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Wall Street Journal and Max Boot Behaving Badly Weblogging

Dylan Byers and Hadas Gold: Daniel Flynn Accuses the Wall Street Journal of Paying $2 a Word to Commission a 2000 Word Plagiarized Article from Max Boot:

Daniel Flynn… submitted an essay to the Wall Street Journal… “The War on Football.”… Two days later, Flynn was informed that his piece had been turned down. Two-and-a-half weeks later, on Aug. 17, Flynn went to the Journal’s website and found that the paper had published a column by another author, titled “In Defense of Football,” which included much of the same data presented in the same order and language similar to that presented in his own work… Flynn [is now] publicly accusing the Journal and author Max Boot--a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times--of plagiarism…. Both Boot and his research assistant say they had no knowledge of Flynn or his work until they received inquiries…. Boot threatened to take legal action against POLITICO if it printed Flynn’s “scurrilous and unsubstantiated allegations.”…

If I were on the jury on this, I would find for Flynn. My advice is that the WSJ and Boot should settle this quickly…

Byers and Gold:

It started on July 30, when Flynn submitted a draft of his essay to Gary Rosen…. A day after receiving the draft, Rosen sent Flynn an email telling him that the the piece “strikes just the right note” but would need some edits…. The next day, Aug. 1, Rosen informed Flynn…

I’m sorry, Dan—bad news here. Our sports folks, who are with you in resisting ‘the war on football,’ didn’t much like the piece… I’m afraid that we won’t be able to use it after all.

The same day that Rosen turned down Flynn, he reached out to Boot: “How about a defense of football against its critics, as we head toward season openers?” Rosen wrote.

Boot… was hesitant…. Rosen was encouraging, offering $4,000, for 2,000 words, more than a week… and editorial guidance from Sam Walker…:

This thing will write itself! 2000 words, $4k, lots of helpful guidance from Sam and others. And plenty of time. I don’t need a draft until August 11!”… Rosen mentioned that “a guy with a new book”--Flynn--had already submitted a piece… "but it turned out badly--and then I remembered your football obsession.”… After agreeing to write the piece, Boot shot an email off to Greg Roberts, his research assistant at the Council on Foreign Relations, asking for help on the piece:

Wall St Journal wants me to write a defense of football! Not that I know might about it. Am hoping you can dig up a bunch of info esp studies on risks of playing football, along with some of the more alarmist rhetoric against football, info on lawsuits, data and info on NFL retirees, info on how many Americans play football, at what level, etc. do-able? The more info the better. Am currently in Thailand.

Another question: is this what the Council on Foreign Relations routinely pays its Fellows' research assistants to do?


Roberts cautioned Boot against heeding [the WSJ editor's] claims…

if I were you I wouldn’t try to write a ‘defense’ of football along the lines suggested by Sam Walker. He is simply wrong that there is ‘no evidence’ that football carries long-term risks for youth players and that studies of long-time NFL players are irrelevant to them. The evidence is strong and only growing stronger by the year as more studies are completed; the risks are probably worse than anyone imagined, not to be dismissed or downplayed.…

Rosen said [Boot's] piece underwent only minor revisions before it was posted to the Journal’s website at 5:20 p.m. on Aug. 17. At 9:49 p.m., four-and-a-half hours after Boot’s piece was published, Flynn’s piece--the one he had originally submitted to the Journal--went up on The New York Post’s website. Its title was the same, “In Defense of Football,” and it featured much of the same data Boot used to make his case. It also featured some structural similarities….

Here is the opening of Flynn's piece, interleaved with what follows the preliminary two-and-a-half paragraphs of throat-clearing that opens Boot's:[1]

Flynn: In defense of football - NYPOST.com: Football, watched by two-thirds of Americans and generating annual revenues approaching $10 billion for the National Football League, has strangely been relegated to sports’ endangered-species list. The game’s existential threats include a lawsuit brought against the NFL by more than 4,000 former players alleging that the league hid occupational hazards that led to brain damage. Science’s exploration of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in deceased football players has led pundits to link off-field violence to on-field trauma. The suicides of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and other players suffering from CTE similarly have forced some to rethink the ethics of watching the sport.

Boot: Even blows that don’t result in concussions are now linked to the onset, years later, of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that can result in mood disorders and dementia. It has been cited as a contributing factor in the suicides of the former NFL stars Junior Seau, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Ray Easterling, and of the former Ivy League lineman Owen Thomas.

Flynn: The attacks on the big boys’ league have resulted in collateral damage for kids’ leagues. Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benedetto introduced legislation earlier this year to ban football for children under 11. School-board members in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania made headlines by seeking to ban the sport.

Boot: Wanting to protect youngsters, a few school boards are discussing banning football, while many parents are saying they do not want their children to play the game.

Flynn: The concern even reaches the highest levels of government. “If I had a son,” President Obama remarked earlier this year, “I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”

Boot: President Barack Obama spoke for many when he said, “I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”

Flynn: Many parents have been doing just that. Participation in youth football declined by 6% last season. As teams start practice this month, many coaches admit difficulty in fielding a scrub squad to shine-up their starters.

Boot: Declining numbers of young players eventually could threaten the recruiting pipeline for college programs and the NFL.

These four successive passages in the two pieces are what would push me to find for Flynn. Those similarities, in my mind, make it more likely than not that Boot or Roberts saw Flynn and then edited and modified it--not certain they did so, but definitely more likely than not.

But there is more! Three paragraphs later in Flynn and two paragraphs later in Boot, we have:

Flynn: Calling the sport an “anachronism,” writer Malcolm Gladwell recently said on CNN that “there is just no conceivable argument to continue to practice this inhumane spectacle.” He urges educational institutions to tell their student-athletes that they can’t play.

Boot: Already the influential writer Malcolm Gladwell has called for colleges to cancel their football programs. Such recommendations may seem outlandish today but, as Mr. Gladwell notes, dogfighting—which he believes to be just as barbaric as football—was once a popular pastime too. Today, of course, it is outlawed. Should football go the same way?

But I will give Boot a pass on how Flynn's:

Flynn: About 4 million Americans play tackle football, most of them young people.

is echoed by his:

Boot: For 1.1 million players in high school and about 2.8 million players in youth leagues, football can provide an invaluable lesson.


Following the publication of Boot’s essay, Flynn reached out to Rosen in a detailed email pointing out the similarities between the two pieces, Rosen replied with the following email:

Dear Daniel,

I know you were disappointed that we weren’t able to use your submission, but Max Boot never saw it. He arrived at his arguments independently, citing certain notable critics of football and key studies not because he got them from you but because they are well known to anyone who looks into these issues. His piece was elaborately footnoted, and it’s very unfair of you to impugn his integrity and ours.



On Thursday, [Flynn] called POLITICO.

The Wall Street Journal printed my work. They just didn’t print my byline…. To publish an article so derivative of my own in structure, ideas, and research a day before it appeared was really underhanded. It risked creating the impression that I had cribbed from them rather than the reverse. When editor Gary Rosen embraced the article pitch… I was under the impression that I was writing a piece for the Wall Street Journal… [not] spen[ding] most of my summer unwittingly serving as an unpaid researcher for another article published by the Journal. Newspapers should not freeload off freelancers.

[1] By "two-and-a-half paragraphs of throat-clearing that opens Boot's" piece, I mean this:

The tang of fall is in the air, and every American knows what it portends: the sights and sounds of cleats digging into grass turf, of grunting linemen colliding shoulder pad to shoulder pad, of an oblong leather ball spinning through the air, high above the mortals below. Football season is almost upon us, and with it comes another season of controversy, prompting fresh claims of a crisis in the game.

College football is perturbed by news that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, may be suspended for accepting autograph payments. The National Football League is buzzing over the arrest of cashiered New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez on murder charges.

And both the college and professional ranks—along with Pop Warner and high school play—continue to be roiled by reports that football is too dangerous to countenance. Though there have been lawsuits and complaints about deaths caused by overheating and freak injuries such as broken necks...

Absolutely nothing that has to do with the meat of the piece or the argument--Boot's piece reaches its subject only when his piece begins to track Flynn's opening, idea by idea.