Letters to the Editor

Vampire Weekend (2/8)

To the Editor, Aliquid Super Veritatem The maiden editorial written by Board CXXXI charges its readers to scour the paper “with a critical, discerning eye,” and “challenge and question every article.” The same initial issue edited by Board CXXXI offered a music review of Vampire Weekend’s self-titled record, published with considerable amounts of information taken directly from corresponding pages on the general reference website Wikipedia.com and music critic website Pitchforkmedia.com. Upon this coming to light, Editor-in-Chief Cora Lewis published a correction in last week’s paper, saying that “attributions to the music website Pitchfork Media and Wikipedia were inadvertently omitted in certain places during the editing process.” This admission, while expressing one part of the truth, explicitly perverts the facts and sidesteps responsibility for printing plagiarized material. Contrary to the printed correction, the writer’s article in its original form took no information from Wikipedia. Rather, much of the content in question was added during the editing process. In the edited and published article, background information about the band’s discovery – not present in the original submission – was taken directly from Wikipedia. Likewise, a quote sourced specifically to Vampire Weekend, describing their music as “Upper West Side Soweto,” was in fact copied from the Wikipedia page. The deliberate reproduction of this quote in the editing process and its misattributed sourcing gives the incorrect impression that The Phillipian obtained a quote from the band itself and is in no way addressed by the paper’s concession of inadvertent omission. Similarly, that Pitchfork and The Phillipian would choose the same adjectives to describe the sound, offer identical example lyrics from the second song of the album (“Oxford Comma”), and offer the same analysis is beyond the limits of reasonable coincidence. Rather than being guilty of merely forgetting to attribute sources, The Phillipian’s editorial process was a conscious decision to include a brazen amount of plagiarized content not present in the original submission, while passing those transgressions off and onto the writer by publishing the errant article in his name. Lewis stated that the “editing process was flawed but has been addressed.” According to Lewis, The Phillipian, in a new journalistic policy, will no longer allow attribution to Wikipedia. When asked about the issue by phone, Lewis stated firmly, “I stand by the correction.” This brings up a few other problems. By maintaining that the only corrections needed were for the attribution omissions, the Editor-in-Chief tacitly endorses the republication of other writers’ reviews and investigation. If readers are thus advised not to expect original content, The Phillipian has little to recommend to its subscribers. Furthermore, when asked why the article was removed from the paper’s website, Lewis clarified that she “was concerned information was inaccurate.” This explanation by telephone, however, contradicts the printed correction. How can the paper maintain that the article had mere flawed sourcing in a public correction, while simultaneously justifying its disappearance from the website by citing concerns of inaccuracy? For comparison, five years after the Jayson Blair scandal forced Executive Editor Howell Raines to resign, The New York Times still keeps Blair’s articles accessible online, though appended with an Editor’s note. When these issues were brought to her attention, Lewis said that she would “definitely put [the corrections] in [the paper].” Among the errors left unaddressed was the incorrect reference to “Columbia College” where “Columbia University” was intended. One week later, Lewis amended her position, stating that she had “intended to definitely put [the corrections] in [the paper].” Regardless of intent, the Editor-in-Chief has effectively retreated from The Phillipian Charter’s mandate “to maintain professional standards of accuracy.” More damning than the original issue of content is the ensuing attempt to downplay and shirk responsibility for it. Sincerely, Cassius Clay ’09