Crimes low and high 

Paula Evans Newman, a senior staff writer for the Heritage Newspapers, was hopping mad. For years, staffers at the too-little-known Downriver chain have been used to the daily newspapers, especially the Detroit News, stealing and rewriting their stories.

To some extent, that’s how the game always has been played. Paula, a talented veteran and a class act, knew enough to be adult about it. But this time they had gone too far.

“They completely plagiarized my story! Just copied it, word for word, out of our previous day’s paper,” she told me.

I have known Newman for years (I am a writing coach for her paper) and have never known her to exaggerate or overreact. Still, this sounded a tiny bit hard to believe, though naturally, I should have known better. Several years ago, early on in the strike, a scab at the Detroit Free Press did the same thing to me, and was let go after I exposed him in this column.

But I had to be sure. Actually, enough of this media arrogance; forget whatever I might think of this. You be the judge. Here are the first few paragraphs of Paula Newman’s story, which was on Page 1 of the News-Herald on Dec. 6, 2000:

 

Gibraltar — Developer Made in Detroit, Inc., says its controversial housing project is still in the works, despite persistent rumors that money and time have run out.

“We’re doing our engineering plans,” spokeswoman Tina Bassett said. “We’re moving right along.” But skeptical residents say the firm hasn’t set up a single appointment with the city’s Planning Commission, despite a ticking clock. Planning commissioners have yet to see a single finished engineering plan, nor have the city engineer, planner and police and fire chiefs had a chance to consider the project.

All must be satisfied before final approval can be granted, and that process normally takes a year or more, city officials said. Made in Detroit has until August to get the city’s final approval, or preliminary approval will be withdrawn and the whole process will have to begin again.

Now let’s look at what appeared in the Detroit News the next day, Dec. 7. This is from the “Wayne Briefs” column as it appeared in the newspaper’s online version:

 

Gibraltar — Developer Made in Detroit Inc. says its controversial housing project is still in the works, despite persistent rumors that money and time have run out. But skeptical residents say the firm hasn’t set up a single appointment with the city’s Planning Commission, despite a ticking clock. Planning commissioners have yet to see a single finished engineering plan, nor have the city engineer, planner, and police and fire chiefs had a chance to consider the project. All must be satisfied before final approval can be granted, and that process normally takes a year or more, city officials said. Made In Detroit has until August to get the city’s final approval, or preliminary approval will be withdrawn and the whole process begins again.

Is there any doubt what this is?

Granted, the Detroit News is a ghastly shadow of the newspaper it was prior to the sale, the merger and the strike. Daily circulation has fallen from 670,000 to 235,000, and much of the talent has fled in droves or been driven out. Yet students in high school journalism classes are taught that copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own is the very worst thing you can do, along with making something up.

I’ll be happy to entertain the possibility that this is not as it seems. Possibly the spirit of Frank Gannett, long-dead founder of the Detroit News’s parent organization, may have entered some reporter or editor’s body and forced them to type those words. We don’t know, but in any event, I’ll be happy to print what, if any, response the Snooze has to being caught committing what is universally regarded as the one breach of ethics that can never be tolerated by any kind of reputable publication.

Meanwhile, one or more lazy and/or corrupt slugs in what remains of the News’s Wayne County operation ought to be aware that Paula and her colleagues are watching. Incidentally, a reader recently asked something like, “Do you think it is OK to take these newspapers again, now that most of the unions have given in and signed contracts?”

Hopefully, she now has her answer.

Supreme injustice: For weeks I’ve been telling you not to worry about the election, that the system was, in fact, working. That was true ... right up until Saturday, when in a shockingly inappropriate and partisan move, the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to stop the honest and fair counting of Florida’s “undervotes.”

They plainly did this in order to stop what everybody knew was about to happen: For the first time since Election Night, Al Gore was about to take the lead in a state which the Miami Herald estimates he probably really won by about 23,000 votes.

Antonin Scalia, the worst of the worst, couldn’t even contain himself. He gleefully announced that the stay indicated that the court was likely to find for Bush!

This is, Wayne State Governor John Kelly told me, the court’s worst hour since Dred Scott, and he’s probably right. If the court does refuse to allow the votes to be counted and attempts to thereby install Bush, it will be the worst violence in memory to the delicate balance of power — and the nation and the Electoral College must find a way to thwart what amounts to an attempted right-wing judicial coup. More to come.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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