Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I Plagiarize Allegiance to the Flag

Well, the proverbial can of worms has been can-o-maticked. And so I provide for you more reasons to be thankful that Bill Boss is not who you report to at the magazine for which you are the freelance editor.

For this issue we've been working on, Boss forwarded me a short article about the new courthouse that is being built in Houston. It talks about construction cost forecasts for 2002-2003. Is it my imagination, or are we in 2005? I did a google search and found that he had gotten this article from a court document dating back to early 2002. I emailed him and said that the article sounded outdated and recommended killing it. He responded, "This is the most current information we have. We will be moving forward with it."

Even more pathetic than his stubborn insistence on running the article was his feeble attempt to bring it up to date: the 2002 court document had ended by saying "Construction is expected to be completed by April 2005." Boss changed his version to read, "Construction was expected to be completed by April 2005. At time of press there was no word from the City on a new completion date." Is he kidding? There was an article in the Chronicle several weeks ago talking about how the courthouse was now scheduled for completion in 2006. I found the Chron article online and forwarded it to Boss, advocating again for killing his outdated article. He insisted we keep it.

Perhaps at this point you're wondering about who exactly this Boss character is -- I know I was. I did some research and found out that he was just admitted to the bar last year. Interesting, considering that his slick, flash-heavy website boasts of his case experience in over 50 areas, including "brain injury," "angina mistakes," and "amusement park injurys [sic]." (Yes, he's a personal injury lawyer and yes, he spelled "injuries" wrong.) According to the magazine's art director, Boss has yet to actually win a case (she gives me the dirt on Boss because she hates him too -- he advertises that he speaks Spanish but doesn't, so whenever he has a Spanish-speaking client she gets pulled in to translate).

The most revealing Boss incident went down a few months ago during the first issue I worked on. Boss forwarded me a "letter from the publisher" that he wanted me to copyedit. As I read it, I thought to myself that it was well written and that perhaps I had underestimated this guy. The letter eloquently wove together statements about the mission of the magazine with rhetoric on the freedoms of America.

Then I came across this odd word pairing whose meaning I wasn't sure of. I did a google search on it to see if I could read it in the context of some other articles. Only one page came up on google: a letter from the editor from a 1999 issue of a law journal in Ohio. Yes, Boss had attempted to PLAGIARIZE someone else's entire letter.

I didn't even know what to do with myself. This was the kind of offense for which I chastised friends in the third grade, when someone would try to copy a passage from the encyclopedia. For an adult who is educated and supposedly practicing law to be plagiarizing boggled my mind. This fool should have been booted from law school.

I considered walking away from the magazine at this point, but I really wanted to stick it out (for resumé considerations). I couldn't, however, let this plagiarizing thing slide. I emailed Boss and recommended not printing his letter as it was "far too similar" to another published letter -- and I included a link to the original Ohio letter.

He wrote back, "Good work!"