Blame it on the intern

I tend to believe that most newspapers columns are (deliberately or not) some form of think tank propaganda. So this doesn’t surprise me (via via):

In a case of apparent plagiarism, Fox News pundit Juan Williams lifted — sometimes word for word — from a Center for American Progress report, without ever attributing the information, for a column he wrote last month for the Hill newspaper.


In a phone interview Thursday evening, Williams pinned the blame on a researcher who he described as a “young man.”

“I was writing a column about the immigration debate and had my researcher look around to see what data existed to pump up this argument and he sent back what I thought were his words and summaries of the data,” Williams told Salon. “I had never seen the CAP report myself, so I didn’t know that the young man had in fact not summarized the data but had taken some of the language from the CAP report.”

Paul Waldman speculates:

I suppose that many of the biggest of big-time columnists have research assistants, though I’m not really sure. After all, someone needs to look up obscure quotes from the Federalist Papers for George Will (and imagine if there’s actually an intern transcribing the insights of Bangalore cab drivers on Tom Friedman’s behalf). If I’m ever offered a New York Times column and become fabulously well-paid for doing basically the same thing I do now, but I also have to fit in the writing between appearances on Meet the Press and lucrative speeches to the likes of the National Grommet Council, maybe then I’ll hire a research assistant. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with having an assistant who doesn’t just do research for you but actually writes prose that you then present as your own, even if it’s only a paragraph here and there.

84 replies
  1. 1
    Eric U. says:

    why does this only happen to republican tools? Oh, wait, the only people that can afford to have a research assistant are republican tools

  2. 2
    srv says:

    It’s not plagiarism… if you didn’t know it was.

    Could almost fit on a bumper sticker.

  3. 3
    Richard says:

    A cab driver told me that the word on the Arab street is that we’ll know in 6 months whether or not Tom Friedman will stop being a dickhead.

  4. 4
    c u n d gulag says:


    Can’t you instruct your “help” to never, ever, not never ever, EVAH!!!, copy something without using “quotation marks” in their summaries?

    Of course, that still leaves the problem of copying your “helps” work, and using it in you column as if those are your words.

    Either way, he’s proven himself to be a talentless, unprincipled, hack!!!

    I don’t “block quote” because I prefer to use quotation marks. I’m kind of old school that way.

  5. 5
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    As a commenter here, I’ve experienced the same thing when one of my interns comes up with a stale joke, an argument that falls flat or an obscure reference no one gets.

  6. 6
    SnarkyShark says:

    Yep..that struck me as odd also too. I mean its still plagiarism isn’t it? At the very least its some pathetic laziness.

  7. 7
    Scott S. says:

    A research assistant finds material, research, and data for you, puts it in a folder, and puts it on your desk for you to read through.

    What Juan described was a ghostwriter.

    (EDIT: In fact, it’s a ghostwriter plagiarist. If Juan can tell us who his ghostwriter plagiarist/research assistant is, maybe that kid should be fired. But actually, I kinda suspect the plagiarist’s name rhymes with “Juan Williams.” Maybe he’ll get fired, too.)

  8. 8
    Jim, Foolish Literalist says:

    In fairness, that line about Michelle Obama being Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress, he came up with that all on his own.

  9. 9
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Off topic of Juan Williams and interns (oh, dear, that came out a little wrong, didn’t it? Well, too bad, I don’t have time to go in and fix it now), but another thing Our Failed Media have been doing the last day or two is to write and talk breathlessly about how the College of Cardinals may be thinking about possibly deciding what date they might start the Poping process. Why is this news? Tell us when you see some white smoke.

  10. 10
    srv says:

    @Just Some Fuckhead: I just assumed that Stuck was your intern.

  11. 11
    different-church-lady says:

    …and he sent back what I thought were his words and summaries of the data…

    Right. So instead of plagiarizing the CAP report, you instead thought you were just having the intern write your column for you without credit. Got it.

    In the meantime, a fun way to kill the afternoon would be to look up T. Hamilton Tripler, and admire just how salient Garry Truedau was and is.

  12. 12
    jayackroyd says:

    It’s always bugged me that in a print media obsessed with bylines, and proper credit for reporting (except bloggers, of course) that nobody has a problem with op-eds that have to be mostly, if not entirely, ghosted (CEOs, elected officials, cabinet officials) appear under the big cheese’s name as if he or she actually wrote the thing.

  13. 13
    sb says:

    Didn’t Fareed Zakaria have the same problem not long back?

  14. 14
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Scott S.: Or maybe Fox could hire the assistant. It would probably be cheaper.

  15. 15
    jrg says:

    There you go again, mocking yet another member of the wealthy productive class.

    Think this through… What do you think will happen if Juan Williams went Galt? Nationwide panic, starving children, a crippled transportation system… That’ll just be the first half hour…

  16. 16
    c u n d gulag says:

    Btw, in college, I submitted a paper that I thought was original, about the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff being similar to the one in Greek mythology between Dionesius and Silenius.

    The professor told me that it sounded like a new idea to him, and that he might have me fill the idea out, for him to present it at the Modern Language Association.

    Then, a few months later, he saw me in the hallway, and told me that he found that someone had written something similar back in the mid-1700’s.

    I told him, “I swear Dr. ________________, I didn’t copy that!”

    And here, the professor summarized my entire educational career in two sentences:
    I know you didn’t, Mr. ____________. You don’t work hard enough to plagiarize.”

    I was always a lazy student – even though my grades were great.

  17. 17
    Chris says:

    My main problem is that while interns will take the blame when it goes badly, they will never get the credit if it goes well.

  18. 18
    Felonius Monk says:

    Can’t comment right now — my intern is too busy in the next stall.

  19. 19
    Lars H says:

    The plagiarism is icky, and so is the intern blaming, but the admission to quote-mining sucks, too. “I’ve got this hypothesis, young man, now go find me some data to support it.”

  20. 20
    Hungry Joe says:

    My main problem is that while interns will take the blame when it goes badly, they will never get the credit if it goes well.

    … Damn! My intern gave that to me and didn’t tell me he copied it from Chris. His fault entirely.

  21. 21
    gogol's wife says:


    Slightly OT, but Friedman’s column yesterday hit new lows in many ways (he’s a great expert on university education now, and how we’re all doin it rong). But it included a meta-reference to this tic of his. He referred to what “my driver” had to say about MOOCs, and then identified the driver as Harvard professor Michael Sandel, who picked him up at the airport.

  22. 22
    gogol's wife says:

    @c u n d gulag:

    But if he was going to present your idea at the MLA, wasn’t he plagiarizing you?

  23. 23
    jl says:

    Yeah, Juan Williams is a little unclear on the line between research assistance and ghostwriting. So, either not overly honest or clueless, or both. Is that a surprise?

  24. 24
    West of the Rockies says:

    @c u n d gulag: Do you ever wonder what sort of student you would have been if you had been super-dedicated and motivated? I, too, received pretty solid grades but did not work as hard as I could have/should have. Maybe that explains why I am 50+ and under-employed. :(

  25. 25
    jl says:

    @gogol’s wife: Thanks for Friedman link. The ‘blended model’ of education that Friedman talks about has been around for years, under various names, like ‘active learning’. I think the problem is that university administrators are very resistant to a blended model. If you can put out an remote internet course, with automatic computer assisted assessment (which is often based on multiple choice and routine calculation questions), first thing they think of is that the can fire some sorry ass instructors and hire a few more people named Dean, who tend to love going to meetings all day.

    Whatever you call it, the blended model, or active learning, is a very good model, from what I have seen, hard to implement since there is so much incentive for administrator and money suits to eliminate the live human part of teaching.

  26. 26
    jl says:

    @gogol’s wife: Not if he was going to give credit for the idea to c u n d gulag.

  27. 27
    Jim C says:

    I didn’t know that the young man had in fact not summarized the data but had taken some of the language from the CAP report

    It’s an old saying, but never more apt: A good craftsman never blames his tools.

    And I do mean tools.

  28. 28
    Suffern ACE says:

    The idea that a lot of our columnists rely on college kids to write for them might explain quite a bit of why our discourse sucks. I’m going to bet that the think tank piece that was plagerized was also handled by an intern.

  29. 29
    BobS says:

    @Richard: A cab driver told me that on the street, Friedman is Arab slang for dickhead.

  30. 30
    Maude says:

    @Suffern ACE:
    And the source information could have been done by an intern.

  31. 31
    the Conster says:

    The veneer of utility over the well paid pundit class is very, very thin. Good grief, what a bunch of useless petty assholes who wouldn’t be missed by anyone but their immediate families, maybe.

  32. 32
    Chris says:

    @Hungry Joe:

    By “his,” I HOPE you meant your intern and nor me. Though I would agree to blame my intern.

  33. 33
    Trollhattan says:

    Gosh, I imagine NPR really wishes they still had Juan on the payroll. Stand your ground, Juan! Oh, wait….

  34. 34
    Hungry Joe says:

    @Chris: At this point I’m blaming my intern, your intern, and you, as well as — what the hell — ACORN.

  35. 35
    jl says:

    Where I went to grad school, anytime a famous bigshot blamed the research assistant for problems in the presentation, that was an opening for lots of sadistic fun and games from the faculty. As in “OK, if the RA actually did the work why aren’t they here to give the presentation?”.

  36. 36
    pokeyblow says:

    Has anyone on our planet ever been mistreated half so often as poor Juan Williams?

  37. 37
    Booger says:

    @Richard: So that’s a solid F.U. from the Arab Street to T.F.?

  38. 38
    Trollhattan says:


    Has anyone on our planet ever been mistreated half so often as poor Juan Williams?

    A small army of interns is researching That Very Question. The only possible equivalent co-victim who comes to mind is James O’Keefe. And possibly Silvio Berlusconi.

    Bunga-bunga, Wayne.
    Bunga-Bunga, Garth.

  39. 39
    Booger says:

    @jrg: And those female staffers aren’t going to molest themselves, amirite?

  40. 40
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @the Conster: Srsly. I don’t know why anyone thinks it’s worthwhile to pay these people anything.

  41. 41
    Hill Dweller says:

    In related news, Benen posted a rundown of Noonan’s most recent column, where she criticizes Obama for not concentrating on jobs. These people live in an alternative universe.

  42. 42
    ET says:

    Sadly, as a librarian this is an excuses that may not be far from the mark (not that it absolves him from CHECKING). I deal with college students all the time and most can’t be bothered with research beyond an hour. If it isn’t online (and free) they may not bother. And don’t even get me started with the critical thinking skills to smell a rat or at least worry about the validity of what they are looking at.

    Many of the yun’uns in college and coming out of college recently, have no hesitation “borrowing” and I am not sure they really even consider it plagiarizing. Most of the “borrowing” doesn’t get caught and they never learn. And frankly some of the old’uns sitting in their comfy perches don’t understand this and even if they did understand may not bother too much because who would dare question them.

  43. 43
    Chris says:

    @Hungry Joe:

    How DARE you link me to those Very Unserious People. Who, like Nate Silver, are effeminate emos.

  44. 44
    Friend of Hermes says:

    Juan Williams sees himself as a brand name columnist. But, at least, he could have had another assistant call the assistant of the researcher to find out if someone in the office did the proper paraphrasing. Sloppy management of Human Commodities.

  45. 45
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    Juan only needs one intern to create the perfect writing machine.

  46. 46
    Just Some Fuckhead says:

    One MORE intern, I mean. :)

  47. 47
    c u n d gulag says:

    @West of the Rockies:
    Sometimes, but not really.

    In college, I took classes I liked.
    There was no “Core Programs” back then.
    And I took some very challenging classes.

    Besides, even without real career plans (we didn’t really need them back then – a lot of people got great jobs right out of HS), I did pretty well in HS and College.
    I was in “Who’s Who in HS,” “Who’s Who in College,” and “Who’s Who in International Young Leaders.”

    And I had a pretty good life as a Trainer, actor, and bartender. And I worked hard to be the best I could be at being those, since I cared about the people I worked with, and my job.

    I would NOT have been a good Lawyer.
    And FSM help people if I’d decided to become a doctor, or an engineer – there’d be dead people all over the place.

    So, not too many regrets.
    Just that the jobs I could do ran out before my life ended.
    I really thought I’d be able to hold out in corporate life, much as I deeply loathed it, until it was time for retirement.

    Now, I’m unemployed, and too handicapped to do some of the limited jobs that are available in my area.

    And I have no idea of what I’ll do in the future.
    I’m hoping for a positive decision when I go the next time for a Social Security Disablity hearing.
    That’s my only chance.

  48. 48
    jonas says:

    This is supposedly what happened to famed Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin a few years back — got caught plagiarizing and blamed it on careless assistants who apparently didn’t know how to use quotation marks correctly or something.

  49. 49
    BC says:

    Now I understand why rightwing assholes keep saying Ayers wrote Obama’s books – they cannot get their heads around the fact that the name of the person on the front of the books is the same as the person who actually wrote the book. This concept is unclear to them.

  50. 50
    Mnemosyne says:

    Any bets on whether Williams actually paid his intern or if it was yet another of those unpaid internships that rich folks use to get the cushy positions at think tanks?

  51. 51
    Mnemosyne says:


    Al Franken used a team of Harvard students to help him research Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. I know this because he has a chapter at the end of the book where he names all of them and includes a picture of himself with the whole group.

  52. 52
    jefft452 says:

    Shorter – “I did not plagiarize CAP, I plagiarized a low paid intern”

  53. 53
    raven says:

    @jonas: And then there is Joe Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winner, professor and phony Nam Vet. They’re everywhere,they’re everywhere!

  54. 54
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Jim C:

    It’s an old saying, but never more apt: A good craftsman never blames his tools.

    But this is entirely different — it’s a tool blaming his craftsman!

  55. 55
    Mandalay says:

    Ms. Mandalay is a college teacher and requires her students to verify that they are not “inadvertently” plagiarizing before submitting their papers.

    If 19 year old students can do this why can’t Juan Williams? This blaming-the-intern excuse for something you can verify yourself in seconds is long dead and buried.

  56. 56
    Xenos says:

    One of my sisters is a writer, and she freelanced PR for some restaurants in California. She wrote reviews, articles about new food trends that featured her clients, and human interest stories that somehow managed to feature her clients’ industries. This was before the internet, so she would type the final drafts up on her IBM selectric, just the title and story with a blank spot instead of the author’s name, and instead of mailing them to editors at newspapers she mailed them to the columnists themselves.

    Quite frequently her articles wound up published under the columnist’s name, and she got a nice bonus from her clients for pulling it off. She never met these columnists, although she knew through the grapevine who would be receptive to this.

  57. 57
    Boots Day says:

    I wonder if the Hill has any problem with paying Juan Williams a decent sum of money for a column, only to end up publishing something that was written by a lowly inexperienced intern.

    What am I saying? Of course they don’t care. The column had a famous person’s name on it – what more do you need?

  58. 58

    So much discussion of interns and no Clenis. Makes me nostalgic for the late 90s

  59. 59
    Mandalay says:


    Didn’t Fareed Zakaria have the same problem not long back?

    He did, but the difference is that this was Zhakaria’s response when he was busted:

    I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time and CNN, and to my readers and viewers everywhere.

    Whereas Williams has decided to stick the knife in:

    Williams told Salon that the researcher has submitted a letter of resignation, but that he has not decided whether to accept it. “I just feel betrayed,” Williams said.

    Williams cannot betray us; he can only be betrayed!

    He is disgusting shit filth of the lowest order.

  60. 60
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Boots Day:

    Funny, this guy got fired for doing the same thing Williams is doing. I guess he didn’t have the same kind of contract Williams does.

  61. 61
    Jim C says:

    @Anne Laurie: I have been expertly topped.


  62. 62
    Mandalay says:

    After he was busted Williams updated the online article to remove the rampant plagiarism, and then spewed the lie that

    “It’s not the start or ending of the column — it’s not the theory of the column. It’s just the data.“.

    Unfortunately for the lying sack of shit, Salon has scrupulously documented how Williams changed several chunks of the stolen content, and not “just the data”.

    Salon also pointed out that the updated article merely states “This column was revised on March 2, 2013, to include previously-omitted attribution to the Center for American Progress.”, but omits to mention that Williams had to rewrite chunks of the article that he had stolen.

    How dumb do you have to be to lie about your lies when the evidence showing that you are compounding your lies is freely avaiable for the whole world to see?

  63. 63
    JP7505A says:

    Didn’t he get dumped by NPR not so long ago for something similar?

  64. 64
    TriassicSands says:

    It’s not like Juan Williams has ever been an imaginative thinker or writer. Now, however, he’s apparently using other people’s words to tell us what he is thinking.

    Williams wasn’t worth reading before this.

  65. 65
    the Conster says:


    Mistakes were made.

  66. 66
    drkrick says:

    @JP7505A: He got dumped by NPR for being an out bigot. He told Bill O’Reilly “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

  67. 67
    Petorado says:

    Fer chrissakes, the guy is a Fox network pundit. Their whole schtick is to take right wing talking points and regurgitate them verbatim, and to take right wing think tank papers and dump them into columns. Williams gets paid to keep repeating other people’s words so that they gain currency with the general public (see Goebbels, Joseph — “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.”) How can he be criticized for his raison d’être?

  68. 68
    johnny aquitard says:

    @BC: It’s always always always projection with conservatives. That’s all you need to remember to know what the Right has been doing whenever they come out with some new accusation.

  69. 69
    General Stuck says:


    Here is a WAPO Editorial that I almost completely agree with concerning drones. Small wonders.

  70. 70
    gbear says:

    Juan thing reads to another.

  71. 71
    Rosie Outlook says:

    @pokeyblow: Yes, Sarah Palin.

  72. 72
    BJ over says:

    @Eric U.:

    why does this only happen to republican tools? Oh, wait, the only people that can afford to have a research assistant are republican tools

    Yeah. Democrats are really poor: like Bill Clinton, and Al Gore, and Barack Obama, and Diane Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, and Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews, and Paul Krugman.

    All those poor multi-milionaries Democrats could never afford an assistant the way those Rich Republicans can.

  73. 73
    BJ over says:


    Fer chrissakes, the guy is a Fox network pundit. Their whole schtick is to take right wing talking points and regurgitate them verbatim, and to take right wing think tank papers and dump them into columns.

    Like the Center for American Progress, the most Obama-friendly think tank in the country, that Juan Williams copied from?

  74. 74
    TenguPhule says:

    Shorter Juan Williams: “Okay, Monkey 9,867, YOU’RE FIRED! Turn in your keyboard and ensure all banana peels are picked up before you let the door hit you on the way out.”

  75. 75
    fuckwit says:

    No. There’s something deeply cowardly, creepy, and sociopathic about not taking responsibility for your own work, your own errors of judgement, and the mistakes of your employees or organization that you run.

    You hired the kid, you didn’t check his work, you’re the boss, so the error is YOURS, man up and take the blame for it.

    This kind of shit is, as a union friend says, the difference between a manager and a boyager.

  76. 76
    West of the Rockies says:

    @c u n d gulag: Best wishes at the hearing! I guess I feel like I was sold a bill of goods. You know, “Go out there, get an education, get a good job. All will be sunshine and bunnies.” I was in law enforcement for 13 years (as a civilian) and really didn’t like it. There was nowhere to go after a certain time (I was an evidence technician/CSI). I found myself becoming more cynical, too. So I left a position I could have retired from had I stuck with it. My choice. I have been teaching junior college English now for 11 years, but there are fewer and fewer tenure-track full-time gigs out there. Besides, I have an M.A. from a state school known mostly for its party atmosphere (Chico State!). I can’t compete against all the Ph.D.’s and such from more impressive schools. At 51, I’m getting a little long of tooth to change careers again. So I guess I’m looking at limited options now.

    And speaking of being sold a bill of goods as a younger person in America, where the hell is my flying car?

  77. 77
    David Koch says:

    @DougJ, Friend of Hamas:

    Count Chocula was interviewed in his office once for C-SPAN and they asked about all the crap on his desk and he explained they were info packets from think tanks suggestng column ideas.

  78. 78
    Citizen Alan says:

    Perhaps off topic, but whenever I see Juan Williams’ face, my immediate thought is to wonder if he is actually John Waters in blackface doing some type of weird performance art. Am I alone in this?

  79. 79
    cokane says:

    what i find troubling is that if some “young man” did research for williams, how come he was never given credit in the piece’s publication?

    salon says this is the original article

    No co-byline (of course) nor bottom-of-the-article credit.

    So either a lie, or real shitty work environment

  80. 80
    kay says:

    Juan Williams is pathetic, and he’s just making it worse so he should stop talking, but this whole “researcher-intern” thing is making me sad.

    He better be paid.

    If they’re not paid, they should get together and write a tell-all book about who is writing what, and whose name is on it.

    Even if they are getting paid. Write it anyway, as a public service.

  81. 81
    mclaren says:

    David Simon explained this process in the fifth season of The Wire. As bureaus get slashed at newspapers and ranks of reporters continually get laid off, the remaining reporters get exhorted to “do more with less.”

    Well, no one can do more with less. It’s not humanly possibly. So what happens is that the reporters wind up so overworked and understaffed that they have no choice but to let unpaid interns write this crap for them.

    The entire news media is being gutted from top to bottom. All the funding is being slashed. TV nets and newspapers are an economic model that no longer works. Craigslist has killed the ad revenue for newspapers, while YouTube + google news has clobbered the ratings for TV news shows. And it’s all rolling downhill to the blog shops like the huffington post, which are watching their own ad revenues get eviscerated by google — because google is eating everyone’s lunch in term of gobbling online ad revenue.

  82. 82
    Petorado says:

    @BJ over:

    Headscratcher fer sure. But old habits die hard.

  83. 83
    flint says:

    @Richard: Just one more F.U. !!!!

  84. 84
    Pococurante says:

    DougJ posted a substantial FP.


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