Matt Taibbi on Michele Bachmann in Rolling Stone: Not Quite Plagiarism; PBS Hacked Again


Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wrote another of his highly entertaining, polarizing, acerbic, hyperbolic and metaphor-laden magazine features, online now, this time about Minnesota politician and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, who Taibbi, right out of the gate, calls “almost certainly the funniest thing that has ever happened to American presidential politics.” And from there, oh boy! “She’s trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo,” he writes. But overshadowing the colorful prose, big broad claims and even the salient points is a faux-media conspiracy, borne mostly of the fact that Taibbi is seen as unlikable, which says that he may have plagiarized. He didn’t, but “mistakes were made,” as they say. More inside Press Clips, our daily media column.

Vampire Squib: As pointed out by Abe Sauer at The Awl, Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece on Bachmann uses a fair amount of quotes and anecdotes from some local Minnesota bloggers, but even more conspicuously, from a 2006 City Pages profile of Bachmann. For example, from Taibbi’s turn:

“For the most part, though, Bachmann’s upbringing seems like pure Americana, a typical Midwestern girl who was ‘in a couple of beauty pageants’ and ‘not overtly political,’ according to her stepbrother Michael LaFave.”

And from City Pages, five years ago:

“By his own admission, LaFave, 51 years old and a union representative who lives in Forest Lake, did not get to know his new stepsister all that well. ‘I remember that she was book-smart, and did pretty well in school,’ he recalls. ‘And she was in a couple of beauty pageants…. She was not overtly political.'”

This is reporting he did not do, but is bringing back from the past to a larger audience. That kind of thing happens a few more times, but Rolling Stone editor Eric Bates admits it was his bad — he took out Taibbi’s attributions “due to space concerns,” but added links in the online version of the story.

“I did not see that those attributions had been removed,” Taibbi told Yahoo’s Cutline. “They did good work in that piece and deserve to be credited. But you should know also that this isn’t plagiarism — it’s not even an allegation of plagiarism. It’s an attribution issue.” He’s right, but it’s also indicative of some misleading tactics and reporting laziness, of which Taibbi has been accused of before, though it’s frequent criticism for anyone taking on huge subjects like Goldman Sachs, as he did most famously.

But Taibbi’s own reputation is likely why the word “plagiarism” has even come up, when he was clearly not trying to pass off anyone’s ideas as his own; it was an editing error.

Meanwhile, the City Pages reporter G.R. Anderson doesn’t mind the publicity for his piece, which exposed Bachmann’s idiosyncrasies long before she was playing on the national stage. “I don’t think it is a controversy,” Anderson told City Pages, and he admits that he does “not consider what the Rolling Stone [article] contained in it to be plagiarism.” But: “What I will say, as a graduate of the Columbia J-School, and an adjunct at the University of Minnesota J-School, I do know that if a student handed in a story with that particular lack of sourcing, not only would I give it an ‘F,’ I would probably put that student on academic fraud.”

Of course, this is all complicated with Anderson’s final admission, which is that his Bachmann pitches to Rolling Stone — including directly to the editor who stripped his Taibbi-given credit! — were all passed on:

I have your kicker. The irony of this, is that over the last few years, I have pitched several stories to Eric Bates in particular, because I’ve wanted nothing more than to have my byline in Rolling Stone, since I was about 16 years old. I’ve pitched him several stories, one of which I know was about Michele Bachmann being a factor in the 2008 election. I pitched all of them with due diligence, and to Mr. Bates’s credit, he responded via e-mail, the same way every time, which is, “We’re not interested.”

Reading Material: At the Atlantic Wire, the legendary Gay Talese describes just how many hours a day he spends reading newspapers. (Hint: it’s about the same amount as we spend reading the internet.) He also exercises using a stationary bike!

Lulz x 2: PBS had its website hacked again and Lulz Security isn’t stopping any time soon. This time, the company admitted, “a ‘very small number’ of administrative user names and encrypted passwords were stolen.”

Outfoxed: How popular are Fox’s reality show, really?

New Times: The revamp of the New York Times Week in Review section, now dubbed Sunday Review, will contain both news and opinion beginning this weekend, including a column from company favorite Frank Bruni and a “news quiz” partnership with NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” as if Sunday Times readers don’t have enough public radio on their own.