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In February, Slate columnist Jack Shafer caught Miami Beach journalist Gerald Posner — a former Pulitzer Prize finalist — lifting more than a dozen passages from the Miami Herald and elsewhere in his work as chief investigative reporter for the Daily Beast.
The Beast dismissed Posner February 10 from his job at Tina Brown's daily news site and offered a mea culpa — sort of. Sure, he'd stolen other writers' work en masse, but it was the "warp speed" of the Internet to blame, he said.
"I now realize that a method of compiling information that I have used successfully since 1984 on book research obviously does not work in a failsafe manner at the warp speed of the Net," Posner said to Shafer.
So, what exactly is Posner's excuse for plagiarizing in his latest book, Miami Babylon? Because that's exactly what he did in at least eight passages taken from author Frank Owen's 2003 book, Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture.
Consider these two sentences, for example:
"By the early summer of 1999, Chris Paciello wanted an extra edge to crush his nightclub rivals." — Miami Babylon, page 322
"By the early summer of 1999, Chris Paciello was convinced that he needed an extra edge to crush his rivals." — Clubland, page 276
Last week, when New Times confronted Posner with those two passages — plus seven others and five direct quotes that weren't properly attributed to Clubland — he again averted responsibility for the theft.
A new system of "trailing endnotes" might have caused him to under-credit Clubland, Posner explained.
"With much more extensive endnotes... there's little doubt that Clubland would have been cited more often," he said.
He also bizarrely claimed his notes from an interview with a police officer "show him citing language from Clubland," which, Posner says, "I can only imagine he read in response to my questions."
To Owen, it wasn't much of an explanation.
"If he'd come right out and admitted he'd plagiarized, I'd have probably let it drop," Owen said. "But all these excuses are flat-out absurd."
The absurdity reached epic proportions last Thursday evening at Miami Beach Botanical Garden, where Posner talked about Miami Babylon to a crowd of historical enthusiasts.
Owen crashed the speech, and Posner offered another semiapology.
"In this case, I violated my own methodology and my own standards," Posner said, while never mentioning the word plagiarism.
After the speech, Owen's fiancée, Lera Gavin, approached Posner. It's not clear what exactly happened next.
Gavin says Posner "exploded" and a shouting match broke out. Posner says no one raised their voices but admits to being upset about Owen calling him a "cocksucker" and a "pussy" on his Facebook page.
Posner now says he and his publisher are reviewing Miami Babylon to look for further problems. Owen is curious to see what turns up.
"The section of his book where he stole my work is only 18 pages in a 440-page book," Owen says. "I wonder how much else is stolen in there."