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Lori Thompson is managing editor of the Juneau Empire.
Between spam, letters from prison and rants from irate readers, it's hard to be surprised by anything that shows up in newsroom mail or e-mail. But I confess to being taken aback by an e-mail I received this week.
It simply asked, did we realize that a letter to the editor we ran was lifted from a column by nationally syndicated columnist Ann Coulter? I checked into it and discovered that the writer of this e-mail was dead-on.
On Sunday, the Empire published a letter titled "It's gut-check time, indeed," submitted by Matthew Maixner. The letter is an abbreviated version of an Oct. 14 column by Coulter that can be found on the anncoulter.com Web site. Coulter, a correspondent for the conservative weekly Human Events and a columnist for Universal Press Syndicate, has just released her fourth book, "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)."
Paragraphs in Maixner's letter are identical to Coulter's column, with many sections cut out so that the Maixner letter came in at about the Empire's word limit.
I immediately e-mailed Maixner informing him that we found out his piece was taken from Coulter.
The next morning I received a phone call from Maixner, who said the letter was not intended for publication. He said that instead it was meant for a friend, but when typing in his friend's e-mail address, which started with an "e," the Empire address popped up and the e-mail was accidentally sent to the wrong place.
The e-mail that he sent did not mention a friend, but I asked Maixner how it happened that the Coulter column was edited such that it fit the Empire's word limit. At first he said that the editing was somehow related to the HTML format. I didn't follow his explanation so I asked him to explain it again. He then said that some parts of Coulter's column didn't have anything to do with the discussion he was having with his friend, so he cut those parts out.
The piece that was sent to us did not have any gaps between paragraphs to indicate this was not a continuous piece.
Maixner was deeply apologetic and later sent an e-mail that expressed his remorse.
"I apologize profusely to the editors of the Juneau Empire, and to its readers for the mistakes that I made," he wrote. Maixner's letters have appeared numerous times on the opinion page and he said that all of the others that were published were his own writing.
The Empire regrets, too, that this letter ever made it onto the opinion page. With scores of columnists online and at newspapers across the nation, there is no way that an editor could make sure no letter has ripped off lines from another writer.
But anyone attempting to commit plagiarism on our letters page underestimates our readers. The Empire has more than 16,000 readers, based on subscription numbers, and that figure does not include those who read the Empire online. These people are not reading just the Empire, but many other publications and online news services as well. The chances that a plagiarized opinion piece is going to go unnoticed by every one of those readers is slim.
This letter is a rare exception to the many submitted by readers in good faith. The Empire will do what it can to make sure that the letters section remains an honest forum for the opinions of local readers. And the submissions of Matthew Maixner will be permanently barred from this page.
Lori Thomson is managing editor of the Juneau Empire.
Webmaster note; The original letter is included here for reference:
During the second presidential debate, John Kerry said: "I ask each of you just to look into your hearts, look into your guts. Gut-check time. Was this really going to war as a last resort?" How about this for gut-check time: When you close your eyes, can you see the Democrats defending America? Because I can't see it.
These are the people who are obsessed with getting the French to like us. They call terrorism a "nuisance," like prostitution and other petty crimes ("Hundreds of Children Killed in Chechnya by Nuisance," "British Civilian Beheaded by Annoyance"). They babble on about nonexistent civil liberties violations under the Patriot Act. Truly, if Gore had been elected president, right now he would just be finding that last lesbian quadriplegic for the Special Forces team.
During the second presidential debate, Kerry droned on about the civil liberties crisis in America under the Patriot Act (which he voted for). He claimed to have "met a man who spent eight months in prison, wasn't even allowed to call his lawyer, when finally, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois intervened and was able to get him out." Pity, he didn't meet Abdullah Mehsud, a guy who spent two years at Gitmo before being released and is now in Pakistan strapping dynamite to Chinese hostages.
Kerry explained his "plan" to prevent terrorists from getting nukes, saying, "We've got to join with the British and the French, with the Germans, who've been involved, in their initiative." (This guy's got more plans than GCI.) We may lose the war on terrorism, but by God we'll get the Europeans to like us.
Kerry told the New York Times he could "do a better job" in the war on terror, which Kerry adviser Richard Holbrooke says is not a war at all, but a metaphor ("Thousands Die in Attack by Metaphor"). Imagine President John Kerry at the Berlin Wall. "Mr. Gorbachev ... I challenge you to get to an emotional place where you can imagine a different kind of non-wall reality that fully respects the 'wallness' of your current reality, yet takes us on a spiritual journey in which ..." ahh nevermind.
As if it means something, Kerry keeps vowing: "I will never stop at anything to hunt down and kill the terrorists." But he will stop at the Iraqi border. Or if the French and Germans aren't on board. Or we don't have United Nations approval. Or it would require investigating a Muslim under the Patriot Act.
Matthew M. Maixner