Monday, March 26, 2012

A Thief With Friends In High Places

WHILE ON the road and in the bush last week, irregular connectivity made keeping in touch with the modern world rather difficult, although the one spot where the signal was strong did produce the not-altogether-surprising news that Fairfax economics editor Ross Gittins is a thief. As it would have been difficult to blog and moderate comments while loping through the greenery, word of Gittins’ plagiarism was passed to Professor Sinclair Davidson, who posted proof of the light-fingered columnist’s disgraceful ways. After that, the quest for fish and solitude drew the Professor deeper into Victoria’s sylvan fastness, where thoughts turned often amid the casting, catching and cooking to the conversations that must surely have been proceeding on the executive upper floors at Fairfax World Headquarters.

Apparently that was indeed the case, but being Fairfax the official response to yet another in-house travesty is typically confused. Gittins’ column appears this morning – or rather, one version appears in the Silly and another, rather different one in the Age. In the Silly, the second paragraph reads thus:
What follows is my account of his paper for the Melbourne Institute, The Dutch Disease in Australia: Policy Options for a Three-Speed Economy. As is often my custom, it will consist largely of direct quotes, indirect quotes and paraphrases of his paper. This practice is known as ''reporting''. If I misreport his views, feel free to criticise; but don't be silly and accuse me of stealing them.
In the Age, however, that same paragraph has gone walkabout, vanished without a trace. In its place, readers find this:
What follows is my account of his paper for Melbourne Institute, The Dutch Disease in Australia. Corden is an expert on Dutch disease — a situation in which a boom in one export industry leads to an appreciation in the exchange rate, which reduces the profitability and the output of other export and import-competing industries.
So what transpired when Gittins met with his masters to discuss the derivative approach to quality journalism? For want of an official explanation, it appears Fairfax has decided to cut Gittins quite a lot of slack, the Silly even going so far as to publish his defence of the indefensible.

But what of the Age? Did the editors at Melbourne’s broadsheet conclude their readers did not need to be told of Gittins' transgressions, even via the indirect acknowledgement  of a self-serving and ludicrous “explanation”? Or could it be – and this seems most unlikely – that the paper concluded Gittins’ defence of theft was so tenuous and absurd it should not be published at all?

But make no mistake: Gittins’ continued presence in the Fairfax press, a presence not even qualified with an official explanation, says more about Fairfax than it does of the columnist. Apart from demonstrating the media group’s cowardice in declining to hold a star writer -- OK, agreed, it is a very dim firmament --  to account, it showcases a telling inconsistency in that company’s approach to the conduct of its editorial affairs.

It seems some people can be done over on the front page for alleged plagiarism. But others’ crimes, if their opinions are of the right sort, must be swept under the rug.

There will be more on this element of the Gittins fiasco in a subsequent post, but not just yet. The Professor’s hostess is hauling hot scones from her oven. First things first, and especially with raspberry jam.


  1. It takes all my self-discipline to wish you a nice hot scone with raspberry jam and country whipped cream and voice my jealousy about the baked rainbow trout, perhaps with fresh steamed asparagus, when all I really want to do is command your presence at the battlements as the war against the collectivist totalitarians turns in our favour. But I'm guessing your bird's eye view is much more fun. Stay away, for months if necessary; just don't start answering to the name Jethro or flaunting your botty to the mountain goats.

  2. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.March 26, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    The temptation to keep up with what's happening is always strong, Prof, albeit tempered by the rusticity of an occasional scone with cream and raspberry jam; my favorite, I made some once (both jam and scones)! It's been a busy week. Ross Gittens has been a total git and has plagiarised in a way that has seen university professors discharged; well pulled up for that by you, even on holidays. Your update on the Fairfax response shows plus ca change there. Plus, whack, whack, whack, there's been an electoral thumping in Queensland. Happy days.

  3. I suspect it might be wishful thinking on my part to assume that the Media Watch boffins are preparing a list of questions to send Mr. Gittins on Friday for next Monday's program.

  4. And here's one of the few paragraphs from the article that Gittins composed himself:

    It’s not possible to know what the future holds, of course, and such modelling – economic or scientific – is a highly imperfect way of making predictions.

    Um, isn't that what manmade global warming sceptics have been declaring for decades?

  5. The Old and Unimproved DaveMarch 27, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Huh, I'd have thought that Gittins was too short-legged to be long-fingered.

    But the MediaWatch pursuit vehicle seems to have a love-media speedlimiter installed on it.