There are cases where the cut-and-paste work cannot be explained by a desire to accurately convey public health information, however. Take another passage Mascarelli found, which reads, “In Gulf Shores, Alabama, thick oil washes up at a state park, coating the white sand with a thick, red stew. ‘This makes me sick,’ says one resident, her legs and feet streaked with crude.” The AP article Safina cites in the endnotes goes like this:
In Gulf Shores, Ala., boardwalks leading to hotels were tattooed with oil from beachgoers’ feet. A slick hundreds of yards long washed ashore at a state park, coating the white sand with a thick, red stew ‘This makes me sick,’ said Rebecca Thomasson of Knoxville, Tenn., her legs and feet smeared with brown streaks of crude.
“A thick, red stew”? Legs “streaked with crude”? These are not standard medical terms. They are the journalistic stylings and gathered quotes of two AP reporters that Safina unfairly appropriated by forgoing quotation marks or a direct attribution in his text. And this isn’t even the most egregious example. Compare the following passage from Safina’s book and the Los Angeles Times article upon which it is based.
More than a day after the explosion, Stone was finally back on land. “Before we were allowed to leave, we were lined up and made to take a drug tests. 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.”
Then, a few days later, a representative of rig owner 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.
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.