The Washington Post, William Booth, has been suspended for three months after the Post found that a story it published Sunday contained sentences that were similar to a recent article in a science journal.
According to The Washington Post on Friday, the story, which appeared on the front page of Sunday’s newspaper and online the day before, contained four sentences that were similar to an article written by Andrea M. Hricko, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California.
In his article addressing the incident, Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton wrote Friday that on Jan. 15, Hricko provided the Post with "side-by-side comparisons of five passages from her December article in Environmental Health Perspectives and Booth’s front-page article of Jan. 13."
Upon review, the Post determined that four of Booth’s sentences were “copied in whole or in substantial part” from Hricko’s work, the newspaper said.
Here's an example. The Post cited Hricko as writing “Georgia’s Port of Savannah has gotten the go-ahead to dredge its channel, which will cost more than $650 million.” Booth wrote, “After years of review, and amid fear for wetlands and endangered species, Georgia’s Port of Savannah has finally gotten the go-ahead to dredge its channel, which will cost more than $650 million.”
As a result, Booth will be suspended for three months, the Post reported. Pexton added that an "editor confirmed the suspension, which will be without pay — the same punishment as reporter Sari Horwitz received in March 2011 in another plagiarism case."
The Washington City Paperwrites that the move comes just months after the Post's India bureau chief admitted to paraphrasing from an Indian magazine.
The Post emphasized Friday that it prohibits their journalists from lifting material from other journalists and presenting the work as their own. In an article from 2011, the Post explained that reporters often cite other news sources for information that they haven’t gathered themselves, but the standard practice is to paraphrase the material and attribute the information to its source.
"For a long time, it was viewed as an excommunication sin, beyond mortal sin,” Bob Steele, a professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University told the Post at the time. “But nowadays, editors try to look at the full context of what happened and why it happened” before rushing to punish. Steele also told the Post that digital technology and increased competition via the Internet make such errors of judgment more likely.
In the statement to the Post, Booth apologized for making “an inadvertent and sloppy mistake.” Although he described the mistake as “unintentional,” he acknowledged it “a very serious lapse.” The newspaper also reported that Booth apologized to his editor and colleagues “and especially to the readers of the Washington Post for my failure to measure up. I hope to regain your trust. I will work hard to do that.”
Hricko, in an interview, told the Post she was satisfied with the outcome. “Several editors [at The Post] have been in touch with me since this started and they’ve handled it all with great integrity and responsibility,” she said.