THE AGONIST….In case you just got back from a vacation on Mars, the blogosphere had its own mini-scandal a few days ago. Sean-Paul Kelley, who runs The Agonist, has been providing hyperactive coverage of the war since it started three weeks ago and has gotten quite a bit of attention for this. He’s also become one of the most popular blogs around, receiving as many as 100,000 visits a day.
On Monday, Wired revealed that Sean-Paul had been using lots of verbatim information from Stratfor, a subscription service, without crediting them. In fact, in a couple of cases he deliberately sourced Stratfor information to “a little birdie” and to “a Turkish friend.” Stratfor has settled this amicably, but what do the rest of us think?
Basically, this: Sean-Paul did something wrong, he knew it was wrong, and he should be ashamed of himself.
And what should happen to him? I’d say that the usual punishment for lying (and getting caught) is public humiliation and loss of credibility, and this is exactly what’s happened. Justice, therefore, has been done. Does it reflect badly on the blogosphere in general? Only if you take blogging more seriously than I do. Should bloggers have a code of ethics? It is to laugh. I mean, we all know already that lying is a bad thing, right?
I’d like to add one more observation, too: my original reaction to this was a bit muted because, after all, everyone knows that by their very nature blogs are aggregators. It was inherent in the form that all of Sean-Paul’s information came from other news sources, not from personal reporting, and for that reason I originally had a hard time putting this incident into the category of full blown plagiarism that people like Stephen Ambrose and Doris Keans Goodwin have been accused of. What makes it more serious, however, is that he sourced most of his information (CNN, Iraqi TV, “a reader in comments,” and so forth) but failed to source Stratfor, and apparently only Stratfor. I think some perspective is still called for here, but it’s pretty obvious that there was some deliberate and persistent deception here.
POSTSCRIPT: I used to read The Agonist before the war and enjoyed it, but when it went into hyper-war mode I stopped. I just wasn’t interested in 24/7 war coverage, so I haven’t read the site for three weeks now. However, he’s been on my blogroll for a while, and I think it’s probably appropriate to remove him at this point.
UPDATE: There’s one more lesson from all this: in the internet age you just can’t expect to get away with this stuff. Google makes it too easy to find original sources and there are too many people reading too many things. I’ve caught people doing this kind of thing before (in other circumstances), and it’s just childishly easy. So don’t do it, OK?