In November 2004, the editors of The Michigan Daily’s Arts section were appalled and infuriated to learn that a soon-to-be-maligned Associate Editor had plagiarized many of his articles. This discovery, calamitous to the Daily’s reputation as a newsgathering publication, spurred feelings of outrage, the likes of which Daily editors had never felt before. And then, in April 2005, it happened again – with a different, up-and-coming former film editor.
Now, Oprah Winfrey – and millions of devoted followers of her talk show’s book club – knows exactly how Daily Arts felt.
In late 2005, Winfrey chose author James Frey’s supposed memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” as a selection for her book club on the basis that she found the gritty “truths” about Frey’s years of substance abuse and redemption to be inspiring. In fact, it was discovered that many of the book’s details were false, much like the review of “Sin City” and the feature article on Kurt Cobain that Daily Arts plagiarists had pieced together from pathetic bits of journalistic thievery.
Winfrey’s promotion of the spurious tome, which purported to chronicle Frey’s alcohol and crack addiction, catapulted him to fame. The bald-faced liar’s ability to fleece the talk-show host, who only wanted to celebrate his inspiring “life story,” earned him a 17-week stint at the top of The New York Times’s Paperback Fiction list.
Similarly, the two Daily Arts plagiarists – who swiped snippets of articles from the likes of Yahoo! Movies Web pages and allmusic.com listings – conned their senior editors into granting them sub-editor and even associate positions, not to mention the grossly undeserved courtesy of believing in their talent as artists and their integrity as fellow human beings.
Just as Winfrey angrily and tearfully confronted Frey on her show and, hopefully, destroyed his credibility forever (the audience’s booing during Frey’s mealy-mouthed half-admissions of wrongdoing were particularly satisfying to watch) the Daily Arts plagiarists were terminated from their positions. Now, their names are never mentioned without a string of unprintable epithets, as well as warnings to young Daily Arts writers to avoid such sleazy, unconscionable actions as cribbing parts of other writers’ stories and then pretending that their articles weren’t total bullshit.
Outgoing Managing Arts Editor Adam Rottenberg summed up his feelings on the Frey fiasco with a quote from the film “The Big Lebowski”: “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass,” said Rottenberg, who dealt with the fallout of both Daily Arts plagiarists. “That asshole got what was coming to him.”