Plagiarism Story, Pulitzer Epilogue

A funny thing happened when we checked the list of 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners.

We recognized a name and a newspaper involved with a very likely case of plagiarism from 2013.

Andie Dominick of the Des Moines Register received a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2018.

The Register reported the win on April 4, 2018:

Andie Dominick, an editorial writer at the Des Moines Register, on Monday won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing for a selection of Iowa-focused editorials criticizing policies that restrict access to health care.

Note that Dominick was writing on the subject of health care.

 

What happened in 2013

While doing some fact-checking research on the Affordable Care Act in 2014, we ran across a bylineless Des Moines Register editorial making a claim that failed to ring true.

The editorial, from Sept. 15, 2013, purported to expose myths about the ACA. The last section dealt with the supposed myth that the ACA would hurt businesses (bold emphasis added):

For years, businesses have struggled to find affordable health insurance to cover their workers. Small businesses especially struggle because one sick worker can signficantly increase premiums for all workers. Now these businesses will have more options for coverage, including purchasing it in new exchanges that will pool more workers together. The independent Congressional Budget Office found the law will lower health insurance premiums for the same insurance plan by up to 4 percent for small businesses and 3 percent for large businesses. Estimates indicate businesses could saveĀ  $2,000 per person in health costs.

A Democratic National Committee propaganda website (“Your Republican Uncle”) had made parallel claims for which we could find no support. The Register editorial appeared to say those claims were rooted in a CBO report I had already combed for the information.

We contacted the Register by phone and spoke to Opinion Editor Randy Evans. He said he would forward my request to “Andy,” who wrote the editorial. A later email affirmed the story that the information came from the CBO report I had already examined.

While waiting for responses from the Register we continued our research and found the White House website offered this defense of the ACA’s effect on businesses (White House website as of Nov. 7, 2012):

The independent Congressional Budget Office confirmed that the bill would lower health insurance premiums for the same insurance plan by up to 4 percent for small businesses and 3 percent for large businesses, and estimates indicate that reform could save businesses $2,000 per person in health costs.

The Register editorial from 2013 makes minor cosmetic changes to the material from the White House. Worse, the claims offer a misleading account of the CBO report.

Between the close similarity in wording and the misleading nature of the two sentences, avoiding the conclusion of plagiarism turns into a near impossibility. Yet the Register never made changes to the editorial and never responded to our request for a statement on the outcome of its promised internal investigation.

Assuming Evans correctly identified “Andy” (Andie) as the writer of the Register editorial, the evidence suggests 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner Andie Dominick committed plagiarism in 2013.

Perhaps Dominick’s work in 2017 was fully worthy of a Pulitzer Prize despite the likelihood of plagiarism in 2013. But we find this sequence of events helps undermine our confidence in American journalism.

 

Whitehouse.gov version of Des Moines Register editorial claim

The Whitehouse.gov blurb about the ACA’s effect on businesses occurs as a javascript popout window.

Find my attempts to help the Register deal with its inaccuracy and plagiarism problems here.

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