Twitter users @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, the pair that leveled plagiarism accusations against Buzzfeed's Benny Johnson and CNN's Fareed Zakaria, have set their sights on a new high-profile target: Malcolm Gladwell.
In their blog, Our Bad Media, the duo allege that Gladwell — staff writer at the New Yorker and author of countless pop-sociology bestsellers that have propagated myths like the "10,000 hour rule" — lifted material on at least three separate occasions for stories he wrote for the magazine. The two also posted side-by-side comparisons of the passages, with the alleged parts that were plagiarized highlighted.
One allegation involves a story about how Apple founder Steve Jobs haggled with Xerox to let him visit their PARC facility. @blippoblapplo and @crushingbort claim that Gladwell plagiarized Jeffrey S. Young, whose 1988 book "Steve Jobs" recounts this very same event.
via Our Bad Media
"So, if you read Gladwell’s article — and noted how 'Tesler recalled' the story of Jobs’ reaction to no one in particular — you’d naturally assume that Gladwell had interviewed Tesler himself," the two write. "He didn’t."
They also question a series of passages used by Gladwell that appear to borrow from Miles Wolff's "Lunch at the Five and Ten," a 1970 book about the Greensboro sit-ins. @blippoblappo and @crushingbort assert that details found in "Small Change," the Gladwell New Yorker article in question, provides specific details not found elsewhere except Wolff's book.
via Our Bad Media
New Yorker editor David Remnick responded to the allegations, telling Capital that citing secondary sources are a challenge for journalism because it doesn't have the luxury of footnotes. His entire statement:
"The issue is an ongoing editorial challenge known to writers and editors everywhere — to what extent should a piece of journalism, which doesn’t have the apparatus of academic footnotes, credit secondary sources? It’s an issue that can get complicated when there are many sources with overlapping information. There are cases where the details of an episode have passed into history and are widespread in the literature. There are cases that involve a unique source. We try to make judgments about source attribution with fairness and in good faith. But we don’t always get it right. In retrospect, for example, we should have credited Miles Wolff’s 1970 book about Greensboro, because it’s central to our understanding of those events. We sometimes fall short, but our hope is always to give readers and sources the consideration they deserve."
@blippoblappo and @crushingbor posted a follow-up piece on their blog defending their claims. @crushingbor also addressed Remnick's response, all but accusing him of backtracking from his stance on plagiarism after Jonah Lehrer, a former New Yorker staffer, was found out to be plagiarizing.
For his part, Gladwell responded to the accusations by pointing to a 2004 essay he wrote for the New Yorker on plagiarism.
"This, from long ago, perhaps best captures my feelings on this subject: http://gladwell.com/something-borrowed/."
Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.