When a tiger has sex with a tornado and you plagiarise the result…

As if on cue, shortly after I write on plagiarism, the editor of one of India’s top weekly newsmagazines contributes his own example.

A few days ago this Slate profile of Rajinikanth, by Grady Hendrix, was floating around and attracting much interest, especially for the line “If a tiger had sex with a tornado and then their tiger-nado baby got married to an earthquake, their offspring would be Rajinikanth.” Which, as a pictorial evocation, belongs up there with Matt Taibbi’s characterisation of Goldman Sachs as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

Apparently India Today’s editor-in-chief, Aroon Purie, liked it too. He liked it so much that he decided to use it without attribution.

K P Salim (the author of the Countermedia article linked above) seems to think it “unfair” to blame Purie if the piece has been “ghost-written by some one in the desk as it is common practice in such publications.” First of all, I am interested to learn that editors of weekly magazines commonly have their editorials ghostwritten. Is it so hard to write a few dozen original words every week? But in any case, I don’t think that absolves him.



Update, Oct 13, 2010: The Hoot (a sort of media watchdog) notes this incident, and wonders — seriously, as far as I can tell — whether Aroon Purie is the victim. (Of a practical joke by one of his staffers.)

Also, India Today has done it before. The perpetrator (or victim of a joke?) was the deputy editor, Damayanti Datta. The original author, Niranjana Iyer, contacted both Ms Datta and the editor, Prabhu Chawla. Both of whom responded with silence. Perhaps it is embarrassing to admit that the office is filled with practical jokers.


Update, October 14: See India Today’s comment below.


Update, October 14: Niranjana’s response (also in the comments below) is a classic. One day perhaps people like the India Today editors will realise that, while the internet makes plagiarism easy, it also makes detecting plagiarism easy. And then your misdeeds are stored on the net for posterity. And a Google search on your name will find them.

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11 Comments

  1. Mark Austin

     /  October 13, 2010

    I’m surprised this has got so little coverage in mainstream Indian media. It’s a particularly egregious case: The first two grafs, containing 247 words Purie didn’t write were clumsily pasted atop the column at whose foot there is his signature.

    Are Indian journalists scared to mention this or reluctant for other reasons? What gives?

    In any case, you’re right to point out that in the extremely unlikely event that he never saw the column that has his signature at the bottom, he’s nevertheless 100 percent responsible, as a journalist, for the content of that column.

    Reply
  2. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  October 13, 2010

    Mark: indeed, I wonder why the silence. The news was about 2 days old when I posted on it. (We don’t buy India Today, or I may have noticed it myself earlier. Also, apparently this only appears in the southern-states edition.)

    Reply
  3. Rahul

     /  October 13, 2010

    Here’s my prediction — Aroon Purie will ignore it completely and the issue will just die a natural death….I suspect too many other journalists have skeletons like this in their cupboard, to risk rattling this one!

    Reply
  4. There was an unfortunate incident with the Letter from the Editor in the southern edition of India Today’s last issue.
    This was a mistake. We are printing an apology for it in the southern edition.
    Here is a preview for your information.

    “Jet lag is clearly injurious to the health of journalism. I was in America, and still a bit bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived when we took an unusual decision: to split the cover. This is jargon for changing the cover for some editions; so while the content of the magazine remained the same worldwide, the cover that went to our readers in south India had displayed the phenomenal Rajinikanth, while our other readers saw Omar Abdullah on the cover. This meant writing two versions of ‘Letter from the Editor’. Not being an acknowledged expert on the delightful southern superstar, I asked Delhi for some inputs. Unfortunately, a couple of sentences lifted from another article were sent to me. An excuse is not an explanation. So, without any reservations, mea culpa. Apologies.”

    Reply
  5. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  October 14, 2010

    Dear India Today group,
    That was a very fast and professional response on your part. I wish all such cases of plagiarism were responded to with the same alacrity. (In fact, another instance from your group is linked to, above; though much time has passed, it is never too late for a clarification.)

    Best,
    Rahul

    Reply
  6. Thanks for the mention, Rahul! And I just sent them this email, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Hello, India Today Group Corporate Communication People,

    Your unmitigated gall in posting an explanation for your plagiarism of the Slate story ON MY BLOG while ignoring your plagiarism from this VERY SAME BLOG leaves me amazed. So Grady Hendrix deserves an apology because he’s from Slate, and I don’t because I’m an independent blogger? You couldn’t have demonstrated your stunning lack of principles better than with this incident. I never received a reply, let alone an apology to my complaint made eighteen months ago, though you were quick to disable comments on the article on your site. And yet, you’ve reacted remarkably fast to the outcry about the Slate article.

    Do the right thing and have your deputy editor apologize already. And no, you can’t blame jet-lag for this one.

    Niranjana

    Reply
  7. Rahul Siddharthan

     /  October 14, 2010

    Niranjana – thanks! Was going to reply on your blog. My guess is e-mail accounts are read by low-level lackeys who will not even pass your mail on upstream. I doubt they are even monitoring responses on your blog (or mine): they probably did a ten-minute Google search for all blogs that refer to this episode, and pasted in their form-letter response. But maybe I’m wrong and they will do the right thing now…

    Reply
  8. Niranjana: too bad your blog isn’t owned by The Washington Post.

    Shameless hacks.

    Reply
  9. @ Rahul: Nah, you have them pegged. The lackeys have no doubt flagged me as spam by now.

    @ km: Or that I don’t have serious CIA connections.

    Thanks, both. The sole positive outcome of this mess is that I’ve discovered your blogs.

    Reply
    • Rahul Siddharthan

       /  October 15, 2010

      Niranjana: good to discover your blog too! India Today is far from being the sole offender at this sort of thing, but TOI has at least been known to apologise and pay. Meanwhile, I suppose the new India Today will be on the newsstands now: I will pick it up to see what final form the apology takes. The version they posted above raises more questions than answers…

      Reply
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