USA Today Pentagon Correspondent Squittieri Fired
Tom Squitieri, USA Today‘s longtime Pentagon correspondent, was forced out yesterday after it was revealed that he had lifted several quotes from other papers, according to Howie Kurtz.
USA Today Reporter Resigns (WaPo, C1)
A USA Today Pentagon correspondent, Tom Squitieri, resigned under pressure yesterday after the paper learned he had lifted quotes from another newspaper for a front-page story and used several other quotes, without attributing them to other publications, that were cut during editing. In a March 28 piece on the Army falling behind in ordering armored Humvees for Iraq, Squitieri quoted Brian Hart of Bedford, Mass., whose son was killed in the war. The same quote appeared, word for word, in the Indianapolis Star in May 2004: “My son called me the week before he was killed. He said they were getting shot at all the time. They were in unarmored Humvees and were out there exposed to the fire. He was concerned they were going to get hit. He was literally whispering this into the phone to me. He was right. That’s how he died.” Squitieri also used a three-sentence quote from Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) — about the Pentagon having “consistently underestimated” the need for more armored Humvees — that had appeared in the same piece in the Star, which like USA Today is a Gannett paper.
“This is a clear violation of our sources and attribution policy, and when that happens, a reporter has to leave the paper,” Editor Ken Paulson said. “When you see a pattern of misuse of quotes, you have to take steps.” But Squitieri’s lawyer, Joseph Cammarata, said his client spoke to all the sources or their spokesmen, even though he ended up using the old quotes. “Tom spoke to each of these people directly, verified what the sound bite was in the past and sought their permission to use it,” Cammarata said. “There was nothing inaccurate about it. . . . The suggestion that there was a pattern of misuse of quotes is not true.”
Asked about this, Paulson called it “an interesting defense” and said Squitieri had apologized to him and the staff, and had acknowledged being careless with the stories in question. He said editors found six more quotes from other publications in earlier drafts of Squitieri stories in March that did not make it into the paper, either because they were cut for space or Squitieri had deleted them from the final version.
A shame. Squitieri’s reputation was sterling and he was a solid reporter. Still, I failed undergraduate students for plagiarism less aggregious than this.
Cori Dauber notes that it seems news “outlets surely are cracking down earlier and harder of late.” One presumes this is fallout from RatherGate.
Mr. Cammarata said Mr. Squitieri “had been looking to leave USA Today, and was talking” to other newspapers before this episode. In addition, he said Mr. Squitieri had been an outspoken critic of the newspaper for turning a blind eye to problems with another reporter, Jack Kelley, for fabrications and plagiarism that led to Mr. Kelley’s resignation more than a year ago.