John and Paul commented last night on the Star Tribune’s resolution of its investigation into the work of editorial writer Steve Berg here. I originally noted a case of obvious plagiarism in an editorial that turned out to be by Steve Berg here. In that post I simply mocked the editorial for its derivative rhetoric. Having exhausted the vocabulary of opprobrium it could bring to bear on President Bush by itself, the Star Tribune had taken to cribbing (or to use the Hertzberg/Berg lingo, “subcontracting”) from its betters in the mainstream media to carry on. The editorial page editor of the Star Tribune subsequently announced that the case had been brought to her attention and that although parts of the editorial should have been attributed to Hendrik Hertzberg, she found the plagiarism to have been accidental.
As one thing led to another, we brought a second, similar case of Berg cribbing from Hertzberg to the attention of the Star Tribune and asked for a comment. When editorial page editor Susan Albright said she needed time to investigate before commenting, we held off any note on the incident. Our only interest was in the standards that govern the work of the Star Tribune. Was Berg’s conduct acceptable? Did it pass muster? That’s what we wanted to know. We never sought or called for Berg’s firing or anything of the kind and, given the stakes involved for him personally, tried to make sure that we treated the matter with the appropriate responsibility and discretion.
Yesterday the Star Tribune announced the result of its investigation, clearing Berg of misconduct beyond the two instances we wrote about. The Star Tribune’s investigation of Berg was limited to Berg’s editorial work this year. Berg has worked for the Star Tribune for 30 years. Why was the investigation limited to Berg’s work this year? The Star Tribune has not explained. How was the investigation conducted? The Star Tribune has not explained. Did the investigation extend beyond a comparison of Berg’s work this year with that of Hendrik Hertzberg’s? The Star Tribune has not explained.
In both instances that we wrote about the Star Tribune found that Berg’s cribbing without attribution was “improper and unfortunate.” In both instances, however, the Star Tribune found that there was “no intent to deceive on the part of Berg, and his performance over 30 years has otherwise been exemplary.” Given the blatant copying involved in the first incident we wrote about and the limited nature of the Star Tribune’s investigation, it seems to me that the mitigating factors cited by the Star Tribune — a lack of intent to deceive and an exemplary record — are unsupportable.
The AP story on this matter that is carried here by CBS News includes this comment from Berg himself:
Berg said Saturday that the problems with attribution were minor.
“Reacting to a right-wing blog, the newspaper found unintentional insufficient attribution in a fraction of 1 percent of my work,” Berg said. “I’ll put that up against anybody.”
As occasional readers of Star Tribune editorials, we are all too familiar with the combination of name-calling and misleading bluster in Berg’s comment. In that respect Berg’s comment is the fitting conclusion to this matter.
PAUL adds: “Insufficent attribution” is a euphemism for stealing. Berg apparently is proud that only a small percentage of work is stolen from others.