Copy this story: If done stealthfully, plagiarism is undetectable to the untrained eye. A judicious cut-and-paste job with a few key word changes lends the plagiarist plausible deniability. The best practitioners are never accused of being plagiarists because they're not stupid enough to copy an entire story verbatim and slap their own byline on it. But that's exactly what correspondent Larry Reeves did with our story about Vernon Joseph Jr., a young black man who served years in jail after being busted by Frank Vazquez, one of the notorious gang of Oakland cops who called themselves the Riders ("Bum Rap," cover story, November 6, 2002).
7 Days accidentally discovered the purloined version -- which even had the same headline -- while doing a Nexis search on Vazquez' former partner, Eric Richholt. The article with Reeves' byline ran in the Tri-State Defender one week after the original story appeared in the Express. Now if you haven't heard of the Defender, there's a good reason: It's in Memphis, Tennessee, that little hillbilly town over there on the other side of the country.
The Defender's story was a cut-down version of the original, but was otherwise identical, except that the "reporter" swapped Nashville for Oakland and eliminated any mention of Alameda County when talking about the district attorney's office. One excerpt: "The DA believes the cops didn't really turn vigilante until the fall of 1999, when they began working the same Nashville graveyard shift." Most names were omitted, but the names of the four accused cops and the young ex-convict were left unchanged. (See the plagiarized version above.)
In other words, Reeves' ill-conceived plagiarism resulted in the complete fabrication of a Nashville police scandal. You'd think his editors would wonder why they'd never heard of these "Nashville Riders" before. Then again, Nashville is a good three-hour drive from Memphis, far enough that Reeves must have figured he could get away with it. (And almost did.)
Perhaps most curious is that none of the paper's 20,000-plus readers noticed anything weird about the story -- even the little things, like the fact that no city named San Leandro exists in Tennessee (oops!) -- and passed their concerns on to the editors.
In January, two months after the bum "Bum Rap" ran, the Tri-State Defender and its sister black-owned papers in Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh were unloaded by publisher Sengstacke Enterprises to another media company in a deal reportedly worth around $10 million.
When alerted last week to the stolen story, the Defender's new publisher and editor, Marzie Thomas, expressed shock and surprise. Thomas, who was named the paper's chief in January, described Reeves as a freelancer and vowed to banish him from the paper.
Until this week, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron says he'd never heard of the Riders, Frank Vazquez, or even the Tri-State Defender. But after reading a copy of the phony Riders story we sent along, he was as mad as a peach-orchard boar. "I'm as pissed off as you are," Aaron fumed, "because it's talking about a police department that's in the midst of scandal and turmoil, and that's not this police department." -- Will Harper
Don't copy this one: As long as we're on the topic of journalistic ethics, guess what paper has already mucked them up in its inaugural issue? The reformulated Berkeley Daily Planet was back on the streets last week, after five months of limbo during which retired software queen Becky O'Malley bought the paper, juked up the attitude, and injected her preservationist zeal into the reporting. Her first edition didn't disappoint, as reporter Angela Rowen served up a front-page sob story about developer Patrick Kennedy's demolition of the downtown Berkeley Fine Arts Cinema.
Seven long paragraphs about how Kennedy was killing one of the birthplaces of independent film in Berkeley, with only passing mention of how the old building was seismically unsound, how Kennedy plans to build a new theater on the same site, and how the Fine Arts proprietors would have probably gone out of business without his intervention. After all, everyone knows that the memory of independent film is more important than its continued existence.
But the story is most interesting for what it didn't acknowledge: that O'Malley, the Planet's executive editor, sits on the city's influential Landmark Preservation Commission, where just weeks earlier she had voted to landmark the Fine Arts Cinema and protect it from demolition -- but, alas, was outvoted.
Most newspapers facing this sort of conflict of interest would disclose it in the story; then again, most newspapers aren't owned by crusading NIMBYs who purport to report the news without fear or favor, yet play important roles in city governance. Michael Howerton, managing editor of the new Planet, says O'Malley's involvement in the issue had no bearing on how the story was reported, and that, in a small town with an active citizenry, such overlapping duties are inevitable. "It's a small, local paper, and people are going to be involved in the community," he says.
Apparently, some people are going to be a little more involved than others. -- Chris Thompson
Pro ball, pro-life: Cancer, community, and kids -- if there's a boilerplate for charity-minded pro athletes, that about pegs it. Rare indeed is the pro jock whose activism ventures into politically charged territory. After all, as Michael Jordan famously commented on his refusal to endorse North Carolina Senate candidate Harvey Gantt against conservative incumbent Jesse Helms: "Republicans buy sneakers, too."
Well, so much for the status quo. March 31 marked the official launch date for Battin' 1000, a campaign that aims to raise at least $1 million to build a pro-life education center for the American Life League near the influential anti-abortion group's Virginia headquarters. The campaign's most prominent source of donations and fund-raising clout: Major League Baseball players.
Battin' 1000's chairman, former A's third baseman Sal Bando, says more than ninety current and former players, managers, and owners have so far rallied to the cause -- more former than current, it turns out. Among the contributors are retired A's players Randy Velarde and Wayne Gross, as well as former Giants Joel Youngblood, Dave Dravecky, Scott Garrelts, and Atlee Hammaker.
Each donor must pledge at least $1,000 -- hence the campaign's name. In return, the Battin' 1000 Web site promises, donors get "Treasure in Heaven," along with "a beautiful miniature Louisville Slugger/Battin' 1000 bat," autographed baseballs, and other tchotchkes.
Pro-choice groups, predictably, aren't too happy about all this. "It's pretty disappointing that athletes who clearly have public attention have chosen to devote their time and resources to promoting a cause that basically the aim is to deny women basic reproductive freedom," says Erin Brooks, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, which serves the East Bay. "It's surprising, particularly for the athletes from the Bay Area, where 85 percent of people vote pro-choice and are pro-choice."
Somewhat less surprising is that only about one in six of the player-donors are still running the bases. "If they have agents worth their salt, they're going to tell them not to touch this with a ten-foot pole," says Mark Pollick, founder of the Giving Back Fund, a nonprofit that advises athletes on charitable giving. "It's going to affect their future marketing."
One agent apparently worth his salt is Bob Lattinville, whose St. Louis firm has represented onetime A's slugger Mark McGwire and other big names. "I tell players I represent to keep their public life as innocuous as possible," he says. "They have a right to [take controversial stances], but my biggest thought would be in terms of endorsement opportunities. I wouldn't have one of my guys do it, that's for damn sure."
"It's not like they're going to lose their jobs," counters Tom Herr, founder in the 1980s of a group called Athletes for Life, which produced TV spots promoting abstinence. "It's a belief and, fortunately, we live in a country where individuals can express their beliefs."
Bando would agree. He does, however, concede that some of the athletes involved in Battin' 1000 might not fully understand the extent of the American Life League's philosophies, which are rooted in Catholicism and "absolute Truth," according to the group's literature. "We probably have some differences on specifics," he says. "My prayer would be that if a woman were pregnant through rape or incest that she would deliver the baby. But I do understand the dilemma."
Not that the controversial fund-raising campaign is likely to keep fans at home -- even Bay Area fans. As Bando sees it, Americans' fixation on sport and celebrity trumps all other considerations. He cites Hollywood's antiwar activism as another example. "I agree with President Bush," he says. "I see a lot of these entertainers that I disagree with personally, but I'll probably still see their movies." -- Mike Seely
The government isn't kidding: Not long ago, when bigwigs at the San Ramon Regional Medical Center told the facility's nurses they'd be staffing its new pediatric unit, many nurses balked ("These Nurses Aren't Kidding," Cityside, February 12). Accustomed to treating adults, they complained that the pediatric training the hospital offered -- a three-hour online course and four hours of classroom instruction -- was dangerously insufficient. They accused the medical center's parent company, Tenet Healthcare Corporation, the largest hospital operator in California, of skimping on training costs by sitting them down with a computer instead giving them as much as six weeks of hands-on training, as other local hospitals have done to prepare nurses for pediatric care.
Now the nurses have some major enforcement muscle to back them up.
Last week, the state Department of Health Services and federal Department of Health and Human Services released a blistering 125-page report on their joint investigation of the medical center. Many of their criticisms focused on the center's pediatric program. The investigators found, among other infractions, that the San Ramon nursing staff wasn't adequately trained to care for children, that young patients weren't getting age-specific assessments of their medical conditions, and that the pediatric unit's crash cart -- a cart that carries drugs, gear, and supplies for emergency situations -- had no dosage guidelines for child patients. (The facility was also cited for problems with its adult care, including poor record-keeping and inadequate staffing during cardiac surgeries.) If the medical center doesn't correct the problems, says California Nurses Association spokeswoman Liz Jacobs, the state could shut it down or the federal government could pull the facility's Medicare funding. -- Kara Platoni