The saga began in the classical manner: with an e-mail about Jimmy Buffett. Several weeks ago, I received a note from a Slate reader drawing my attention to an article published in March 2008 in the Bulletin, a free alternative weekly in Montgomery County, Texas, north of Houston. "I believe your ... profile of musician Jimmy Buffett was reproduced wholesale without attribution," the reader wrote. "I thought you should know." I followed a link to "Spring Fling: Concerts That Make the Holiday a Time to Party"* by Mark Williams, a feature pegged to concert appearances by Buffett and country singer Miranda Lambert. Sure enough, the article included 10 and a half paragraphs copied nearly verbatim from "A Pirate Looks at 60," my Slate essay of Jan. 9, 2007. My words were slightly reworked in places, and further enlivened by eccentric use of em dashes and semicolons--a hallmark, I would learn, of the Williamsian style. But the original text was largely unaltered.
Since 2005, the Bulletin has published dozens of stories under Williams' byline that appear to be copied, whole or in part, from other periodicals. Compare the Bulletin's Nov. 4, 2005, Franz Ferdinand piece and this NME review, published five weeks prior; the Bulletin's Steely Dan piece (July 14, 2006) and this article from the Web site All About Jazz (July 4, 2006); the Bulletin's Black Rebel Motorcycle Club feature (June 14, 2007) and an earlier Boston Globe piece (May 25, 2007); the Bulletin's McKay Brothers article (Nov. 11, 2006) and this Dallas Observer item (Oct. 19, 2006); and the Bulletin's "God and Country: More Popular Artists Are Now Singing a Spiritual Tune" (Sept. 20, 2007) and the Billie Joe Shaver concert review by Washington Post pop critic J. Freedom du Lac (Sept. 13, 2007). The Eagles piece published in the Bulletin on Dec. 13, 2007 is a nearly word-for-word recapitulation of David Fricke's Rolling Stone review (Nov. 1, 2007). Mark Williams sought inspiration from USA Today for his features on Paul Simon (USA Today version; Bulletin version) and Tom Petty (USA Today version; Bulletin version). The Evanston, Ill.-based blog Pop Matters is the apparent source of articles on Dwight Yoakam (Pop Matters version; Bulletin version) and Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (Pop Matters version; Bulletin version). And then there's "Crazy About 'Crazy' " (March 2, 2007), Williams' deconstruction of the monster 2006 pop hit by Gnarls Barkley--an article that bears a striking resemblance to "Crazy for 'Crazy'," published six months earlier in Slate.
Indeed, I wonder: In purely statistical terms, do the articles in the Montgomery County Bulletin amount to the greatest plagiarism scandal in the annals of American journalism?