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The Troubling Case of Chris Hedges
Plagiarism

The Troubling Case of Chris Hedges Pulitzer winner. Lefty hero. Plagiarist.

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In early 2010, the editors at Harper’s Magazine began reviewing a lengthy manuscript submitted by Chris Hedges, a former New York Times reporter. In the piece, Hedges had turned his eye to Camden, New Jersey, one of the most downtrodden cities in the nation. Hedges’s editor at Harper’s, Theodore Ross, who left the magazine in 2011 and is now a freelance writer, was excited when he saw the draft. “I thought it was a great story about a topicpovertythat nobody covers enough,” Ross said. 

The trouble began when Ross passed the piece along to the fact-checker assigned to the story. As Ross and the fact-checker began working through the material, they discovered that sections of Hedges’s draft appeared to have been lifted directly from the work of a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named Matt Katz, who in 2009 had published a four-part series on social and political dysfunction in Camden. 

Given Hedges’s institutional pedigree, this discovery shocked the editors at Harper’s. Hedges had been a star foreign correspondent at the Times, where he reported from war zones and was part of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for covering global terrorism. In 2002, he had received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He is a fellow at the Nation Institute. He has taught at Princeton University and Columbia University. He writes a weekly column published in the widely read progressive website Truthdig and frequently republished on the Truthout website. He is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling American Fascists. Since leaving the Times in 2005, he has evolved into a polemicist of the American left. For his fierce denunciations of the corporate state, his attacks on the political elite, and his enthusiasm for grassroots revolt, he has secured a place as a firebrand revered among progressive readers. 

A leading moralist of the left, however, had now been caught plagiarizing at one of the oldest magazines of the left. 

Ross and the fact-checker, who remains an editor at the magazine and asked that his name not be used in this story, sat down to discuss the matter before approaching Ellen Rosenbush, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, and Rick MacArthur, the publisher, who knew Hedges personally. The fact-checker was assigned to speak to Hedges about the material lifted from Matt Katz. According to Ross and the fact-checker, Hedges told them that he had shared the draft with Katz, who, Hedges claimed, had approved his use of Katz’s language and reporting. (Rosenbush and MacArthur declined to comment on the record for this article.) 

But when the editors at Harper’s asked Katz about Hedges’s account, Katz told them he had not in fact seen the manuscript. “When I went back to Hedges, he tried to clarify by saying he didn’t mean that he had actually showed Katz the draft,” the fact-checker said. “He lied to melied to his fact-checker.” 

At this point, Ross said, he brought the matter to Rosenbush, and togetherafter a series of meetings that included the fact-checker, literary editor Ben Metcalf, and MacArthurthey decided Harper’s could no longer stand behind the piece.

“I do not believe I shared a text with Matt Katz, but this was a few years ago,” Hedges wrote to me when I asked him about this account. “I know I spoke with him several times as he wrote the series and covered Camden.” Katz told me that he did not remember seeing a draft, and he confirmed speaking with a Harper’s fact-checker. He declined to comment further. 

The plagiarism at Harper’s was not an isolated incident. Hedges has a history of lifting material from other writers that goes back at least to his first book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, published in 2002. He has echoed language from Nation author Naomi Klein. He has lifted lines from radical social critic Neil Postman. He has even purloined lines from Ernest Hemingway. 

  

The unraveling of the Camden article occurred over the course of several weeks. “The more we dug into it, and the more we looked back at the early drafts,” Ross said, “the more we began to see that this could not have been anything but intentional. Specific language, specific sentence structure, specific topics. He went to all the same places as this reporter [Matt Katz], and talked to the same people. Some of it was just taken from the reporter’s articles. There were sentences that were exactly the same.” I asked Harper’s for a copy of Hedges’s original manuscript, for comparison with Katz’s published pieces, but the magazine’s policy is not to share unpublished work of its writers. 

“The Katz stuff was flat out plagiarism,” says the Harper’s fact-checker. “At least twenty instances of sentences that were exactly the same. Three grafs where a ‘that’ was changed to a ‘which.’” The fact-checker reiterated to me that first-person accounts in Hedges’s draft had him quoting the same sources as in Katz’s pieces, with the sources using exactly the same wording as in Katz’s pieces. “Hedges not only used another journalist’s quotes,” says the fact-checker, “but he used them in first-person scenes, claiming he himself gathered the quotes. It was one of the worst things I’d ever seen as a fact-checker at the magazine. And it was endemic throughout the piece.” 

The fact-checker spoke on the phone with Hedges at least three times and exchanged about a dozen e-mails with him. “He was very unhelpful from the beginning, and very aggressive,” said the fact-checker. Hedges repeatedly claimed he had done original reporting. “Hedges reassured me there were no problems,” said Ross. “He then went to the fact-checker and tried to intimidate him and give him a hard time. Hedges told him, ‘Why are you going to the editor?’”

The fact-checker told me, “Not only was the plagiarism more egregious than I had seen before, but it was shocking how unapologetic Hedges was when it was put in his face. He got very heavy-handed about it. He kept claiming that the people quoted in the Katz piece gave him the exact same quotes.”

According to Ross and the fact-checker, Hedges then tried to circumvent their questions by appealing privately to Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur, who at the time was a personal friend. 

“After it became clear that we had a serious problem, the reaction at the magazine was admirable,” Ross said. “Ellen brought me in to talk to Hedges on the phone when we killed it. He was very upset. He didn’t believe he did anything wrong. It was a hostile conversation between the three of us. It got heated. I said words to the effect of ‘Chris, we’re doing you a favor here. You don’t want to go out with that kind of work. Because you’ll get caught. Someone is going to catch you.’ I thought it was all pretty sad. Here was a chance to do a creative, smart, impactful story on poverty and we lost it because he wasn’t willing to do the work.” Hedges has not been invited to write for Harper’s again. 

 

Hedges made his name on the left with his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,considered a classic about the psychological effects of combat. When a University of Texas classics professor named Thomas Palaima read the book, he was initially enthused. Palaima teaches a course on the human experience of war and wanted to include Hedges as required reading in his syllabus. “I read War from a sympathetic progressive standpoint,” Palaima said. “I admired his courage as a reporter and his general moral stance against, to my mind, morally unjustifiable wars.”  

But in poring over the book, he had come across a passage that sounded disturbingly familiar. On page 40 of the hardcover first edition, Hedges writes: 

In combat the abstract words glory, honor, courage often become obscene and empty. They are replaced by the tangible images of war, the names of villages, mountains, roads, dates, and battalions. 

The rhythm of the language, the ideas, and the sentiment, Palaima concluded, were from Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The passage in A Farewell to Arms reads: 

Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.

Finding no citation of Hemingway in Hedges’s text, endnotes or bibliography, Palaima alerted Hedges’s publishing house, PublicAffairs, in an e-mail dated June 8, 2003, as to what he hoped was “an inadvertent plagiarism.” Over the next few weeks, he corresponded with the company's founder and CEO, Peter Osnos, who assured him that the passage had already been altered for future editions.

Thus, on page 40 of the paperback edition, the text now reads: 

The lofty words that inspire people to warduty, honor, gloryswiftly become repugnant and hollow. They are replaced by the hard, specific images of war, by the prosaic names of villages and roads. 

Yet the new edition still did not credit Hemingway. “The wording was changed to throw camouflage over the plagiarism,” Palaima said. “It was a cuttlefish approachyou spray ink into the water so no one can really see what’s going on. The original idea is Hemingway’s.” 

In response, Hedges told me that the passage “was noticed and corrected by me after the first edition was published. This was several months before the e-mail from Palaima.” And: “The passage, when it was corrected, was sufficiently different from the Hemingway not to warrant attribution.” 

Palaima followed up with several more e-mails to PublicAffairs during June 2003 noting his concern, as he told me, that the publishing house was engaged in a “cover-up” that was “just dishonest.” He got on the phone with Osnos, who, according to Palaima, dismissed his argument as “that of a pedant’s pedantry.” Palaima left the conversation believing that Osnos thought it was important to protect Hedges. 

In September 2003, Palaima published a piece on the Hemingway plagiarism in the Austin American-Statesman, in which he noted that plagiarists “are not merely stunting their own intellectual development or disappointing their professors. By disguising the fact that they are not speaking in their own voices, [they] diminish our belief that their voices are original and worth listening to.” According to Palaima, when he and Hedges spoke on the phone prior to publication of the American-Statesman piece, Hedges suggested that Palaima was not competent to question his work. Palaima, a MacArthur Fellow and veteran classicist, replied that he was adhering to the basic rules of scholarship in which proper citation is given. 

“It was a very strange conversation,” says Palaima. “He kept saying that essentially what he had done was trivial. He was dismissive and belittling.” Palaima replied that as author of more than a hundred scholarly articles, reviews, and op-eds, and as an editor of a scholarly monograph series, a scholarly journal, and several books, he had “never encountered a case where an unattributed use of another intellectual’s ideas and wording was solved by altering the wording in a subsequent printing without attribution.”

According to Palaima, Hedges claimed by way of explanation that he had copied the Hemingway text into his notes and later used it, mistakenly thinking it was his own. As for not crediting Hemingway once the plagiarism had been discovered, Hedges stated that it would have been prohibitively costly for the publisher to add a credit, because the text would have to be repaginated. 

Palaima was stunned. “All he had to do was add ‘As Hemingway wrote,’ and the problem would have been addressed,” Palaima told me. “Plutarch said that little details reveal the character of the man. If Hedges was found in a small matter to have further compounded his dishonesty, it makes you wonder about more important matters.” 

 

All the parties in this story, including myself, have professional lives that intersect with magazines and websites in the small world of left-liberal journalism. I’m a contributing editor at Harper’s, have written both for The Nation and Truthdig, and have received investigative grants from the Nation Institute. This article first took shape as an investigation for The American Prospect and then for Salon, both of which eventually declined to publish it. Prior to my discovery that Hedges had been caught plagiarizing while working for Harper’s, he was on my radar screen as a result of lifting passages from the work of my wife, Petra Bartosiewicz, who also writes for Harper’s

Bartosiewicz found that he had used, unattributed, her language from a piece she had published in the magazine’s November 2009 issue. Her article concerned the plight of a Pakistani woman named Aafia Siddiqui, who was accused of being a terrorist and who had disappeared, allegedly into the CIA’s system of black sites. 

In the Harper’s piece, Bartosiewicz described the scene in which Siddiqui, according to a Justice Department complaint, attacked a group of American officers in a room in Ghazni, Afghanistan, where she was being held. She wrote:

“None of the United States personnel were aware,” the complaint states, “that Siddiqui was being held, unsecured, behind the curtain.” No explanation is offered as to why no one thought to look behind it. The group sat down to talk and, in another odd lapse of vigilance, “the Warrant Officer placed his United States Army M-4 rifle on the floor to his right next to the curtain, near his right foot.” Siddiqui, like a villain in a stage play, reached from behind the curtain and pulled the three-foot rifle to her side. She unlatched the safety. She pulled the curtain “slightly back” and pointed the gun directly at the head of the captain. One of the interpreters saw her. He lunged for the gun. Siddiqui shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!” and fired twice. She hit no one. As the interpreter wrestled her to the ground, the warrant officer drew his sidearm and fired “approximately two rounds” into Siddiqui’s abdomen. She collapsed, still struggling, then fell unconscious.

Hedges wrote a piece about Siddiqui for Truthdig, published on February 8, 2010, roughly three months after Bartosiewicz’s article hit newsstands. In his piece, he wrote:

“None of the United States personnel were aware,” the complaint states, “that Siddiqui was being held, unsecured, behind the curtain.” The group sat down to talk and “the Warrant Officer placed his United States Army M-4 rifle on the floor to his right next to the curtain, near his right foot.” Siddiqui allegedly reached from behind the curtain and pulled the three-foot rifle to her side. She unlatched the safety. She pulled the curtain “slightly back” and pointed the gun directly at the head of the captain. One of the interpreters saw her. He lunged for the gun. Siddiqui shouted, “Get the fuck out of here!” and fired twice. She hit no one. As the interpreter wrestled her to the ground, the warrant officer drew his sidearm and fired “approximately two rounds” into Siddiqui’s abdomen. She collapsed, still struggling, and then fell unconscious. 

Later in the same article, Hedges refers to Bartosiewicz’s article, without explaining that the paragraph in his piece was hers. He proceeds to lift additional language from her Harper’s work without quoting her or attributing the material to her. 

Bartosiewicz:

The governor of Ghazni Province, Usman Usmani, told my local reporter that the U.S. team had “demanded to take over custody” of Siddiqui. The governor refused. He could not release Siddiqui, he explained, until officials from the counterterrorism department in Kabul arrived to investigate.

Hedges: 

The governor of Ghazni province, Usman Usmani, told a local reporter who was hired by Bartosiewicz that the U.S. team had “demanded to take over custody” of Siddiqui. The governor refused. He could not release Siddiqui, he explained, until officials from the counterterrorism department in Kabul arrived to investigate. 

Bartosiewicz:

He proposed a compromise: the U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui, the Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them.

Hedges:

He proposed a compromise: The U.S. team could interview Siddiqui, but she would remain at the station. In a Reuters interview, however, a “senior Ghazni police officer” suggested that the compromise did not hold. The U.S. team arrived at the police station, he said, and demanded custody of Siddiqui. The Afghan officers refused, and the U.S. team proceeded to disarm them. 

Bartosiewicz:

Then, for reasons unexplained, Siddiqui herself somehow entered the scene. The U.S. team, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.”

Hedges:

Then, for reasons unexplained, Siddiqui herself somehow entered the scene. The U.S. team, “thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.”

Bartosiewicz contacted a Harper’s editor (who has asked not to be named in this story) who reached out to Truthdig. The site replied that Hedges apparently had lifted the quotes directly from Bartosiewicz’s piece and had meant to attribute them as a “block quote.”  

As it appears now on the website, Truthdig has modified the article’s formatting and language and added an editor’s note at the top of the piece: “As a result of errors, an earlier version of this column misrepresented quoted material. The corrected version is below.” 

When asked about the Bartosiewicz passages, Hedges attributed it to “sloppy sourcing on my part. I feel badly about this, especially as Petra’s article was a first-class piece of reporting.” He wrote that the passages “should have been set off from the main body of the text as a block quote.” But he never addressed why he made so many small changes to the original text: the tweaking of some sentences and lines but not others, the adding of a hyperlink not in the original, the changing of phrases such as “my local reporter” to “a local reporter.” 

 

Hedges’s work is often reposted at the progressive news website Common Dreams. Readers who found another of his 2010 Truthdig columns there noted that Hedges had lifted language and ideas from Neil Postman’s seminal work on technological dystopia, Amusing Ourselves to Deathbut failed to include a citation. 

In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy.

Hedges, in his column “2011: A Brave New Dystopia,” published at Truthdig on December 27, 2010, writes (as the text appears on Common Dreams): 

Orwell warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley warned of a world where no one wanted to read books. Orwell warned of a state of permanent war and fear. Huxley warned of a culture diverted by mindless pleasure. Orwell warned of a state where every conversation and thought was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley warned of a state where a population, preoccupied by trivia and gossip, no longer cared about truth or information. Orwell saw us frightened into submission. Huxley saw us seduced into submission.

A commenter at Common Dreams remarked on the similarities: 

[T]he sustained repetition of alternating sentences beginning with ‘Orwell feared’ and ‘Huxley feared’ is what makes Postman’s passage striking, and Hedges copies it, replacing ‘feared’ with ‘warned’ (sorta like my students do faux paraphrases by replacing a few words with stuff they pulled out of the thesaurus). So he’s using the same content and the same stylistic device…Technically, it is plagiarism…If I’d tried that in graduate school, I’d have flunked.

As the piece currently appears onTruthdig, the paragraph references Postman somewhat awkwardly in the paragraph’s first and second sentences: “Orwell, as Neil Postman wrote, warned of a world where books were banned. Huxley, Postman noted, warned of a world where no one wanted to read books.” The editors’ note accompanying the piece sits at the bottom of the piece and is vague: “Revisions have been made in this column since it was originally posted on Truthdig.”

The two references to Postman do not appear at Common Dreams. In addition, the Internet archive tool Wayback Machine shows the Truthdig piece without the citations on October 20, 2012, almost two years after the article first appeared. The citations do appear, however, in the post as it was captured on January 18, 2013

When I asked Hedges about the similarities between his work and Postman’s, he wrote, “Please see the file that is posted in the archive on the Truthdig web site. It credits Postman for the juxdaposition [sic] of Orwell and Huxley.” He did not respond to questions about the discrepancy with the Common Dreams version of the piece and the original piece as it was published at Truthdig.

In a query to Truthdig, I stated that this article would reveal at least two instances of plagiarism in Hedges’s Truthdig articles and asked for a response. Truthdig managing editor Peter Scheer replied: “Truthdig has always found Chris Hedges to be a journalist of high ethical standards. Years ago we received one request and one complaint from a Harper’s editor representing Christopher Ketcham and his wife. We resolved those issues with notes, links and clarifications to the satisfaction of everyone involved.” He made no reference to the Postman column. (It should be noted that the Harper’s editor was representing the magazine.) 

Truthdig founder and editor-in-chief Robert Scheer (Peter’s father) later wrote: “I remain enormously impressed with the body of Chris Hedges’s work and would match it quite favorably for integrity and wisdom against any comparable offerings elsewhere on the Internet.”

When asked about the change in the text in order to credit Postman, the elder Scheer did not address the particulars of the change but wrote only that “Truthdig corrects errors when they are brought to our attention as we did in this instance.” 

When I was researching this article for Salon, the editors there pressed Truthdig, given that the Postman correction appeared to be downplaying the plagiarism. In an e-mail to the Scheers and Truthdig publisher Zuade Kaufman, a Salon editor noted that, “due to the changes to Hedges’s piece that referenced Bartosiewicz’s article, Truthdig was clearly aware of potential misattributions in Hedges’s articles. When another attribution problem appeared in a Hedges article, Truthdig corrected it with an editor’s note that was both less specific and less prominently placed than the first one.” 

Salon’s numerous attempts to get clarification of Truthdig’s correction policy finally resulted in a letter from Truthdig publisher Kaufman, who presented a series of accusations against both Salon and myself. “We are surprised that a publication as prominent as Salon would take this matter seriously,” wrote Kaufman. “In all honesty, we feel it raises serious questions regarding the true motives of Salon and Mr. Ketcham.”

Kaufman went on to note the “relative positions in the journalistic community between Salon and Truthdig and between Mr. Ketcham (and his spouse) and Mr. Hedges.” Because of these “relative positions” in the hierarchy of journalism, Kaufman stressed that “the issue of commercial motives cannot be disregarded,” and cited without elaboration “possible personal, economic and commercial gain that would be derived by Salon and Mr. Ketcham from damaging the reputation of Truthdig, Mr. Hedges, the Nation and other competitive publications and authors.”1 Nowhere in her letter did she address the Postman correction and its implications. 

 

In the acknowledgements to Hedges’s most recent book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, published by Nation Books, Hedges thanks Nation magazine editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel. “And the Nation Institute,” he writes in the acknowledgements, “has been my home and my supporter since I left the New York Times.” (The Nation magazine and the Nation Institute are separate entities.)

Among his Nation Institute colleagues is Naomi Klein, who on at least one occasion published something that reads a lot like a subsequent Hedges item. Compare a piece by Klein in The Nation concerning America’s international influence as it relates to climate change, published on October 14, 2009, with a piece by Hedges on the same subject, published at Truthdig four days later, on October 18, 2009. The lifting here is subtler than in other examples, but the ideas in each sentence are similar and the words in several cases exactly the same: 

Klein:

So while the United States increased its carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, the European Union countries reduced theirs by 2 percent. … Flash forward to the high-stakes climate negotiations that just wrapped up in Bangkok. The talks were supposed to lead to a deal in Copenhagen this December that significantly strengthens the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, the United States, the EU and the rest of the developed countries formed a unified bloc calling for Kyoto to be scrapped and replaced. Where Kyoto set clear and binding targets for emission reductions, the US plan would have each country decide how much to cut, then submit its plans to international monitoring (with nothing but wishful thinking to ensure that this all keeps the planet’s temperature below catastrophic levels). And where Kyoto put the burden of responsibility squarely on the rich countries that created the climate crisis, the new plan treats all countries the same.

Hedges: 

The United States, after rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, went on to increase its carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels. The European Union countries during the same period reduced their emissions by 2 percent. But the recent climate negotiations in Bangkok, designed to lead to a deal in Copenhagen in December, have scuttled even the tepid response of Kyoto. Kyoto is dead. The EU, like the United States, will no longer abide by binding targets for emission reductions. Countries will unilaterally decide how much to cut. They will submit their plans to international monitoring. And while Kyoto put the burden of responsibility on the industrialized nations that created the climate crisis, the new plan treats all countries the same.

Asked about this, Hedges wrote, “These facts may indeed have come from Klein, I do not remember, but the sentences are not copied from Klein.” When contacted, Klein said she had no comment.

In an e-mail, vanden Heuvel wrote that, after hearing about this story, the magazine conducted a review of “some of his pieces for the Nation, and we were satisfied with their editorial integrity. … We did not find evidence of plagiarism in any Nation article under his byline that we reviewed. Indeed, we believe that his reporting for the magazine has been rigorous and essential to the public debate.” 

Hedges, also in an e-mailed responsehe declined to be interviewed on the phonesaid that the plagiarism allegations at Harper’s were the work of a single editor, Theodore Ross. “An internal memo written by an editor at Harper’s, I believe it was Ted Ross, made this charge about a draft that was in the process of being annotated,” stated Hedges. “As I told Ross at the time, some hard statistics in my story, as well as some of the inner workings by the political boss of Camden, George Norcross, came from a three part series on Camden in The Philadelphia Inquirer.” 

“It has always been my experience working with editors over many years that we work together to fully source and vet an article,” Hedges continued. “Thus, at this stage a charge of plagiarism was at once shocking and unwarranted. … The final, published material is what counts.” Hedges reiterated in his e-mail that “I believe we are speaking about a charge made by one editor, Ross, who is no longer with Harper’s.”  

I asked Ross about this claim. “Hedges is simply incorrect when he says I was responsible for the plagiarism allegations against him at Harper’s,” Ross told me. “As he knows, a staff fact-checker, the editor-in-chief, the literary editor, and the publisher jointly concluded that his story could not be published. Most important, the final decision to withdraw the piece on these grounds was not mine. Harper’s editor-in-chief Ellen Rosenbush made that decision, with the approval of the publisher, and in consultation with myself and the fact-checkeragain something of which Hedges is very much aware.” 

As for the “process of annotation” that Hedges described, Ross responded: “To say that it is any editor’s responsibility to locate, remove, and replace plagiarized, paraphrased, or improperly sourced material is ludicrous. That’s not how the editorial process functions, and for a veteran journalist like Hedges to claim not to know this is baffling. Hedges’s story remains the only one I’ve ever been involved with at any level in publishing to be killed for these reasons.”

I reached out both to Chris Hedges and to the Nation Institute’s executive director, Taya Kitman, with a summary of the instances of plagiarism uncovered in the course of this investigation. In an e-mail, Kitman told me that, upon becoming aware of this story “some months ago”when in December of 2012 I apprised the Nation Institute of the article in progressboth the Nation Institute and Nation Books “conducted a review of Hedges’s writing in his capacity as a Nation Books author and as an investigative fund reporter.” Kitman wrote that this internal investigation did not find any instances of plagiarism. “Chris has been one of our most valuable and tireless public intellectuals,” she said in her e-mailed statement. 

Hedges said he subsequently published the Camden piece twice, once as an article in The Nation and as a longer version in his book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, co-written with the journalist and cartoonist Joe Sacco. 

Without a copy of the Harper’s draft, it is impossible to know how much the work changed from then until publication. Footnotes suggest that Hedges conducted research after Harper’s killed the piece. However, I found two passages in the book where Hedges uses nearly the exact same language as Katz, the Philadelphia Inquirer reporter. 

Katz:

The law, sponsored in part by Norcross’ political allies, earmarked $12.35 millionthe second-biggest recovery checkto Cooper’s $220 million expansion. An additional $3 million was provided for its neonatal unit, and the hospital is in line to receive $9 million toward the construction of a new medical school run with Rowan University. 

Hedges:

A law, sponsored in part by Norcross’s political allies, earmarked $12.35 millionthe second biggest recovery check to the cityto Cooper’s $220 million expansion. An additional $3 million was provided for its neonatal unit. The hospital received $9 million toward the construction of the $140 million Cooper Medical School which will open in the summer of 2012. 

Katz:

Less than 5 percent of the $175 million recovery package was spent on the things residents care about most: crime, city schools, job training, and municipal services.

Hedges:

Less than five percent of the $175 million recovery package was spent addressing the most pressing concerns in the citycrime, schools, job training, and municipal services. 

Asked about this, Hedges wrote, “I am mystified by your suggestion re two sections of my book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.Both are properly footnoted and sourced.” This is incorrect. In the book, Hedges sources the first quote to a Philadelphia Inquirer article by two other reporters. He sources the second passage to a Katz article, but not the one where the language appears. 

Responding to this, the Nation Institute’s Kitman wrote, “It is abundantly clear from Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt that Chris Hedges acknowledges the investigative work The Philadelphia Inquirer did in Camden.” The footnotes, she acknowledged, are wrong, and she said they would be corrected in future printings.

I asked two journalism ethicists to look at the instances of plagiarism described throughout this piece. “These examples suggest not inadvertent plagiarism,” said Kelly McBride, who runs the Ethics Department at the journalism school the Poynter Institute, “but carefully thought out plagiarism meant to skirt the most liberal definition of plagiarism.” Robert Drechsel, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted that the use of material from Klein, Postman, and Hemingway “could be characterized as something that has come to be called ‘patchwriting.’ English and writing professors Sandra Jamieson and Rebecca Moore Howard have defined it as ‘restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source.’ Whether it happens intentionally, carelessly, or as an oversight, it’s a very serious matter.”

“Whatever the explanation for Hedges’s reporting,” Drechsel told me, “harm will have occurred. Trust is a journalist’s and journalism’s most precious commodity. Difficult to gain and virtually impossible to regain once lost. If there is even a hint of the possibility that misconduct was covered up, it’s even worse. Journalism will take another hit.” 

 

Correction: In the original version of this article, The New Republic indicated that PublicAffairs changed the text of War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning only after having been alerted by Thomas Palima to the presence of plagiarism. In fact, the wording had been changed months earlier, and an edition with the present language existed at the time of Palaima's email to PublicAffairs. However, there was still no attribution to Heminway in the new version, despite the obvious similarities in ideas and formulation. Additionally, this story has been updated to note that the Hedges pieces in Truthout are republished after initially appearing in Truthdig.

1

As an authorial aside from the perspective of over 15 years of freelance journalism, and in the context of Kaufman’s letter, I should note that a possible result of this piece will be the burning of my bridges at the Nation, where I know the editors and have been published; the Nation Institute, from which I have received funding for investigative journalism published in Harper’s and elsewhere; Truthdig, where I have published half-a-dozen columns and have been proud of my work; and Nation Books, Hedges’s current publisher, a house I have always respected and admired.

Christopher Ketcham is a contributing editor at Harper’s and writes for many other magazines. Find more of his work at Christopherketcham.com

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