Tuesday, February 13, 2007

LA Times Plagiarizing New Yorker?

Jonathan Lethem has an essay on plagiarism in the new Harper's. It reminded me of the time I was reviewing an album in college. We didn't always get advance copies of major releases, so we had to review them the Friday AFTER they came out. I avoided reading the review in Rolling Stone I'd received and filed my copy. The next day, I happened to read Rolling Stone and realized their critic and I had quoted the exact same lines from the album and even used the same adjectives and turns of phrases once or twice in reviewing the album. Anyone seeing them side by side would have assumed I had plagiarized it. Happily, I still had time to go and change my review around.

So yesterday I posted a link to an LA Times story on "24" and torture and their meeting with people from West Point and human rights groups, etc. Last night in bed I was reading the New Yorker and working my way through THEIR story on "24" and torture and their meeting with people from West Point and human rights groups. It was so similar I wondered if it was just a longer version of the other article.

The New Yorker story was posted online on February 12. The LA Times story ran on the 13th. What happened? Presumably, a publicist from the show had pitched this story, I imagine. Both stories moved forward without either publication realizing another was working on the same angle. They got statistics from the same groups; the people being interviewed gave the same quotes, etc.

There's this from the LA Times:
More troubling, the disparate group told "24" writers and executive producers, are the social and political consequences of television's current version of torture and who is performing it. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, prime-time television has seen a surge of torture sequences.

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture, according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said. "24" has accounted for 67 such scenes during its first five seasons, making it No. 1 in torture depictions, according to the watchdog group.

The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer's identity was more likely to be an American hero like "24's" Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days. The action-packed show, which drew a hefty 13.6 million viewers last week, was among the first and certainly the most prominent to have its main character choke, stab or electrocute — among other techniques — information out of villains.

"It's unthinkable that Capt. Kirk would torture someone," said Danzig.
And then there's this from the New Yorker:
Since September 11th, depictions of torture have become much more common on American television. Before the attacks, fewer than four acts of torture appeared on prime-time television each year, according to Human Rights First, a nonprofit organization. Now there are more than a hundred, and, as David Danzig, a project director at Human Rights First, noted, “the torturers have changed. It used to be almost exclusively the villains who tortured. Today, torture is often perpetrated by the heroes.” The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, “ ‘24’ is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”
Other examples of convergence can be found. So did someone cheat here? No. It's probably just a coincidence and an example of how even when people are working on an offbeat story they can unwittingly cover the same ground.

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