No, Just Because Seymour Hersh Had The Same Story As You, It's Not 'Plagiarism'

from the not-this-again dept

We already wrote a bit about Seymour Hersh’s big story, arguing that pretty much everything the public has been told about the Osama bin Laden raid is false. There are plenty of questions that have been raised about some of the specifics in the story, but some people noticed that nearly four years ago, there was a tweet and a blog post, both by RJ Hillhouse, that both made the same basic argument. Hillhouse is well connected with the intelligence community and has told The Intercept that she thinks Hersh’s sources are different than her own:


“I would be shocked if … my sources would talk to [Hersh], given their politics and given the sensitivity that the administration had toward this story.”

She notes that after her original post, she was strongly pressured to shut up about the issue, and did so (though she didn’t delete her post or tweet).

Either way, in a new post, she seems pissed off that Hersh is getting credit for the story, saying that it’s “plagiarism.”


Seymour Hersh’s story, “The Killing of Bin Laden,” in the London Review of Books has a fundamental problem: it’s either plagiarism or unoriginal.

If it’s fiction–as some have implied, it’s plagiarism. If it’s true, it’s not original. The story was broken here on The Spy Who Billed Me four years ago, in August 2011

That’s silly. First of all, it’s not plagiarism, even if it’s not true. Just because he heard the same thing from other sources, that wouldn’t make it plagiarism. As for the “not original” claim — well, who really cares? There’s this weird obsession some people have with who “broke” a particular story. But the fact is that the story itself happened to others before whoever reported it learned about it. Yes, breaking a story is a nice thing, but it’s weird how some people seem to want to claim “ownership” over a story just because they were the first ones to write about it.

Yes, it’s interesting that Hillhouse had a very similar story a few years ago — which may lend some additional credence to Hersh’s story — but being first isn’t always the most important thing. Getting the story widely spread seems a lot more important, which is evidenced by the fact that the story is only now “news” — whereas Hillhouse’s version more or less faded away. It seems like yet another case in which people overvalue being “first” as opposed to actually getting something more widely accepted and understood.

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Comments on “No, Just Because Seymour Hersh Had The Same Story As You, It's Not 'Plagiarism'”

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16 Comments
JimGsays:

Reading the actualy blog post gives a different picture

I think Mike is really reaching in this case. No, she doesn’t think she owns the story. No, she doesn’t think it’s fiction, she was trying to emphasize the similarities between what they wrote. She argues that Hersh was aware that she broke the story, and that it was a breach of professional ethics to mention her. This is a snippet of the actual post:

“Given the broad international coverage when I broke the story, it would have been impossible for Hersh not to know about it . . . I have had great respect for Seymour Hersh, arguably one of the greatest investigative journalists of our time. I do not believe his story is fiction. I trust my sources–which were clearly different than his. I am, however, profoundly disappointed that he has not given credit to the one who originally broke the story. “

James Burkhardtsays:

Re: Re: Reading the actualy blog post gives a different picture

You know, I rarely hear or read on the news which outlet originally broke any given story. And generally when I do its to trumpet one of their own reporters.

And all the quotes come from the ‘actual post’, so claiming your quote came from there, implying Mikes do not, is a bit disingenuous.

But really, the idea behind giving her credit, is that she ‘broke’ the story and so its hers.

She claims that ‘if it’s false, it’s plagiarism’. Plagiarism is the theft of “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions”. She claims that his statements came from other sources, therefore he did not steal from her. She later claims that if it is fiction, she holds the rights. Meaning she is making a direct claim of ownership of this story. In fact I would say it would violate her copyright, but only because it was fiction and therefore the details of the specific expression were certainly being duplicated. But that is separate from plagiarism.

She moves on to claim “If it’s true, it’s not original”. And? Stating old facts collected from new sources is in no way wrong. And she has no guarantee he knew about her blog post and twitter message, just her suspicions.

While it may be a professional courtesy, and he MAY have broken that professional courtesy, she has made accusations of theft in her commentary, and certainly expressed ownership in the story. No matter her claimed desires, the rest of what she said expresses why she thinks she deserves to be credited. Because it is HER story.

saulgoodesays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Reading the actualy blog post gives a different picture

While it may be a professional courtesy, and he MAY have broken that professional courtesy, she has made accusations of theft in her commentary,…

No, she did not. She did not even, as Mike Masnick claims, make accusations of plagiarism. She used the subjunctive mood to express that since the story was not fiction, it was therefore not plagiarized.

… and certainly expressed ownership in the story.

All she did was express that she was the one who initially broke the story. Or do you think that all those news outlets who trumpet that they were the first to break a story also claim ownership of the story?

Breaking a story is a meaningful accomplishment when reporting news (the name “news” should serve as something of a giveaway), and worthy of recognition separate from any notion of ownership or copyright. The only impression I got from reading her article was her disappointment at not receiving that recognition. Whether she is deserving of being credited for breaking the story, I can not say, but any inferences that she was making claims beyond this are in my opinion a misreading of her words.

Tom Czerniawskisays:

I suspect this Hillhouse ploy is a discredit scheme perpetrated by our own government. After all, nothing scares an establishment journo more than being accused of plagiarism.

If anyone here posts on Reddit you might have noticed how intensely this story was attacked seemingly from on high, at least until other media outlets began working to confirm it.

Anonymoussays:

The fact that she says she got the story from sources makes her claims seem petty. Wouldn’t the sources be the ones we credit for speaking up, rather than giving praise to a person who was just a middleman for the publication of the information?

Anyone see that godawful Transformers Age of Extinction movie? Remember when the supposed inventor character played by Mark Wahlberg talks about how he’s going to patent the alien technology, as if inventors just patent stuff they find? That seems to be the same level of praise that Hillhouse is asking for here. I heard it from someone and told the rest of the world, so credit me as if I was the source of the information.

Petersays:

Leaving aside the Hillhouse vs Hersh discussion, I’d disagree with Mike here that breaking a story is a nice thing only.

It seems so wrong that current copyright laws give extremely powerful protection to anybody who spends a few minutes hacking a short report about the bin Laden-story in a computer, and no protection at all to those who did all the work of researching the story, and risk having their career, reputation and possibly lives destroyed by former CIA spokespersons and others who think destroying the authors is the best way to destroy the story.

The problem is not new, Hillhouse and Hersh are not the only victims here. The same goes for Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and others, who have been forced into hiding and live on donations, while copyright made those rich who report on their work.

Anonsays:

Hillhouse has a sense of humor.
The alleged accusation of plagerism made by Hillhouse is a misinterpretation of her wry bandying of that word, though not unique to this site.
Annoyed that Hersh did not acknowledge her prior breaking of the story, she attempts to cover all possibilities in showing Hersh remiss in paying tribute to her.
However, it’s clear the “plagiarism” alternative she sees as an ironical non-starter.
If her story is whole cloth fiction, she reasons, then Hersh plagiarized her fictional work.

Obviously, she doesn’t ascribe to that notion and singles out, once again, in her May 16 Spy Who Billed Me post in defense of Hersh, the fiction-alleging Peter Bergen brought in by CNN to discredit the story (first linked to in Mike’s quotation above).

Anonsays:

Further to my previous post, I just noticed, also from May 16, Hillhouse on her blog spells out what should be apparent to an attentive reading.
I hope Mike amends his original post because all this “plagerism” nonsense is one more device used by the esablishment legion to discredit both Hersh and the story.

Hillhouse:
“Logic Escapes the Press. I Did Not Accuse Hersh of Plagiarism
I did not call Seymour Hersh a plagiarist. The simple logic I used seems to have escaped much of the press.

If?then, get it?

If what Hersh wrote was fiction, then it was plagiarism. I clearly stated I do not believe what he wrote was fiction. The necessary condition was not triggered. Therefore there is no plagiarism.”

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