Plagiarism and cheating are prevalent in business, journalism and academia. An article in today’s New York Times, by the Public Editor Clark Hoyt, described how Zachery Kouwe, a reporter, was fired last week because he lifted material from the Wall Street Journal without appropriate attribution. This is reminiscent of what I encounter as a teacher. In one class, I read a student’s essay. Midway through the paper, I thought that this student was an incredibly gifted writer. However, by the end of the piece, I realized that the material wasn’t his work. I googled a prominent phrase, and sure enough, the identical article popped-up on a Microsoft web-site.
With the prevalence of cut and past technology, it is easy to copy other peoples’ work. Generally, there is nothing wrong with cutting and pasting as long as the author appropriately references the original sources. In the New York Times article Kouwe’s acts were described as the equivalent of “shoplifting gum,” as opposed to, say, shoplifting “color TVs. ” By copying the entire article, my student shoplifted the entire color TV!
Ironically, Kouwe was writing about Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Kouwe and my student were as mindful in ripping-off their sources of material as Madoff was in swindling his investors. When one mindfully cheats others, one is acting unethically. It is the responsibility of leaders in business, academia and journalism to take corrective action when the people whom they lead cheat others. In the absence of this moral leadership, societal relationships break down.