The Slate music critic Jody Rosen has a simple question: "In purely statistical terms, do the articles in the Montgomery County Bulletin amount to the greatest plagiarism scandal in the annals of American journalism?"
You might ask: The Bulletin? What’s that? Also, why is Jody Rosen participating in media reporting?
Well, the story begins like this: Mr. Rosen was tipped a few weeks ago by a reader that a Jimmy Buffett profile he wrote in 2007 had been copied and repurposed under a different byline for an alt-weekly in Texas called the Bulletin earlier this year. Mr. Rosen had never heard of it, but after a little research, he discovered why. The Bulletin‘s circulation is 20,000 and it has a sad little Web site. After a little more foot work, which he’s documented in an exhaustively-researched and very amusing read for Slate, Mr. Rosen realized he wasn’t the only writer who unwittingly did some freelance work for The Bulletin.
Per Mr. Rosen:
Whereupon I returned to surfing the Bulletin site, digging deeper into the newspaper’s archives—and turning up dozens more suspect articles. Like many alt weeklies, the paper’s bread-and-butter is politics, and from the spring of 2005 on, its political op-eds comprise an apparently unbroken sequence of pilfered prose. The Bulletin‘s archives reveal a strong preference for the online magazine Salon—in particular, the punditry of Joe Conason and Sidney Blumenthal. Compiling a complete annotated list of articles would require the services of a half-dozen unpaid interns, so a few examples will have to suffice. Compare:
- Conason’s ‘The Only Way Out,’ Salon, Dec. 3, 2005, and the Bulletin‘s ‘We Can Work It Out,’ Dec. 9, 2005
- Conason’s ‘Alberto Gonzales’ Coup D’Etat,’ Salon, Feb. 9, 2007, and the Bulletin‘s ‘Let’s Just Burn the Constitution,’ Feb. 16, 2007
- Blumenthal’s ‘Above the Rule of Law,’ the Guardian, Aug. 5, 2005, and the Bulletin‘s ‘Bush’s Dirty War,’ Aug. 12, 2005
- Blumenthal’s ‘Bush’s Betrayal of History,’ Salon, Nov. 17, 2005, and the Bulletin‘s ‘Truth Is for Traitors,’ Nov. 25, 2005
This is actually only the tip of the iceberg. After a while, it became a little all too crazy for Mr. Rosen: "At times over the last month, I’ve doubted that the Bulletin actually exists. A tiny newspaper from the Houston suburbs, filled week after week with bowdlerized Joe Conason columns and record reviews airlifted from the pages of Slate? It seemed preposterous, and the longer I spent squinting into the mustard-and-magenta glow of the Bulletin‘s Web 0.0-quality Internet site, the more I began to suspect that I was the dupe of a conceptual art prank, a cheeky Borgesian commentary on the slipperiness of language and authorship. Or something."
Mr. Rosen concludes that the paper has nothing original other than their local listings. After a few conversations with the Bulletin‘s publisher, Mr. Rosen hasn’t been able to get him back on the phone, or been able to reach the paper’s editor or their music critic, Mark Williams—the byline that’s been used for Mr. Rosen’s own writing. Media Mob tried as well, and well, no one picked up.
But hey, maybe The Bulletin understands something none of us do: The future of journalism. As Mr. Rosen writes:
[P]erhaps the Bulletin is merely on-trend—or even ahead of its time. The Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Real Clear Politics have made names and money by sifting through RSS feeds; Tina Brown and Barry Diller are preparing the launch of their own news aggregator. [Bulletin pubisher] Mike Ladyman and company may simply be bringing guerilla-style 21st-century content aggregation to 20th-century print media: publishing the Napster of newspapers.
If you miss Mr. Rosen’s piece in Slate, you can probably check it out in an upcoming edition of the Bulletin.