The move struck many as odd, because for Buzzfeed, which reportedly valued itself at $1 billion earlier this year, a substantial part of their business model is just that:ripping off others’ content for profit. Time and time again, Buzzfeed “reporters” have either copied and pasted articles or just lifted individual tweets, photos, or other social media without paying a cent to those actually bringing in the pageviews. It doesn’t appear to be an issue of any concern at the top, either—despite recent reports of new “editorial standards,” editor-in-Chief Ben Smith recently told a tweeter who didn’t like their work being appropriated that they could always just“take it down.”
But there’s another reason why Benny Johnson’s complaint yesterday should raise eyebrows. A brief dip into the cesspool that is Johnson’s Buzzfeed articles quickly turned up several incidents of Johnson directly lifting from other reporters, Wikipedia, and Yahoo! Answers, a website where people go to ask if they can get pregnant from stepping on a rusty nail. In other words, he plagiarized.
Johnson has written 522 articles for Buzzfeed. The following are just three instances where he’s copied someone else’s work without credit:
#1: BENNY JOHNSON RIPS OFF U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT AND WIKIPEDIA IN AN ARTICLE ON LIVING CONDITIONS ON NORTH KOREA
On April 24, 2013, Benny posted a piece titled, “What Would Your Life Be Like If You Were Born In North Korea?” The piece is a compilation of horrible conditions that residents of North Korea live under, with each item accompanied (in typical BuzzFeed fashion) by a picture scrounged from Google Image Search. But if you take out the pictures, all you’re left with is a bulleted list, the beginning of which closely mirrors the one published two weeks earlier in an article titled “Here’s How Lousy Life Is in North Korea” by U.S. News & World Report’s Rick Newman. Both articles reference the Korea Institute for National Unification’s “Quality of Life of North Korean” report, but it’s clear that Benny repeatedly just appropriated Newman’s reporting and phrasing without giving credit.
For example, here’s Newman on the “corn and kimchi” diet the poorest North Koreans live on:
And here’s Johnson, lifting the same phrasing:
A look at the actual report shows how Johnson’s language clearly came from Newman’s paraphrasing:
Newman on malnutrition:
And Johnson, tweaking the phrasing just enough to confuse the cause of stunted North Korean children:
Newman on government pay:
Newman on North Korea’s medical system:
Johnson, lifting again (but adding a picture!):
Newman on electric power:
Johnson, who didn’t even have the courtesy to list Newman’s facts in a different order:
Here’s Newman on education:
Johnson decides to insert some quotes from the KINU report as “added value” to Newman’s reporting:
From here on in, Benny’s list appears to have stopped ripping off Newman’s article and moved to plagiarizing a number of other sources. Below is text from each source with a date and link, followed by Benny’s “original work.”
Country-Data.com, as of April 1, 2012:
Wikipedia, as of April 22, 2013:
Johnson is tricky here, splitting the copied text into two chunks:
The Guardian, February 22, 2010:
Johnson, going far enough to use quotes, but not enough to give a citation:
#2: BENNY JOHNSON COPY-AND-PASTES FROM YAHOO! ANSWERS IN AN ARTICLE ON CITIES DEFYING TERRORISM
On April 22, 2013, Benny posted an article titled “7 Cities That Defy Terrorism.” Besides the standard citations for images, there are no attributions for the text in the piece. Benny listed London as an example of a terror-resilient city, but apparently forgot what terrors were exacted upon it, because he copy-and-pasted a Yahoo! Answers submission about the Blitz.
Yahoo! Answers User “Jason B.,” April 2009:
#3: BENNY JOHNSON PLAGIARIZES A PRESS RELEASE IN AN ARTICLE ON REP. SAM JOHNSON
On February 14, 2013, Benny posted an article titled “The Most Romantic Story In Congress,” which looks like pretty standard BuzzFeed fare:
It’s a fluff piece about Texas House Representative Sam Johnson’s relationship with his wife during Vietnam, one so positive it was reposted in entirety on Johnson’s congressional website. But Benny goes beyond the typical BuzzFeed repackaging of friendly source material by copying and pasting entire parts of earlier articles into the piece, unattributed.
Here’s a section of Benny’s article discussing Shirley Johnson’s role in creating the National League of Families:
This is a section of text discussing Shirley Johnson’s role in creating the National League of Families from an October 4, 2006 press release by the office of Rep. Johnson:
TO CONCLUDE: WE WILL PAY $5,000 TO ANYONE WHO FINDS EDITORIAL STANDARDS AT BUZZFEED
Now to be fair, plagiarism may be small potatoes for someone whose biggest newsworthy accomplishment so far has been giving government officials anonymity to fantasize about murdering a civilian. And the Buzzfeed higher-ups must have a tolerance for his sugar-coated brand of Family Research Council Republicanism as long as it brings in the clicks, because it’s definitely clear Johnson has no fucking clue when it comes to writing an actual news story. But if barely scratching the surface of his inane listicles reveals a history of plagiarism, then maybe it’s time to ask just how deep Buzzfeed’s new “editorial standards” go.