By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

More on Keller

Great comment from an anonymous poster to Media Nation. Here’s just a small excerpt:

It’s true that in newspapers, journalists usually attribute quotes that were gotten by another publication to that publication. But I almost never see this in books. I’ve seen books that have almost nothing but quotes from primary sources that don’t mention anything about where they came from. The fact that “everybody does it” does not, of course, make something right. But let’s not pretend that what was done here is anything other than the norm.

He’s absolutely right. Keller is being singled out for a practice that is rampant throughout the entire book industry. Read the whole thing. I guarantee you there are local authors quaking in their boots tonight at the prospect that they’ll be next.

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The Herald and Jon Keller


Editor’s statement


  1. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Refresh my memory. What’s plagiarism again?

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, you’re well read. Why don’t you provide us with, say, 10 good examples? Why leave it to conjecture?

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 9:37: (1) It would take hours of research, which I’m not going to do; and (2) it would be 10 more people slimed.

  4. Anonymous

    Slimed? If it’s the norm, it’s the norm. Demonstrate.

  5. Anonymous

    Slimed? you just said it was perfectly reputable. so why not just cite the comparable works and say: see – this is how it’s done. end of story. you can’t just toss off words like “i can find 10 books” and then not find them. why should we believe they exist? but more to the point, show me any serious writer who imagines a book filled with quotes and data and doesn’t imagine him or herself noting and attributing the data and citations. it’s de rigueur. i suppose my final question for you dan is: next time a student presents you with an essay free of notes and biblio are you going to accept it?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 10:35: That’s why I didn’t say “I can find 10 books.” God almighty, how does your mind work? Nice use of quotation marks, too. Someone challenged me to find 10 books, and I declined the offer. It would take two weeks, full-time, to document. And for what?

  7. Peter Porcupine

    OK – I’m sitting next to a bay window filled with NOTHING but political books. At random (my hand on my heart) I grabbed two.Locked in the Cabinet by Robert Reich (best book ever written about working in Washington, btw) – Zero foonotes, no index at the end, only two or three sources named.Caucus of Corruption by Matt Margolis – ZILLIONS of footnotes, at least five on every page.Who knew?

  8. Anonymous

    you’re quite right dan — you didnt say “10 books.” you said “a practice that is rampant throughout the entire book industry,” but without citing even 1 example. so now we are challenging you to cite ONE example other than keller that you find acceptable. even though you say “rampant,” cite 1 example. i would imagine something rampant would not be that hard to exemplify. i do not accept that it would take “2 weeks full time to document” 10 books. but certainly 1 (one) book would be easy to establish. “and for what?”: to prove YOUR point. you are the one who stepped forward to defend this practice. it falls to you to make your defense convincing. and i repeat my question, which you also dodged: next time a student presents you with an essay free of notes and biblio are you going to accept it?

  9. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    So. Are we morphing to Situational Ethics?Are we now rethinking the Ron Borges affair? He picked up quotes from other writers in a column that was labeled as containing material provided by other writers, to the great indignation of the once ethically-pure.Should not a book that analyzes contemporary politics provide, if not footnotes, than chapter or end notes with some source material, especially in an era in which quotes are distorted, taken out of context, and republished as something people seem to think they heard? (I’m not sure it doesn’t; I haven’t read the book)Yikes. My kid just went to go jump off a bridge. Said something about it being “rampant throughout the entire kid industry”

  10. Andy

    Dan your argument is a little week. Boiled down what you are saying “Hey, everyone else is doing it.” Of course we know how every mother in America would respond to that: “If everyone was …… would you?” If Keller quotes an article he should cite the person. I am sure that you teach your students to cite sources, there has been no adequate explanation provided yet for why Mr. Keller is an exception to the rules. He is a reporter, he should hold himself to a higher standard.

  11. Anonymous

    Peter Porcupine, Locked in the Cabinet is entirely Reich’s memoir (personal memory) of his time as Labor Secretary. He doesn’t need footnotes because it all comes straight out of his head, other than the times he actually cites an article in the text, not in footnotes.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Amused and Andy: Your glibness obscures the real issue. If you try to boil it down to “everybody does it,” well, of course, it sounds pathetic, and you can cite mothers, eighth-grade term-paper standards, and the like until we all fall into a catatonic stupor.In this case, though, “everybody does it” is shorthand for describing what has become the customary practice within the book industry. Material that is considered to be somehow in the public domain is rarely cited. Peter Porcupine brought up Reich’s book. There’s another, obvious example whose title I want to scream out, but I’m not interested in seeing him get pummeled anymore than I am Keller. (And, no, this person is definitely not a friend.)The fact is, the attribution standards for eighth-grade term papers are actually more stringent than they are for certain types of journalism, especially in books. You don’t have to like it. I don’t particularly like it. But it is smug and arrogant to suggest that Keller was supposed to rise above an entire industry in saying, no, damn it, I’m going to do it differently.Along those same lines, several people have sneeringly asked what my standards are when students turn in work that’s not properly attributed. I’ll set aside academic papers and focus on the news and feature stories written by my journalism students. We’ll talk about background and its proper use. We’ll talk about when you have to cite and when you don’t. If Larry Bird was quoted as saying something in the Los Angeles Times and a student uses it without crediting the Times, it might be OK as long as it’s clear that the student is not claiming to have interviewed Bird. (Although I tell them it’s always safer to write Bird told the Los Angeles Times in 2004 and let an editor decide how to handle that.)I am talking about the standards of journalism as they are. You don’t have to like them. You can argue that they ought to be changed. In my own work, I’d like to think I’ve offered more in the way of citation than many journalists, especially as I’ve gotten older.But don’t tell me I’m describing the standards of journalism inaccurately. I’m not. I know what I’m talking about.I leave you with the Perspectives page from the current Newsweek. Gee, where do you think they got all those quotes? And stay tuned for the quotes that will be featured on the op-ed page in Saturday’s Globe.

  13. Anonymous

    Dan, I’ve never seen you so snarky and unreasonable. Just look at what you wrote last night:”Anon 10:35: That’s why I didn’t say “I can find 10 books.” God almighty, how does your mind work? Nice use of quotation marks, too. Someone challenged me to find 10 books, and I declined the offer. It would take two weeks, full-time, to document. And for what?”If you go back and read, it’s clear Anon. 10:35 wasn’t directly quoting you. You clearly implied that you could provide 10 relevant examples if you felt like it, when you wrote:”Anon 9:37: (1) It would take hours of research, which I’m not going to do; and (2) it would be 10 more people slimed.”I think one lesson we’ll all come away with is, never review a friend’s book.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    If someone writes of me that I said “I can find 10 books,” and puts it in quotation marks, he’s saying that I said “I can find 10 books,” in exactly those words. It means nothing more and nothing less. Sorry to be snarky and unreasonable about the truth.

  15. Another face at zanzibar

    I leave you with this from the Perspectives page: “Quotation sources: Scientific American, AP, New York Daily News, AP, USA Today, AP(2), Athens News Courier, Reuters, New York Times”

  16. Anonymous

    Dan, you keep trying to vindicate you stance by citing small, meaningless tactical victories over the wording of your interlocutors’ postings. that is a well known form of debating trick but it does not liberate you from defending your overall point. your overall point, best as i can ascertain, is that– standards for 8th grade papers or for my own collegians are perhaps more stringent than those for paid, book writing pundits. but that’s just the way it is so i’m going to accept it rather than, say, take the position that book-writing pundits should hew at minimum to the same standards expected of eigtht-graders and my collegians.– i refuse to cite one book that matches keller’s book in its absence of proper annotation because i fear for the consequences on the writer, even though i think the writer has done nothing wrong– anyone who asks me to defend keller’s practices in light of my own admonitions to myself or my own students is a “sneerer.”– you continue to assert that “the entire industry” does what keller has done, and you ask us to accept this because you “know what” you’re talking about. believe it or not dan, i have been at this longer that you, and i also “know what i’m talking about,” and it is not true that the entire industry does this and it is not true that is is a generally acceptable practice. what are your metrics? where is you data? where is your supporting reporting and fact-finding?- at the end of the day, dan, you are entitled to state that you “feel” keller has done nothing wrong and that you “sense” that what he has done is within acceptable bounds, etc. but that is a far cry from convincing others that your opinion has weight beyond your sensibilities.

  17. Dan Kennedy

    Zanzibar: Well, I certainly missed that one. Thank you for pointing it out.

  18. Rick in Duxbury

    DK,No matter HOW long you have been doing this, you do have the huevos to attach your name to your opinions. I’m guessing that this helps in “convincing others that your opinion has weight”…

  19. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    Glibness from all parties aside, are Borges and Keller being held to different standards?

  20. Anonymous

    Yes but that’s not the point. Keller plays an important role for liberals in this city. He’s acceptable to them, in the same way Jeff Jacoby is. This city is a non stop cavalcade of liberal voices in media realms deemed acceptable to people like Dan Kennedy. Talk radio isn’t acceptable. People like Dan go out of their way to marginalize it. It’s important for someone like Dan Kennedy to have a couple “Conservatives” he can refer to when confronted about the monopoly on opinion in Boston. You can just hear it, “No, Keller and Jacoby have prominent voices in this town, heck they’re my friends.” Now, liberals are trying to marginalize one of those voices. Rightly so, perhaps. But it throws a wrench in the plausible deniability that our city is a Intellectual and Media fiefdom for progressives.

  21. Ryan Adams

    Dan, no offense, but you sound rediculous. I’d have flunked a class if I handed in a paper anything remotely like what Keller produced for his book in college, which I just got out of. You say there are different types of journalism for books – and I agree. However, I’ve never seen a book published that relied on other people’s work and didn’t tell people where that work came from at some point throughout the course of the book. I shudder to think what your students are learning under your tutelege. That it’s okay to cheat – as long as it’s your friend who’s doing it? Let’s just say that I’m very glad I saved my money and went to the UMASS system instead of a school like Northeastern because at the very least my professors knew enough to know that plagiarism is a serious offense. And I say that as a person who’s had more family members than I can count who went to and loved that University. Sad day, indeed.

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