Last Friday, Fox News ripped off my exclusive coverage of the trial of Army Capt. Bryant Williams, who was convicted of bribing and accepting kickbacks from military contractors in Iraq. The network passed my reportage off as its own through at least 13 affiliates from coast to coast.
To be more specific, one or more anonymous employees of a Fox affiliate lifted large portions of my coverage for their own story, sometimes using my exact phrasing and often reporting information that they could only have learned from me, without attribution or a byline.
On Monday, I called a Fox employee “Rod,” who declined to give his last name and affiliation as a “security thing,” and told him that I suspected that the story was plagiarized. continued
During our conversation, he revealed that none of the Fox stories that I suspected were plagiarized had sources and said that he found this “unusual.”
Hours after the conversation, a new Fox story appeared with a byline (Luke Funk) at 7:44pm EST, based on a Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s press release. The details exclusive to my original coverage were removed from this newer, cleaner version.
No correction to the original coverage. No attribution. No transparency. Nothing to see here, folks.
In its original, borrowed coverage, Fox declined to steal portions of my coverage that, in my humble opinion, made my original reportage “fair and balanced.” Call Fox’s version of my story “Pared Down and Plagiarized.”
To paraphrase Emile Zola: J’accuse, Fox News!
I accuse Fox News because no other journalist was sitting with me in the courtroom when I reported the facts that the news outlet lifted. When reached for comment, defense attorney David Greenfield said he had “no recollection” of seeing or speaking to any journalist other than me during the trial.
Anything not covered in a court document, Fox could not know.
For example, court documents identify the military contractors as Contractor-1 and Contractor-2. Only through court testimony could one learn that these anonymous individuals were Harith Aljabawi and Mike Naji, the owners of Joshua Construction and Phoenix Contractors.
Unless Fox sent an invisible correspondent to cover the same testimony that I did, it learned about their identities from me, and then published the information – without attribution – in its original story.
I also reported that these contractors delivered inconsistent testimony and entered into cooperation agreements with the government after Aljabawi admitted to accepting $500,000 in corrupt money, but Fox apparently did not think this information was significant for its readers to know.
On the one hand, I could hardly welcome more extensive plagiarism of my article, but Fox stripped meaningful context for its readers. Still, make no mistake: Fox found plenty more reportage and phrasing of mine to nick.
In a previous story about deliberations, I wrote, “Williams claimed that the tens of the thousands of dollars, most of which he kept in locked duffel bags, were gambling winnings from card games with military contractors.”
The anonymous author(s) of the Fox article wrote that Williams “claimed the tens of thousands of dollars in cash he had in locked duffel bags were gambling winnings.”
The two sentences are nearly identical.
Fox also learned that jurors told U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones they were “deadlocked” at one point during deliberations from me. A court document did not tell them that.
Courthouse News was the only publication that provided daily coverage of witness testimony, closing summations and jury deliberations during the trial, as a quick Google search demonstrates — trial coverage.
There is no evidence that Fox ever filed a story about any of these events, except after I reported on the verdict.
On Friday afternoon, I was on the phone with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office while the Williams verdict was being announced, and I found out the information before a press release was eventually distributed.
My article, “Army Captain Faces 35 Years For Bribing Military Contractors in Iraq,” was posted more than two hours before the Fox News story, “Former Army Captain Convicted of Taking Bribes,” a Google search shows.
The headline writer, it would seem, did not read my original coverage carefully enough. The Fox headline contains two errors: Williams was standing trial as an active duty Army Captain, not a former one. When I spoke to “Rod” at Fox, I told him that this was an error. The newer, scrubbed article’s headline identifies Williams simply as an “Army Captain.”
The second and more significant error in the headline is that Williams was convicted of making bribes and accepting kickbacks, not the other way around. The contractors testified that Williams told them that if they wanted the contracts, they needed to give him a cut.
Although it contained mostly Courthouse News coverage, Fox stamped “News Core” in front of the original story, and apparently called it a day.
No, “News Core” is not a typo for News Corp., which owns Fox.
News Core is the corporation’s global service that instantly clones all news stories and videos for Murdoch’s entire network of TV, print and online news outlets, the Guardian reported on Sept. 7, 2009.
(Note to Fox editors and journalists: This is how to properly attribute a fact that is not your firsthand knowledge.)
It’s difficult to confirm where the story originated because the News Core octopus reposted it on at least 13 websites for its online and TV outlets on the same day across the United States. Each of these stories reported Courthouse News coverage without attribution.
As of my last search search, the same Fox article has turned up on the websites of affiliates in Chicago, Phoenix, Memphis, Boston, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia, Houston and Los Angeles.
It also appeared on the pages of the Fox’s Dallas/Ft. Worth-based TV station Fox 4 and Minnesota-based TV station Fox 9. So the content violations may reach into multiple mediums.
This is when I called Rod to ask for more information about the anonymous authors. Several other employees before him had transferred me to voicemail, but he was willing to speak.
When I mentioned it was a national story, Rod said, “It was probably from the AP, then. We just post stuff from the AP. Some of it comes from Fox. It’s called Fox Canvas, which is a national website. So I really wouldn’t know who wrote it.”
I replied that the story was not attributed to any news source, and it was marked “News Core.”
“Yeah, that comes from the Fox network,” he said, again adding, “So I really don’t have the person who wrote it.”
Was there no record of who wrote it in existence, I pressed?
“No. Well, it comes from Fox. It’s Canvas, Fox Canvas, or Fox News Club. That comes from New York,” he said, adding that it had no publically reachable consumer or viewer service.
That is to say, if a viewer, reader, or say, a journalist has an issue with any of its coverage, there’s nobody to contact. A system that, to my mind, defies transparency and accountability.
Stories put on local affiliates’ websites from Canvas are “just something we put on our website,” Rod said.
“This story has been published on several of the Fox websites,” he explained.
I knew, but then Rod said something particularly telling.
“And none of them have a source on it, which is unusual for News Core,” Rod admitted.
One might add that it is “unusual” in general journalistic practice.
The evidence supporting my allegations is documented, glaring, egregious and easily demonstrated. I took screenshots of the stories showing the original coverage and of Google rankings of our filing times filing times.
Moreover, it points to a systemic flaw in the company’s practices: If one or more anonymous writers from any Fox station steals, fabricates or erroneously reports the news, the information can be propagated instantly worldwide, without edits or oversight from local affiliates.
This is not just a natural casualty of the Internet age. News Corporation launched the News Core internal wire service last year. Before then, a Fox editor had to do what any editor had to do to use an affiliate’s coverage: research and fact-check the information personally.
I publically demand a transparent correction, attribution and clarification of Fox’s original plagiarized coverage of my story. But more than that, News Core must make structural changes within the internal wire to make it more visible, accountable and ethical. One of the world’s largest news organizations cannot be allowed the unchecked ability to transmit incorrect, stolen or fabricated coverage around the globe, in seconds, without oversight.