Here’s the Times:
Some 28 hours after the explosion, Stone made it to land. “Before we were allowed to leave, we were lined up and made to take a drug test. It was only then, 28 hours after the explosion, that I was given access to a phone, and was allowed to call my wife and tell her I was OK,’’ he said.
Days later, Stone said, a representative of rig operator Transocean asked him to sign a document “stating I was not injured, in order to get $5,000 for the loss of my personal possessions.’’ He declined to sign and hired a lawyer.
With such close rewriting, one has to ask, even with the endnote, is the author really giving credit where credit is due? The answer is clearly, no. At one point in the book, Safina bases nearly 400 words of text, fully one page, on a single article by Craig Pittman, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. Very few of the words come from Safina, who basically cut, pasted, and trimmed Pittman’s 1,135-word story down to size. I sent Pittman the passage from Safina’s book, which was the first he’d seen of it, and asked him to compare it to his article. After “talking it over” with his editor, he sent the following reaction by e-mail:
As someone who’s written three non-fiction books (Paving Paradise, Manatee Insanity & the forthcoming The Scent of Scandal) that involved both original reporting and researching prior news coverage by other people, I know how tempting it is to do a little cut-and-paste as a way to save time and make deadline. It’s so much easier than rewriting things in your own words. But it’s also easier than ever to get nailed for plagiarism these days if you pull something like that. In my books, my general practice has been to reword things and, if quotes are involved, make it clear that they didn’t originate with me—for instance, by saying such-and-so “told a reporter” or “said to the Miami Herald”—as well as giving detailed source info in the end notes.
When asked about Pittman’s reaction, Safina expressed surprise and suggested that far from appropriating Pittman’s work, he had given it new legs. “It’s not being passed off as mine,” he said. “It’s being referenced to him. I mean, how many people read the St. Petersburg Times? How many people know that article exists? I included his name, the title of the article, the publication, and the date [in an endnote]. Why would anybody be dismayed that his article has a little extra life by being incorporated into a book, when most people have totally forgotten that article?”
I asked Safina how many people would realistically turn to the back of the book and look up the endnote to find Pittman’s name. I suggested that a much fairer, more transparent, and more journalistically honest strategy would have been to include a brief, “according to an article by….” in the text itself.
“I agree with you. I could have done that,” Safina replied. “It is a matter of opinion as to whether it is fairer. I can tell you that there is nothing dishonest about anything in my approach or my intent in the book.”
In a follow-up e-mail, Safina stressed that, “for any referenced material that seems to you too close to verbatim for your comfort despite the endnote references (one person’s “too close” is another’s fidelity to source matter), there is a lot of material and a lot of wordcraft that is quite original.” He added, that he “often” did cite news outlets directly in the text, which is true, though it wasn’t often enough. At one point, he bases more than three whole pages of text on a series of interviews that Mike Williams, a crewmember on the Deepwater Horizon, gave to CBS’s 60 Minutes talking about his escape from the burning platform. It’s a captivating narrative, one that others writing about the spill, including Antonia Juhasz, used. But in her book, Black Tide, Juhasz explains in the text that the story came from an interview with 60 Minutes. In over three pages, Safina couldn’t find the space.
“There are other considerations that are on my mind while I am writing,” he said when I asked about Juhasz’s approach. “One is I feel like I am mainly working for the reader, and if the look of the text seems like it’s going to get burdened with extra quotes, or extra attributions, or will break a sense of trying to put the reader in the scene and create a mood, that factors into what strokes I am trying to either point on or not put on the page.”