You’re at a party and the discussion turns to world events. Some dude, usually wearing a Ralph Lauren polo shirt and Sarah Palin glasses, says, “I get all my news from the BBC.” It’s his way of saying, “I’m an intellectual and the American press is for idiots.”
If that story sounds eerily familiar, it should. According to a British university research study, 36 percent of traffic on British news sites come form the United States. I’m not sure if Americans find the British accent “smart sounding” or if Jon Stewart has soured an entire generation off American media, but, whatever the reason, many Americans believe they can find more substantive and quality journalism across the pond than they can at home. It’s not true.
It’s not that the American media is particularly good (I would argue it’s particularly poor), but there are at least certain basic rules that must be followed. For example, you can’t copy someones work; there are copyright and intellectual property laws. In Britain, these laws are much weaker and on occasion — like the recent story about Landon Donovan calling out David Beckham — sometimes ignored.
If you missed it, American author Grant Wahl is releasing his much anticipated book, “The Beckham Expirement,” later this month. The book looks at how Beckham’s move to Los Angeles has, for the most part, been a failure. An exerpt from the book will be released in the July 6 issue of Sports Illustrated and is already available online.
Maybe the most interesting part of the excerpt is what Donovan has to say about his famous teammate. Among other things, he doesn’t think Beckham has taken his Major League Soccer excursion seriously and the experience for him personally has been “fucking miserable.”
Predictably, the British press jumped on the story.
In the Mirror, Mark Lipton summaries Wahl’s story without saying that it’s Wahl’s story. Lipton reprints quote after quote (12 paragraphs of quotes to be exact) which Wahl got from Donovan. At one point, Lipton attempts to insert his own voice into the story, writing:
Donovan clearly has an axe to grind, accusing Beckham, 34, of not standing up for him – which he believes was his duty as skipper – when former coach Ruud Gullit launched a dressing-room tirade during a game in Kansas City last May.
Interesting, but how does Lipton know Donovan got chewed out by Gullit? Because he read it in Wahl’s story:
Most of all, Donovan was upset that Beckham had not supported him in front of the team when Gullit had confronted him at halftime of the May 25 game against Kansas City. Donovan had not played deep enough in midfield in the first half, according to Gullit, who angrily challenged him in the locker room.
The only mention of Grant Wahl in Lipton’s story comes in the final paragraph, which reads:
The souring of this American dream is chronicled in a new book ‘The Beckham Experiment’ by Grant Wahl.
I guess that’s Lipton way of saying, “all the information I got for this story came Grant Wahl.” But if the reader didn’t know better, he or she would think Lipton himself did the reporting for the story and, at the end, mentioned another reporter (Wahl) . That’s what the Telegraph thought…
In the Telegraph, Giles Mole mentions the Mirror’s Donovan-Beckham story, writing:
According to the Mirror, USA international Landon Donovan, who lost the captain’s armband to Becks when he arrived in 2007, has launched a ‘verbal assault’, saying: “All that we care about at a minimum is that he committed himself to us…
But, of course, it wasn’t “according to the Mirror,” it’s according to Grant Wahl. I could see how a reader could be easily duped by the Mirror’s story, but that Miles, who works for one of the most respected newspapers in the country, fell for it is embarrassing.
(Note: The Telegraph has since wrote its own Donovan-Beckham story and Wahl is correctly credited.)
In the Guardian, the original online story about Donovan’s comments on Beckham went without mention of Wahl, but the story has since been corrected. Although, the Guardian still doesn’t mention where the quotes come from until paragraph eight.
The most blatant plagiarism comes from from the Mail. I understand the Mail isn’t a pristine example of journalism integrity, but even this is extreme.
The story has an annoyomous byline (Sportsmail Reporter) and retells a story from Wahl’s excerpt about Beckham being denied alcohol at a Virginia (the Mail story says Washington, but it’s in Virginia in Wahl’s story) restaurant because Beckham didn’t have his ID with him. Wahl’s name, or the name of the book, never appears in the story. Here’s how the Mail tells Beckham’s wine story:
And when the waiter at the restaurant in Washington told him: ‘No ID, no wine,’ Beckham replied: ‘Is this guy taking the p***?
Despite having 110 caps and nearing the end of his playing career, the server at the restaurant was seemingly not satisfied that Beckham was over 21.
As an argument ensued the waiter claimed that he ‘didn’t care who he was’ but, after a brief discussion with the midfielder’s bodyguard, he allowed Beckham to have his drink back.
Here’s what Wahl wrote:
“O.K.,” the waiter said. “I need to see some I.D.’s.”
“I don’t have my I.D. with me,” Beckham said.
“No I.D., no wine!” the waiter announced, theatrically snatching Beckham’s wineglass.
Beckham thought it was a put-on. “Is this guy taking the piss?” he asked. But the waiter was serious. When the Galaxy’s Portuguese defender Abel Xavier couldn’t produce an I.D., his wineglass disappeared too. “What is this?” the 34-year-old Xavier thundered. “I have a kid who can drink.” The other players laughed hysterically, partly because the waiter hadn’t recognized the world’s most famous athlete and partly because Beckham and Xavier were so used to being mobbed in Europe that they didn’t bother carrying identification. Welcome to soccer in the U.S., guys.
Beckham’s bodyguard pulled the waiter aside to explain. Soon the maître d’ came over. “I don’t care who they are!” the players heard the waiter say to his boss. Finally the maître d’ prevailed, and Beckham and Xavier got their wineglasses in time to join their teammates in a toast.
It’s clear plagiarism by any definition. Not only that, but the Mail story goes on to say:
To add insult to injury, his team-mates had spent more than the $30-a-head meal allowance they receive so Becks, who earns about £5million a year, had to put his hand in his pocket to cover the extras.
But Wahl writes:
Beckham didn’t pick up the check. He put in enough to cover his share and passed it along. That would be standard operating procedure at meals throughout the season. “None of us care,” said Kelly Gray, one of Beckham’s frequent dining companions. “It’s just nice to go out to dinner.”
It’s one thing to plagiarize, but it’s another thing to plagiarize incorrectly. Whoever wrote the story for the Mail isn’t stupid (I’m giving him or her the benefit of the doubt), like your grand father after a few too many drinks at Christmas, the Mail’s writer was just trying to spice up the story a little bit to make it more interesting and Beckham friendly.
I’m not saying the American press is immune to plagarism (Jayson Blair) but it’s unacceptable. If the Mail’s or the Mirror’s Beckham story ran in an American newspaper, it’s safe to say both papers would be sued for copyright infringement almost immediately and within a week the sports editor and reporter who wrote the story would be forced to resign or be fired. In Britain, taking other peoples work might be looked down upon, but it’s also part of the game.