SPJ national update III: Creator of plagiarism detection software catches columnist cribbing; and media had wide access in Vietnam War. John Barrie, the creator of a leading plagiarism-recognition system, says he found at least three instances of "textbook plagiarism" in Ann Coulter's "Godless: the Church of Liberalism" after he ran the book's text through the company's digital iThenticate program. He also says he discovered verbatim lifts in Coulter's weekly column, which is syndicated to more than 100 newspapers. Barrie, CEO of iParadigms, said one 25-word passage from the "Godless" chapter titled "The Holiest Sacrament: Abortion" appears to have been lifted nearly word for word from Planned Parenthood literature published at least 18 months before Coulter's 281-page book was released. A separate, 24-word string from the chapter "The Creation Myth" appeared about a year earlier in the San Francisco Chronicle with just one word switch -- "stacked" changed to "piled." More here and here and here and here. ... The ability to report the Vietnam War without censorship was unlike anything that has been seen since, AP correspondents who covered the conflict said at a reunion. "We had relationships with officers and generals that are totally foreign to reporters trying to cover Iraq today, absolutely in a fantasy world," said Peter Arnett, who spent 13 years in Vietnam for the AP from 1962 to 1975. "The military was remarkable in Vietnam -- they not only didn't try to censor us, they made every accommodation to us," added Richard Pyle, 1970-73 Saigon bureau chief. "There's never been a situation quite like that anywhere." More here.
SPJ national update IV: White House courts author of incendiary -- and false -- column on Jews in Iran; and CBS poll finds trust in media. Josh Marshall's TPMMuckraker.com reports (May 31): "Two weeks ago, Amir Taheri published an op-ed in Canada's National Post about an Iranian law that forced Jews to wear a yellow stripe. The story, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, quickly provoked outrage, but was just as quickly revealed to be a total fabrication. It also ran in the New York Post. Apparently this is just the sort of reliable advice that President Bush needs. Yesterday, Taheri had a face-to-face with the President as one of a small group of "experts' on Iraq that visited the White House. According to Press Secretary Tony Snow, the experts were invited to the White House for their 'honest opinions' on Iraq." ... A recent CBS "Evening News" found that 63 percent of respondents had "at least some confidence" in the stories reported by the press while 69 percent generally believe stories to be accurate. The number of respondents who said they believe that stories reported by the media are accurate match exactly the results from a 1994 CBS News poll -- 69 percent. Asked how often the media tells the truth, 59 percent said all or most of the time. More here.
Governments May Soon Restrict Access to Birth Records
by Meghan E. Murphy
Early next year the federal government will release proposed regulations that journalists anticipate will restrict access to birth and death records.
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is drafting minimum standards in response to a mandate in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The standards are intended to prevent identity theft, and states would be required to implement them.
While journalism groups agree that identity theft prevention is important, SPJ's Sunshine in Government Initiative asserts that restricting access to these vital records would impede the work of journalists, medical researchers, genealogists and archivists.