In the first major ethics scandal of the Serious BuzzFeed era, the work of viral politics editor Benny Johnson — best known for posts like “The Story of Egypt’s Revolution in ‘Jurassic Park’ Gifs” — is currently under review after numerous examples of plagiarism were highlighted by pseudonymous bloggers. Following the first three examples from @blippoblappo and @crushingbort demonstrating, at best, very sloppy sourcing (of Yahoo Answers, no less), the articles in question were “updated with proper attribution,” and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith told Gawker, “Benny Johnson is one of the web’s deeply original writers, as is clear from his body of work.”
But with another batch of examples pointed out this morning, Smith changed his tone and said in a statement, “There are three serious instances of plagiarism in this post. We're reviewing Benny's work.”
The instances of obvious, Google-able plagiarism — at least four, by our count — include a sentence lifted verbatim from the Wikipedia entry for Timothy McVeigh:
As of 2013, the bombing remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in United States History.
Also from Wikipedia, on World War I:
The United States had a small army, but, after the passage of the Selective Service Act, it drafted 2.8 million men and by summer 1918 was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day.
And from Johnson’s “11 Times Congress Has Declared War On Another Country, And Why”:
2.8 million American men were drafted to fight and by summer 1918, America was sending 10,000 fresh soldiers to France every day.
From the National Review Online:
John Kerry has been a frequent traveler to Syria, meeting with Assad five times from 2009 to 2011.
And Johnson’s “When The West Romanced Assad”:
John Kerry has been a frequent traveler to Syria, meeting with Assad five times from 2009 to 2011. —
Technically, any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope — there is no other requirement for election
And Johnson’s “Technically, Any Catholic Man Can Be The Next Pope”:
Technically, any Catholic male who has reached the age of reason, is not a heretic, is not in schism, and is not “notorious” for simony can be elected pope — there is no other requirement for election.
The other examples fall ever so slightly into more of a gray area, but it’s evident there’s a pattern here, one we’ve seen before from Jonah Lehrer on down. Should BuzzFeed’s internal review have any trouble finding additional missteps, amateur journalism sleuths on Twitter are already on it.
Ironically, the initial allegations came after Johnson, formerly a writer for Breitbart and Glenn Beck’s the Blaze, complained on Twitter about being ripped off himself:
Repeat after me: Copying and pasting someone's work is called "plagiarism" http://t.co/0Ik1dPXq1O— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 23, 2014
I'm gonna write "The Old Man And The Sea" by Benny Johnson, it'll be word-for-word the original, but I'll H/T Hemingway so its all good!— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 23, 2014
Blatant plagiarism is so cool guys! http://t.co/IuJG29lARz— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 10, 2014
In his only statement since, Johnson laughed it all off:
Also, I love you internet :)— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 24, 2014
Smith, who initially opted to give his writer the benefit of the doubt, at least in public, cannot be smiling.