Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pratt case deeper than thought?

Okay, an interesting thing here. The Province story on Dave Pratt's plagiarism mentioned only the one specific example, but said the piece "contained some clear similarities" to Reilly's article. I thought the other things would be pretty minor if they weren't mentioned, which is why I perhaps wasn't as severe on Pratt as I might have been in the first post. I also thought it might be difficult to round them up, given that the column got axed from the 'Net. Well, thanks to one forum commenter, we can see the two pieces side by side (actually above and below), and there are many more issues. Here's the full pieces (potential plagiarism bolded by me).

Bob Cole is one for the ages all right
David Pratt, The Province
Published: Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sooner or later, it gets to be closing time. So pour it like you don't own it, bartender, and let's have one for the great Bob Cole.

After four decades of doing play-by-play for the CBC, this is Cole's last Stanley Cup final. It's the worst-kept secret in hockey.

Over the weekend, Cole was sitting in his hotel room in Pittsburgh when the phone rang.

A reporter from the London Free Press was calling wanting to know about his future.

Cole's response was a chilling, "I don't know what I would do if they take this away from me."

Sources in Toronto say the network has plans for him next season, but the big stage in the playoffs will belong to Jim Hughson.

"Can we take the fifth in Canada?" asks Hughson. "Cole's doing the Stanley Cup final, and let him have a great time with it. I'm sitting back watching it."

Hughson has just signed a six-year extension with CBC worth a reported $3 million and will take over as the lead voice of Hockey Night in Canada next season.

It's like an elephant sitting in the broadcast booth and nobody, especially the network's management, wants to talk about it.

When asked about Cole getting moved to the B team, the head of CBC Sports Scott Moore would only say, "Bob is one of the all-time best hockey announcers. His sense of drama's the best in the business."

Excuse me, what was the question again?

There's talk of a dinner next season to celebrate his long and successful career but thanks to a very solid performance in these playoffs there's no reason to believe Cole has any appetite for a post-career buffet. Instead, let's raise our glasses to Robert Cecil Cole of St. John's, N.L. There never was, never could be, never will be anybody else like him.

Cole called the '72 Summit Series on radio. In 1976 in Philadelphia when the Soviets left the ice to protest the officiating, it was, "They're going home!" His words still echo in the Spectrum.

When this country won its first gold in men's hockey in 50 years at the 2002 Olympics, it was Cole who captured the moments. He does not call the game. He lives it.

"Oh, baby!" "Scores! "Wow!" "Oh, Nelly!" and "Heavens to Betsy!" are signatures which, in 1996, saw him into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Cole was born 75 years ago, but it's more likely he dropped straight out of Guys and Dolls with a martini in one hand and a puck in the other. Don't you dare feel sorry for him because his role on HNIC is about to be reduced. No, feel sorry for him because he's had to watch the Leafs for the last 40 years.

This painting of his life's work isn't complete. There's more scenery that has to be filled in and, besides, Cole hasn't signed it yet.

So, bartender -- another round!

You got a problem with this? David Pratt can heard Monday-Friday, 3-7 p.m., TEAM 1040.

© The Vancouver Province 2008

Last Call for the Original Prime Time
By Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated

Al McGuire never liked funerals. "Why wait until the guy's dead?" he'd ask. "Buy him a drink while he's alive!"

So with McGuire lying in a hospice outside Milwaukee -- leukemia whittling him to 115 pounds and dropping -- let's raise our glasses: Here's to Alfred Emanuel McGuire of Rockaway Beach, N.Y. There never was, never could be, never will be anybody else like him.

They say he was born 72 years ago last Thursday, but don't believe it. McGuire dropped straight out of Guys and Dolls with a martini in one hand and a basketball in the other.

It wasn't just that he took an obscure Catholic school called Marquette to the NCAA basketball title in 1977. It wasn't just that he was **** Vitale 10 years before Vitale was Vitale. It wasn't just that he was to college hoops what Bill Veeck was to baseball. It was how much damn fun we had watching him do it.

He was coaching's street genius, but coaching was only "a coffee break," he always said, compared with tending bar at his father's tavern in Queens, N.Y., jumping feetfirst over the bar to finish fights. Or to start them. To McGuire, basketball was a circus tent, and he was the barker. He'd spend all week selling the game ("I always check the four corner seats [in the arena]," he'd say. "If they're sold, I know I've done my job"), yet he'd only show up seconds before tip-off. When he beat Dean Smith and North Carolina for the title, the same night Rocky won Best Picture, he left the bench seconds after the game was over -- out of coaching forever at 48 -- and wept.

You could learn more about life in a weekend at McGuire's elbow than in a year at Oxford. No matter where he was, he'd find the bar nearest the bus station because, he said, it would have the best jukebox in town. He liked "the paper napkin places, not the cloth," and he always checked the waitress's ankles. If they were dirty, the chili was going to be good. "Al loved mystery meats and secret sauces," says his former assistant Rick Majerus, who's now the coach at Utah. You had to drag McGuire out of his house to recruit a kid across the street, but he'd ride hours on his Kawasaki to get to a flea market, where he'd haggle over toy soldiers and old magazines and stained-glass windows, which he'd ship off to friends, a little chunk of beauty, C.O.D.

"We call him Fox because he's always a tough negotiator," says his best friend, Jerry Savio. "The next nickel he loses will be his first. He'd run you over for a $2 Nassau, but if you asked him for $10,000, he'd give it to you in cash -- out of a jar." He had millions but drove a Ford Falcon. With no radio. He made millions from NBC and CBS, but wherever he'd shop, he'd ask the salesman, "Do you honor the clergy discount?"

Yet he cared 100 times less for millionaires than he did for the 12th guy on his bench. He built his program with mostly inner-city kids, and he kept his promises to them. He'd take them to plays. He'd get their teeth fixed for free. When star forward Jim Chones became one of the first underclassmen to go pro, McGuire shrugged and said, "I looked in my fridge, and it was full. I looked in Jim's, and it was empty. Easy choice."

If you knew him, you'd swear he was one of the best friends you had, but he probably couldn't remember your name. Hell, he needed name tags for his family. A fat player was Butterball. A tall one was Treetops. Dean Meminger became The Dream. He was hopeless broadcasting the 1988 Olympics. The play-by-play of a game involving the Soviet Union turned into "Igor the Terrible passes to the Red Machine!"

McGuire popularized such sports terminology as Hail Mary pass, aircraft carrier, prime time and blue chip. As a pit-bull New York Knicks guard in the early 1950s, he once showed up at center court with a knife, fork and plate and hollered, "I'm gonna eat Cousy for dinner!" As an NBC broadcaster he showed up at Duke in safari gear, brandishing a whip and a chair in front of the students. On the air he championed the Wyoming State Porcupines, 26th-best team in the country, not bad considering he and his pals invented them.

Sooner or later, though, it gets to be closing time. "There's this big, gray elephant in the room," McGuire tells pals, "and nobody wants to talk about it. But I know."

So pour it like you don't own it, bartender, and let's down one for the unforgettable Al McGuire and the big flea market that comes next.
May it honor the clergy rate.

Issue date: September 18, 2000

Wow. Look, all plagiarism is serious, and pretty much any intentional plagiarism should be grounds for dismissal. That said, there's a bit of a difference between stealing a colourful line and stealing (as he would write on his all-caps blog) A WHOLE FREAKING COLUMN, including large parts of it word-for-word. It looks like he basically set out to steal Reilly's idea and his best lines, and figured that That's absolutely indefensible in my mind. Also, the platform differences I mentioned earlier may still have played a role, but there's no way that anyone with any kind of journalistic experience thinks that this kind of wholesale cutting and pasting is okay. Perhaps this should make sports media organizations look more closely at putting everyone on every possible platform to try and get them wider exposure: at the very least, at least go over what is and what isn't acceptable. Still, I think most radio and TV guys wouldn't try something like this (although there is a prominent case of radio plagiarism that got some play a while back. Anyway, most Grade Six students would know better than this, and those who didn't would get absolutely raked over the coals for this kind of plagiarism, so Pratt should get that treatment too.

By the way, I did take a look at the "columns" posted on his blog for further potential plagiarism (most of the ones on Canwest sites have already been taken down). I copied and pasted everything he wrote in both January and May into Word documents, got rid of the all caps (which you can do pretty simply by selecting all (CTRL-A) and then choosing Change Case and then Sentence Case from the Format menu), replaced his ellipses with periods and ran them through a free plagiarism tracker at PlagiarismDetect.
The only pieces it came up with with substantiative matches were those from his own site, which shows that it's working.

This isn't conclusive proof that those weren't plagiarized, as Pratt's "interesting" spelling may have complicated the issue. Also, the confirmed case the Province found wasn't a whole sentence, which makes things more difficult for engines that work around a sentence structure. With those qualifications, though, I didn't find anything to prove that this was more than a one-off. It may well have been, but like I said, innocent until proven guilty.

I've never been a big fan of Pratt on the radio, though and I didn't particularly like his Province columns either: they read exactly like a typical talk radio rant instead of a well-thought out print media piece. At least they went through copy edits, unlike the poorly-spelled all caps entries he threw out on his blog. There are some journalists who excel at the multi-platform stuff, but I don't think he's one of them. I'm not out to unfairly bury him though, as he certainly deserves a fair trial. It's up to the TEAM and Sportsnet to think about if they want to keep him around as such a key radio figure: it would certainly be costly to get rid of someone with his experience and seniority, but he's lost a lot of credibility from this in my mind. Does anyone in Vancouver know if he read that column on the air? If so, then there's a chance they could use cause: if not, they probably can't do too much about something he did in another media outlet without paying him a helluva severance package. My prediction is that it probably counts as water under the bridge as far as his radio and TV gigs are concerned, unless more plagiarism is discovered.

One other thing: Pratt's apology seemed to suggest that his mistake was not giving credit to Reilly for the one "pretty famous line" mentioned in the story, which led me to believe that that was the crux of the issue. As shown above, there's a lot more to it than that. This isn't a case of just forgetting to credit someone: it's a case of writing the EXACT SAME column, keeping parts of it word for word but cutting and pasting them into different spots in the article and then just changing a few names and dates. I'm sorry, but that's not an innocent mistake in my mind.

Related update: Craig Silverman has an excellent post on the situation at Regret the Error.


  1. Actually, most broadcast contracts these days contain a morals clause, and plagiarism might fit under that.

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