- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2003

If it’s true what they say about imitation, then I guess I should be flattered that a Pulitzer-Prize winning Boston Globe reporter likes my work. However, flattery wasn’t my initial reaction when I came across some familiar sentences describing Al Gore’s role in an ill-fated 1996 effort to beef up airline security while reviewing a book about TWA 800. A glance at the book’s footnotes showed the authors had cited one of my articles and the Boston Globe’s Sept. 20, 2001 article “Airlines Fought Security Changes,” by Walter V. Robinson and Glen Johnson.

The quotes from the Globe article closely resembled my original reporting on Mr. Gore’s chairmanship of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security in articles I wrote for TheAmerican Spectator. I figured the book’s authors had jumbled their sources, inadvertently attributing some of my writing to the Globe. But, when I retrieved Messrs. Robinson’s and Johnson’s article from the online archives, the middle section on a “Presidential Commission” was similarly structured — based on the same facts, sources and sequence — as my own work.

Both stories featured how tough new aviation security recommendations were watered down in 1996 after the Clinton-Gore campaign and Democratic Party received unprecedented financial contributions from airline companies. I was the first to report this in “The Dissent of TWA 800,” published in The American Spectator in July 1997. Between then and 2000, I wrote three articles on TWA 800 for TAS and collaborated with Tony Blankley when he wrote about Mr. Gore’s role in his column in The Washington Times. My last article on TWA 800 appeared about a year before the Globe article was published.

Moreover, many of Messrs. Robinson’s and Johnson’s sentences appeared to be slightly altered from my articles. Where I wrote “the Vice President began to backpedal,” the Globe wrote “Vice President Al Gore backpedaled.” I wrote: “Cummock was the sole commissioner to refuse to endorse the weakened report. She insisted on writing a dissent.” In the Globe, Messrs. Robinson and Johnson wrote: “Cummock, alone among the commissioners, refused to endorse the final report. Instead, she filed a stinging dissent.” Here’s how I reported the airlines’ response to a letter written by Mr. Gore: “…the day after he promised the airline lobby that there would be no new expensive anti-terrorist regulations the Democratic National Committee received a $40,000 contribution from TWA headquarters.” Four years later, here’s how the Globe put it: “The day after Gore’s letter, Trans World Airlines donated $40,000 to the Democratic National Committee.”

There are other similarities between the Globe article and my work. One thing I didn’t see in their article that I did in mine was my name. So, I contacted Globe Ombudsman Christine Chinlund. She explained that Mr. Robinson had not used my articles and didn’t even know they existed. (She was mum about Mr. Johnson. Nor did she tell me that Mr. Robinson was then under consideration for a Pulitzer Prize for “public service” for his work as editor on the “Spotlight Team” series on Catholic Church scandals in Boston.) She maintained that the facts in my article had been “widely reported” elsewhere. I asked where, and she said The Washington Times, citing Mr. Blankley’s column. Ms. Chinlund seemed surprised when I pointed out my credit on that particular column.

She did confirm that Messrs. Robinson and Johnson had not even begun to research “Airlines Fought Security Changes” until after Sept. 11, 2001. Yet, by Sept. 20, their article was on the front page of the Globe. When I realized that Messrs. Robinson and Johnson had managed to uncover all the same facts that I had in a mere nine days, I was overwhelmed. It had taken me months of attendance at Mr. Gore’s White House commission meetings, as well as patient research, to piece together the facts. The Globe’s crack investigative team had done it in mere days. No wonder they get all the respect, while guys like me who do investigative writing for The American Spectator are treated like contemptible muckrakers.

About a month after my e-mails and phone conversation with Ms. Chinlund, Mr. Robinson won his Pulitzer. Now, I did feel flattered. Great minds truly do think alike. My work was not only nearly identical to Mr. Robinson’s, but it was published four years earlier. Maybe that would help me land more writing assignments. Okay, so I didn’t win the prize, but at least I can brag that my work resembles that of a Pulitzer Prize-winner!

So, to reporters everywhere under deadline pressure and stumped for an original thought, go ahead and plagiarize me. Maybe one of you will win a Pulitzer, too, and I’ll have fresh bragging rights that my work resembles that of journalism’s elite. It’s not much of a distinction, but I guess it will have to do — at least, until the Pulitzer folks start giving awards to the unsung writers working the wrong side of the journalistic tracks whose reporting gets cribbed by the likes of Jayson Blair.

John B. Roberts II is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.

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