Nate Thayer accused of plagiarism [UPDATED]

"I will defend to the death my reporting and attribution of this piece"

Nate Thayer’s post on Monday about how much was willing (or, more accurately, not willing) to pay for a re-written version of his NK News article about basketball in North Korean diplomacy created quite the firestorm. “Several thousand emails, messages, phone calls, 300,000 blog hits,” according to Thayer, and a long, important discussion about the state of freelance journalism.

But the online foment has now turned back onto Thayer—author Jeremy Duns published a blog post on Thursday titled, “Nate Thayer is a plagiarist.” It alleges that Thayer’s NK News story “massively and unambiguously” plagiarized a 2006 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Duns was just as certain of his allegations in an interview.

“Plagiarism drives me completely nuts,” he said, noting his role in unmasking Quentin Rowan’s plagiarized spy novel, Assassin of Secrets, in 2011.

“There’s no other explanation” for the similarities between Thayer’s story and Mark Zeigler’s in the U-T nor, Duns said, for the fact that attribution links weren’t added to the story until after he contacted Thayer via Twitter about them.

NK News Editor in Chief Tad Farrell said that Thayer was asked to write a piece about the role of basketball in North Korean diplomacy in the wake of Dennis Rodman’s recent visit there. Thayer came back with a 5,000-plus-word article that was then edited down and posted on the site, Farrell said.

Thayer did not see the article before it was posted. The editing process created “numerous attribution errors,” Farrell said, and Thayer pointed them out after the story was posted. The mistakes were fixed, and this, Farrell said, accounts for why Duns noticed that links to the Union-Tribune piece were added in later.

“It was not a plagiarized piece,” Farrell insisted.

Thayer also maintained that the reporting in his piece, unless attributed elsewhere, was his own.

“I am outraged, of course,” he said via email. “I will defend to the death my reporting and attribution of this piece. Every allegation is answerable.”

Thayer continued:

“This obviously, as you would know as a journalist, is a very angst inducing matter. I want the facts presented fairly and accurately. I didn’t plagiarize anything. To even have to write those words make me angry.

That someone can publish such allegations without going through a quality control and ethical and fact checking editorial process, speaks more to the state of what passes as journalism today than the libelous allegations he has made against me.

UPDATE, 10pm: Mark Zeigler, author of the U-T’s 2006 article, told CJR that he’s “certainly interested and mildly concerned” about Duns’s accusations. Zeigler said Thayer did contact him last week and they talked about Zeigler’s article and about the fact that Thayer was working on another article about basketball in North Korea pegged to Dennis Rodman’s visit.

After Thayer’s piece was published, Zeigler said, he received an email from Farrell that apologized for not linking to Zeigler’s article and said it was an unintentional error and that the links would be restored.

Zeigler’s not completely satisfied with the way the his piece was ultimately attributed in Thayer’s article, however.

“I don’t think just highlighting a few words of type in a different color necessarily qualifies as a proper attribution,” he said, adding that his piece “took a lot of work and a lot of man hours” to report and write. Considering how many of Zeigler’s sources were then used in Thayer’s piece, Zeigler said, he and the U-T deserved more than a passing “documents obtained by the San Diego Union Tribune in 2006.”

Zeigler also pointed out that, since the well of information about North Korea from which a journalist can draw is fairly small, it’s understandable that a reporter writing about the North Koreans’ love of basketball would have little more to go on than his article. And he’s not ready to accuse Thayer of plagiarism: “I have no reason not to respect him as a fellow journalist.”

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: , ,