TFW Your Pro-Trump News Site's Ethics Policy Is Plagiarized

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Jacob Wohl is the type of young Internet lad who hangs around in President Donald Trump’s mentions and posts screenshots on Instagram when he gets a coveted Trump retweet. The 20-year-old financier has appeared on Fox Business—it helps when dad’s an analyst!—and, for reasons unknown, was featured in a Bloomberg profile last year that made an odd comparison between him and Jamie Dimon, CEO of one of the largest investment banks in the world.

He also occasionally owns the libs via The Washington Reporter, a personal blog dressed up with an official-sounding name that brands itself as a producer of “independent journalism” and “hard-hitting investigative reports.” It features a Code of Ethics prominently on its site. And you may or may not be surprised that it’s lifted almost entirely from that of another news outlet.

That would be the nonprofit ProPublica, which produces some of the strongest public-service journalism in the country, often about the Trump Administration. The Washington Reporter’s Code of Ethics is an almost identical match of the former’s 2,200-word policy. I ran both through a text comparison tool and found just three minor changes made by Wohl’s site: it does not say the code is required by the Internal Revenue Service; it tweaked its mission to include “political punditry and news analysis”; and it struck four paragraphs that severely limited ProPublica employees’ ability to trade securities.


Here are the first several paragraphs, ProPublica on the left and The Washington Reporter on the right:


Meanwhile, The Washington Reporter did leave in one of ProPublica’s cornerstones: “We don’t plagiarize.”


I pinged Wohl to ask if he’d violated his own ethics policy by plagiarizing someone else’s ethics policy—or if he’d even read this portion of his site. “I didn’t create that part of the website, but if our policy is similar to that of another reputable site, I think that’s fantastic,” he responded in Twitter DM.

Yet there was still room for Wohl’s hackery to get dumber. ProPublica President Richard Tofel told me that the nonprofit publishes the code of ethics under a Creative Commons license, free for anyone to use so long as the copied version gives prominent credit and doesn’t include major edits. “If the guy had called and said, ‘I’d like to use this,’ I would’ve had no problem with it,” Tofel told Splinter.


“It’s of course greatly ironic here, as the Code I drafted in 2007 lifts language from other news organizations, says that it does, and lists the organizations from whom we borrowed,” Tofel added. “That crediting passage was among what Jacob used here, but without any reference to our having crafted it.”

The type of people who chase pro-Trump virality often defy irony, as we’ve come to learn. But sometimes I’m still surprised: The concluding line of ProPublica’s Code of Ethics is—I shit you not—“When in doubt, ask.”


[H/T Yphtach Lelkes]