I am, perhaps, breaking copyright rules by posting this. If I am and the Californian asks me to remove it, I will. I just think this is an amazing story. One of the comments in the newsroom was how this reporter did just as much work lying as it would have taken to do the story in the first place.
From the Bakersfield Californian:A Californian reporter’s web of deceit
Internal probe finds plagiarism, other problems in more than 35 stories written by ex-staffer
By GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer
We believed we needed to investigate the stories written by former reporter Nada Behziz to determine the extent of plagiarism and to uncover and correct any factual errors. Our findings show a widespread pattern, not an isolated incident. And the problems we discovered are significant, not trivial. We promised readers we would publish our findings when our investigation was complete. Here are our findings.
– Mike Jenner, executive editor
Before she was fired Oct. 17 for plagiarism and fabrication, former Bakersfield Californian reporter Nada Behziz signed her name to 96 stories.
A Californian investigation shows more than a third contain a variety of serious problems including plagiarized material, misattributed quotes and information, factual errors or people whose existence could not be verified — including seven physicians and a UCLA professor.
Behziz, 25, the paper’s health writer since February, frequently plagiarized — presenting other reporters’ work as her own. And in some cases, she invented sources and then attributed plagiarized quotes to them.
An e-mail from a reader raised questions about a quotation in an Oct. 16 story about teens and smoking. An inquiry the next day revealed the story contained plagiarized material and individuals whose existence could not be confirmed. Behziz was fired and editors launched an investigation to examine all of Behziz’s stories.
Reporters are expected to do original reporting for their stories, said Executive Editor Mike Jenner. When they cite material published elsewhere, they must attribute it, Jenner said.
“I’m deeply disappointed we didn’t discover this sooner,” Jenner said. “We are taking steps to prevent it in the future.”
A closer look
In one of the worst cases The Californian’s investigation uncovered,it appears Behziz both plagiarized central story elements and fabricated key sources.
The piece centered around a supposed local deaf man’s experience with cochlear implants, computerized devices that help some deaf people hear.
But the July 28 tale of Paul Wilson, whom The Californian has not been able to find, is almost entirely stolen.
Dramatic quotes like these — “When you become a cyborg, you’re no less human than you were before” — are plagiarized almost word-for-word.
So are colorful details: “… he turns his head carefully to avoid tugging the disc from its magnetic grip,” and: “It’s shortly after noon and he’s hungry. And right now, he just wants a chicken salad.”
Nearly 200 of the 850 words in Behziz’s story — including the first sentence — is plagiarized from an article published June 29 in the East Bay Express, a San Francisco-area weekly.
The original article, written by Chris Ulbrich, profiles book author Michael Chorost, a deaf man whose memoir about adjusting to life with a cochlear implant had just been published.
Behziz also took material from another interview of Chorost, then funneled his observations through the mouth of a fictional professor.
Comments published in a July 13 interview with Chorost in U.S. News & World Report were attributed by Behziz to Michael Gispen, identified as a language professor at UCLA.
But UCLA information officers Judy Lin and Meg Sullivan confirmed the university doesn’t employ a Michael Gispen — nor has any UC campus in the past five years. A Google search of the name also turned up no matches. The university has no “language professor” title, the officers added.
Details of problems found
A review of Behziz’s work at The Californian shows she routinely plagiarized others’ words:
* At least 29 stories contain plagiarized material ranging from a sentence or two of unattributed information, to people, “at the scene” details and entire story lines. Some stories plagiarize multiple sources.
* Seven articles quote supposed local doctors who can’t be found on the California Medical Board’s Web site, local phone directories, Kern County public record filings or Internet searches.
* Plagiarized quotes are falsely attributed to others — such as a different expert, a local official, or an apparently fabricated doctor or academic — at least a dozen times.
Work from major newspapers such as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times shows up. So do stories from far-flung titles including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Detroit Free Press, along with closer-to-home publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News and The Sacramento Bee.
Some plagiarized sources were a day old, others a decade.
The Californian used plagiarism-detecting software from MyDropBox.com, along with reader tips and Internet searches to identify possible problematic passages. Staffers then verified suspected cases with Web searches.
Even Behziz’s first article for The Californian, a routine piece about a job fair that ran Feb. 3, contained six paragraphs of background information plagiarized from a United Press International story. Two national experts from the original source were merged in the plagiarized segment.
Coming to Bakersfield
Behziz arrived at The Californian in early 2005 with seemingly sterling
A journalism degree from San Francisco State University was bolstered by prestigious awards, good references, several years worth of real-world experience and an internship at the respected Center for Investigative Reporting in the San Francisco Bay area. Her references gave no indication of any problems.
But Behziz’s past work was not as flawless as it seemed, The Californian has learned.
While Behziz did attend San Francisco State University, from the spring of 2001 through spring 2003, a degree was not awarded, according to Joyce Broughton, a verification specialist with the college.
In recent years, The Californian had used a degree-checking service provided by a contractor to screen job applicants, but that service was suspended at the time of Behziz’s hire. It has since been reinstated.
“Going forward we will be much more stringent in checking the background of applicants,” Jenner said.
Behziz’s resume lists staff positions at two Northern California newspapers that were, in fact, internships — temporary jobs typically held by students.
She claimed she worked as an intern and then staffer at the San Mateo County Times from January 2001 to August 2002. A fax from Dawn Kennedy of the paper’s human resources department states Behziz was an intern at San Mateo from Aug. 26, 2002, to Nov. 21, 2002.
Her resume also claims she worked as a staff writer at The Placer Herald in Rocklin, Calif. Brenda Meadows, the Herald’s former editor, said Behziz was a part-time intern and that Meadows released her after a short time for missing work and for a discrepancy in an article.
The Californian also looked into Behziz’s work for the Daily Republic in Fairfield, where she worked from March 2003 to April 2004. A review of about a dozen Behziz stories from the Daily Republic’s archives turned up two significant examples of plagiarism.
When told of the discoveries Friday, Bill James, the Daily Republic’s editor and publisher, said, “We’re dismayed and concerned.” The paper is still working on its own investigation of Behziz’s work there, he said.
Alerted by a reader
Behziz was fired the day after a reader alerted Californian editors last month to a plagiarized quote in a front-page Sunday article. The quote — “I need this for my man. A man needs cigarettes” — was taken from a study of smokers’ children and had been widely circulated in national news accounts.
Editors discovered the piece contained additional problems, including quotes from a supposed local surgeon whose existence can’t be verified as well as passages about a pair of supposedly local 16-year-old smokers that had been plagiarized from a 1995 article in the San Francisco Examiner.
When asked if she wished to comment on this story, Behziz e-mailed a response. “This is my only comment: This is a witch hunt. Too bad your news organization is not this vigilant in pursuing true wrongdoers.”
Through a lawyer, Behziz has demanded a retraction from The Californian for two previous stories published about plagiarized pieces she turned in. Such formal demands are legally required before someone can file a libel or defamation suit.
The Californian has not responded to the retraction demand.
Field of Steve