Fortune’s Barney Gimbel Leaves Magazine Amid Plagiarism Charge

In the March 16 issue of Fortune magazine, which will hit newsstands on March 9, the magazine is issuing an apology to its readers for plagiarizing a New York Times Magazine article from 2004.

“In our Feb. 2 issue we published a story about Lukoil and its president titled “Russia’s King of Crude,”” the apology will read, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer. “We have since discovered that several passages were lifted from “The Triumph of the Quiet Tycoon,” written by Peter Maass and published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on Aug. 1, 2004. Fortune apologizes to Mr. Maass and the New York Times Sunday Magazine.”

When the author of the Fortune story, a young, rising star at the magazine named Barney Gimbel, was presented with the two stories and the lifted passages during an internal investigation, he offered his resignation.

He sent out an email to staffers Feb. 19 announcing that the next day would be his last.

“Hello all, I just wanted to let you know that Friday is my last day at Fortune,” he wrote in an e-mail  “I have enjoyed working with all of you over the past few years and I will look forward to keeping in touch.”

When we asked a Fortune spokesperson about his departure, she said: “We do not comment on personnel issues.”

Gerry Marzorati, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, said that a few weeks ago the author of the plagiarized story, Peter Maass, contacted Fortune editors about several passages that looked nearly identical to his own. Fortune editors contacted Mr. Marzorati immediately and said they were looking into it.

There is in fact some uncomfortably familiar wording in the latter of the two pieces. Here is a sampling:


Alekperov’s titanium-and-glass desk is fastidiously neat — he hates disorder — and behind it hangs a frieze of the double-headed eagle, which is Russia’s coat of arms. If a visitor doesn’t yet grasp his message, there is just one photograph on his desk, a black-and-white portrait that shows not his wife or teenage son but President Putin. If, in your mind’s eye, you replace the eagle with a hammer and sickle, and if you imagine a photo of Leonid Brezhnev on the desk, you could be back in the U.S.S.R.


Behind his glass desk is the double-headed eagle, which is Russia’s coat of arms, and photos of Medvedev and Putin. Replace the eagle with a hammer and sickle and substitute a photograph of Nikita Khrushchev, and you could be back in the USSR.  


He did well in high school and graduated from the Azerbaijan Institute of Oil and Petrochemistry, after which he worked on the Oil Rocks, a fabled offshore field in the Caspian Sea. The facilities were Dickensian. He lived on primitive rigs prone to explosions, fires, storms and other disasters. On one occasion, a blowout on his rig threw him into the storm-tossed Caspian, and he had to swim for his life.


He graduated from the Azerbaijan Institute of Oil and Petrochemistry and soon went to work on the Oily Rocks, a storied offshore city on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The conditions there were famously treacherous. Once, during a storm, a blowout on his drilling rig sent him flying into the high seas, and he had to swim for his life.


The lore that now surrounds him includes the story that when repair workers were afraid of approaching a pipe that had ruptured — a spark could ignite a fireball — Alekperov went to the pipe, sat on it and told the workers to get to work. If the pipe exploded, the Soviet roughnecks would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that their boss would pay the price, too.


Years later he was supervising an oilfield in remote western Siberia when a fuel pipe ruptured. His repairmen refused to go near it, fearing an explosion, and legend has it that Alekperov walked up to the pipe, sat on it, and told the men to get to work.


And who owned Lukoil? The answer was simple: nobody and everybody. Like other enterprises carved out of the Soviet industrial base, Lukoil became the property of the Russian government. In 1993, the government converted it into a stock company and vouchers were distributed to Lukoil’s employees, among others.


At first Lukoil remained the property of the state. But in 1993 it was “privatized,” and ownership vouchers were distributed to Lukoil employees, among others.

“As far as I’m concerned, things were resolved amicably and fairly,” said Mr. Marzorati. “They did the right thing. They alerted us, they said they were going to do an internal investigation, and they didn’t stonewall in anyway. They acted courteously and professionally the entire process.”

The question is now what happens to Mr. Gimbel.

According to a Fortune staffer, during the investigation they found no other examples of plagiarism in his work.

His résumé was impressive. He was the recipient of the “’NewsBios 30 Under 30′ award, which showcases up-and-coming business reporters” and “worked at Newsweek, where he wrote more than 50 stories,” according to his biography on the Fortune web site.

In 2001, Mr. Gimbel was awarded a second place Society of Professional Journalists ‘Mark of Excellence Award’ for Spot News Reporting for a Palm Beach Post story “Inner tube ride turns tragic for 2 siblings,” which he wrote while still an undergraduate at Emory University. In 2000, according to The Emory Report, he was named “Reporter of the Year” by the National Scholastic Press Association and the Associated Collegiate Press.

Mr. Gimbel did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment.