Saturday, November 5, 2011

Wente, the ‘Occupy’ protests, and a “John”

What kind of research did Margaret Wente do for this article? And is “John” really a “face” of the Occupy Movement?

Wente provides three “faces” of the protests, with a quote for each. First we meet Laurel O’Gorman from Laurentian U, at Occupy Toronto. Then Wente reproduces a quote from a article to introduce us to Sarvenaz Asasy. But “John” is the most puzzling “face” of the Occupy protests.

Wente writes: “Then there’s John, who’s pursuing a degree in environmental law. He wants to work at a non-profit. After he graduated from university, he struggled to find work. ‘I had to go a full year between college and law school without a job. I lived at home with my parents to make ends meet.’ He thinks a law degree will help, but these days, I’m not so sure”.

She’s “not so sure” – sounds like she’s ruminating over the conversation she’s just had with the guy.

But there’s no evidence “John” has anything to do with the Occupy movement.

Who is “John”? John is one of those cardboard characters political parties put forward to flog policies. His existence appears to originate on an online Obama 2012 election page about student loans, from whence he was perhaps picked up by a blogger who is in turn picked up by blogger Kenneth Anderson, who Wente quotes and paraphrases in her article. Anderson at least identifies “John”, providing a link to the guy who links to the Obama site), but since Margaret doesn’t bother, you can meet “John” and his quote right here.

In none of these online incarnations is “John” connected to the Occupy Protests, so it’s hard to see why he should be one of three representative faces she provides. It seems that as a responsible journalist, if you’re going to crib a representative “face” for your argument, you should acknowledge that someone else invented him first in a different story. It’s apparently too much to ask that Wente leave the confines of her high priced condo to talk to a few actual ‘Occupy’ protesters.

Wente provides a lengthy quote from Anderson, and additional ideas from his article. She’d apparently also like us to believe that she has (independently) read Christopher Lasch (who died before many of the Occupiers were born) and that she’s offering an original insight about Lasch’s views in relation to the Occupy movement. But this observation also appears in Anderson’s article. And the words Wente attributes to Lasch - “They are what the social critic Christopher Lasch called the ‘new class’ of ‘therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy’” also seem to be misidentified. They actually appear in a September 22, 1995 article by the same Kenneth Anderson in the Times Literary Supplement. The words “therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy” are used by Anderson to describe his own interpretation of the late Lasch’s work.

Update: The following Editor's Note now appears at the bottom of the online version of Wente's column:

Editor's note: Clarifications: John, who’s pursuing a degree in environmental law, is not part of the Occupy movement.

The following sentence is a paraphrase, not a direct quote: They are what the social critic Christopher Lasch called the “new class” of “therapeutic cops in the new bureaucracy.”

Helpful, but does this fully address the attribution aspect?


  1. I don't know if you've thought about it, or if I've just missed it, but it would be nice to have a central page documenting, say, "the 100 plagariasm sins of Margaret Wente" or something somewhat less provocative. This is extraordinary.

  2. I am Laurel O'Gorman, and I can assure you that she did not interview me for this or make any effort to contact me. The research she did was look at another Globe article that I was in a few weeks ago (

    Thank you for posting this! Check out my blog in the next few days for more posts about it!

  3. Everything Margaret Wente writes is scrupulously researched and submitted to peer review.

    No, seriously. I heard that one of her friends said so at a cocktail party.

  4. Oh the irony:

    "Ms. O’Gorman is in a fix. But I can’t help wondering whether she, and not the greedy Wall Street bankers, is the author of her own misfortune. Just what kind of jobs did she imagine are on offer for freshly minted sociology graduates? ***** DID SHE BOTHER TO ASK? ***** Did it occur to her that it might be a good idea to figure out how to support her children before she had them?"

    Pretty rich question coming from somebody who didn't bother to ask herself.

    It is fair game for a columnist to use somebody else's reportage to express an opinion. However it is beyond lazy -- and worse -- to do so without sourcing it.

    Wente should have said something like "as O'Gorman told The Globe last week."

    The record you have kept here at Media Culpa would get people at the Star hauled out on the carpet by the public edior, or even suspended or fired.

  5. Have you sent this information to John Stackhouse, the editor-in-chief? If Wente's piece isn't exactly plagiarism, it is highly unethical, to say the least.

  6. Following up on Sixth Estate's idea, I suggest a Facebook group to collect and share these examples of the G&M's decline from an actual newspaper into a safe haven for unethical columnists and a megaphone for corporate think tanks.

  7. Wow, this is great to see the feedback on this AW-FUL article by Wente. In fairness to Wente, she is a terrible columnist.

    For what it's worth, I remember an article about the Strauss Kahn affair that Wente wrote some months ago. It was a typical polemic of hers. But the fascinating thing was that she seemed to borrow turns of phrase and specific points from a New York Times article on the whole affair. It would be an overstatement to say it was plagiarism (maybe in a technical sense it was) but it just goes to show how unoriginal she is. She just reads the NYtimes. And then tells us what she thinks about it. That's her whole schtick!

    The scary thing is that she has the soapbox she does. There are impressionable minds that do take her seriously.

  8. Excellent post. I really think you should take this and the other evidence you have about her plagiarism and empty research and update her Wikipedia page.

  9. There is a facebook group about this article called "I blame Margaret Wente". It is more of a satirical event that makes the same kind of outlandish false assumptions, but instead of blaming the poor, it blames Wente for pretty much everything that has ever gone wrong. It amused me.

  10. Great post, Media Culpa. I appreciate your unearthing of the misuse of Lasch. And I love the idea of Sixth Estate & Ernest's idea of tracking her "sins" as a larger indictment of the G&M.

  11. Nice work.

    In regards to the removal of the comment by the Globe. It's my experience that those characterizing themselves as 'conservatives' are far more interested in power than freedom. So any contrary opinions or inconvenient facts must be destroyed or ignored because they threaten that power.

  12. Margaret Wente is one of the most dangerous of people in society: a platform to disseminate opinions disguised as "facts" to an audience of people who haven't the time nor inclination to do their own thinking and research with apparently no rebuke from her employer. Is there any wonder why she could never identify with anyone in any of the Occupy movements?

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