D-News puts column on hold after plagiarism discovered
Richard, Linda Eyre likely will return; ethics expert says lifting was “egregious,” not a mistake.
Published: September 5, 2013 10:41AM
Updated: September 5, 2013 10:35AM

The Deseret News has temporarily suspended a column written by a Utah couple who describe themselves as “among the most popular speakers in the world on parenting and families” after a review uncovered four articles contained material that was not properly attributed.

In an announcement published in a briefs column on page 2 of the newspaper’s local section, the Deseret News said it had reviewed nearly 300 columns written by Richard and Linda Eyre and found four that contained unattributed sentences. The Deseret News conducted the review after learning that the bulk of a column by Richard Eyre published on July 31 contained material lifted from a New York Times piece by Adam Grant.

In its notice Wednesday, the newspaper described the acts as “a failure to properly attribute sources” rather than plagiarism.

“The Eyres have acknowledged the seriousness of these lapses and apologized to those involved,” the Deseret News statement said.

It said the Eyres’ column, published two to three times a week, would be placed on “pause” for one month but “anticipate” the popular pair will return after that period. The newspaper also said it had reviewed its processes to “ensure that proper training and care in editing are provided on an ongoing basis.”

Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards said the newspaper’s decision came after an “exhaustive” review of the Eyres’ columns and also after looking “closely at how some other very reputable media organizations had dealt with these problems of failed attribution.”

“We believe our response is congruent with those industry standards,” Edwards said in a telephone message. “Although we know many of our readers are going to miss the Eyres’ column for a period of time, we really felt compelled that we had to step back, pause publication of the column for a season and we are looking forward [to] how we can move forward in the future.”

On Tuesday, the Deseret News added statements to the top of each column noting the attribution lapse and editing changes subsequently made. The columns fixed:

• An Aug. 7 column on strengthening family ties that failed to properly attribute information taken from an address given by LDS Church apostle L. Tom Perry at Brigham Young University-Idaho on Jan. 24, 2012.

• A June 20 column on children’s eduction that failed to cite material taken from a June 4 story by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post about Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.

• A June 19 column on marriage that failed to attribute a passage to a report by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

• An Oct. 17, 2011, column on the Christian view of marriage that failed to cite material from a Wikipedia entry on that topic.

Last month, the Deseret News said a column by Richard Eyre “erroneously failed to use quotation marks to properly attribute” several paragraphs taken from Grant’s New York Times article. The newspaper pulled the column from its website and both the Deseret News and the Eyres apologized to the Times and to Grant.

The Tribune found a sixth column, published in April, that includes one partial and four complete sentences that are identical to those in a 2009 New York Times article by author Alfie Kohn; it is unclear what distinguished that lack of attribution from those found in the other problematic articles.

Two years ago, the Deseret News confronted a similar ethical dilemma when it was revealed that West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder had written three stories about the city for the newspaper using the pseudonym “Richard Burwash.”

In contrast to the timeout it has taken with the Eyres, the newspaper editorialized in 2004 that there were “no worthy excuses” for plagiarism.

“People plagiarize for the same reasons that people steal in general,” the newspaper editorialized. “Laziness is often a reason. So is mental illness and simple desperation. Like shoplifters, plagiarists often plead carelessness or distraction at first, then later admit to the charges.”

The most recent column by the Eyres appeared in the Deseret News last Friday and chronicled their move from the family home to a City Creek condominium. The Eyres, parents of nine adult children, are authors of more than a dozen books on family and parenting topics and also publish the valuesparenting.com website. Their 1993 book “Teaching Your Children Values” was a New York Times best-seller. They are frequent media guests, appearing on such shows as “Dr. Phil” and “Good Morning America,” and have lectured about parenting throughout the world.

Richard Eyre ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1992 on a platform that emphasized family and traditional values.

In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, Richard Eyre took the blame for being the one who “flubbed.”

He said the couple had decided to use some columns this summer “highlighting and commenting on other family-focused writings that we liked.”

“We very carelessly failed to fully attribute and use quotation marks around sentences from these sources,” Richard Eyre said. “We and the newspaper have apologized to those we insufficiently quoted. There is really no excuse because while we are not professional journalists (we write our columns as unpaid volunteers) we are professional authors, and we certainly should have been more careful — as we will be in the future!”

Eyre added that “we also want to stress that these oversights were completely inadvertent. We certainly have no problem with giving others credit for their ideas and comments — in fact, that was the exact purpose of these particular columns.”

However, the Aug. 7 column on family ties originally did not contain a single reference to Perry.

Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member for ethics at the Poynter Institute and co-editor of a new book on journalistic ethics in the 21st century, said writers accused of plagiarism often claim to have had a “note-taking problem.”

“These are fairly egregious examples of plagiarism in that it’s impossible to do this by mistake,” McBride said. “The only way you can have that much identical material is if you copy and paste. I think you can identify intent by looking at the length of the plagiarized information.”

In the Eyres’ case, the situation is particularly disturbing, she said.

“This is a column telling people how to behave,” McBride said. “It suggests a certain hypocrisy that the paper would allow them to continue as columnists.”

Secondly, as accomplished professionals, the Eyres “certainly know what the expectations are when it comes to citation” — which they showed by sourcing some information in most of the problematic columns, McBride said.

Apparently, “they didn’t want to have these really long quotes that demonstrated how heavily they were relying on source material rather than coming up with original thought,” she said. “That is endemic of intellectual dishonesty that is a real problem in our culture today because it is so easy” to pass off comments or observations made by someone else as one’s own.

“Columnists always have this strain on them to say something original,” McBride said. “And the reality is you don’t necessarily have to be original as long as you are honest about where your ideas are coming from.”

brooke@sltrib.com