Daily Beast Columnist Ripped Off Salon Story on Glenn Beck (Updated)

Freelance journalist Alexander Zaitchik wrote several stories about Glenn Beck for Salon late last year. This February, the Daily Beast's book imprint published John Avlon's book, Wingnuts. Avlon's chapter on Glenn Beck borrows very liberally from Zaitchik's work. [UPDATED].

Here is TDB's excerpt of John Avlon's (pictured at left) section on Glenn Beck. The end of Avlon's chapter is the most problematic. Last November, Zaitchik (pictured at right) wrote a story for Salon called "Glenn Beck's white nationalist fans." In it, Zaitchik visited white power website Stormfront.org, and pulled out several comments there about Glenn Beck. Avlon also cites several of the very same comments about Beck from Stormfront.org—but he cites Stormfront.org itself as his source, with no indication at all that he read Zaitchik's article three months earlier. For example, Zaitchik:

"Glen [sic] Beck can be useful," said one frequent Stormfront contributor who posts under the name SS_marching. "When Glen beck said 'Obama Has A Deep-Seated Hatred For White People' he is able to reach a much wider audience than we can. They will [be] predisposed to the idea and the next time Obama pushes an anti-white policy they will see it as such."

Avlon:

Beck's message resonates beyond Main Street and the Tea Party protests. Down in the white-supremacy cesspool of Stormfront.org, some contributors thought they recognized a fellow traveler. "Glen [sic] Beck can be useful," wrote SS_marching. "When Glen beck said ‘Obama Has A Deep-Seated Hatred For White People' he is able to reach a much wider audience than we can. They will [be] predisposed to the idea and the next time Obama pushes an anti-white policy they will see it as such."

Zaitchik:

Later in the same discussion thread, Thor357 added:

"I have talked to 6 people in two days because Glenn Beck woke them up, it's amazing how angry they are. They are pissing fire over Obama, this is a good thing. Now I educate them. If out of 100 of the Glen Beckers I keep 20 then I have won 20 more to cover my back side. I never lost the 80 as they never were."

Avlon:

Frequent Stormfront poster Thor357 sees Beck as a recruiting tool: "I have talked to 6 people in two days because Glenn Beck woke them up, it's amazing how angry they are. They are pissing fire over Obama, this is a good thing. Now I educate them."

Zaitchik:

Carolina Patriot, whose member picture features a kitten aiming an assassin's rifle, was conflicted but admiring:

"Every now and again when an infomercial takes the place of hunting or fishing, I'll turn over to Glenn Beck if he's on and watch his show. Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes it is informed, and sometimes, I think he comes to SF [Stormfront] to steal show idea's"

Avlon:

Carolina Patriot poster takes a down-home view: "Every now and again when an infomercial takes the place of hunting or fishing, I'll turn over to Glenn Beck if he's on and watch his show. Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes it is informed, and sometimes, I think he comes to [Stormfront] to steal show ideas."

Zaitchk's final two sentences:

"By no means do I think [Beck] is aware of the racial issue, and for the moment that is ok," wrote Stormfront member QHelios. "He is stirring the pot, and I thank him for that."

Avlon's final two sentences:

QHelios gives Beck the benefit of the doubt: "By no means do I think [Beck] is aware of the racial issue, and for the moment that is ok … He is stirring the pot, and I thank him for that."

Zaitchik included links to all of the Stormfront.org comments in his story last November. It's fairly obvious that Avlon just ripped off those comments from Zaitchik and then failed to cite him. Which is, if not plagiarism, at least taking someone's research with no credit.

Zaitchik also wrote a three-part series on Beck for Salon last September. Avlon cites parts two and three of that series in his endnotes, indicating he pulled from them at specific points in his chapter. He never cites part one of Zaitchik's series, although at least one of Avlon's paragraphs on Beck's upbringing in Washington hews closely to a paragraph of Zaitchik's. This could, however, be a case of two men producing similar work with similar research.

John Avlon, TDB's senior political columnist, is clearly not in the same league as Gerald Posner, who quit The Daily Beast in February after being caught in a spectacular number of plagiarism violations. But no one should see their work taken without credit (as we are constantly reminded). Zaitchik declined to comment to us; We've emailed The Daily Beast and Avlon, and we'll update if they respond.

UPDATE: Daily Beast PR man Andrew Kirk sent this letter in response to our post.

Dear Hamilton ,

I am writing to complain about your false and highly defamatory posting on John Avlon's book Wingnuts - How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America . Your story is wrong, factually and ethically, and should be retracted immediately.

You might also tell your readers that your email to The Daily Beast and to Avlon seeking comment were sent almost simultaneously with the publication of your piece.

The defamatory headline screams "Daily Beast Columnist Ripped Off Salon Story on Glenn Beck." But if readers actually read what you've posted, as well as the chapter of Wingnuts to which you've linked, they'll see absolutely no support for your claim that the book "rips off" anyone.

The list of supposed "rip offs" are actually quotations from postings on stormfront.org. John Avlon read extensively from this website in reporting for this book on political extremists, and indeed highlighted stormfront.org earlier in Wingnuts. These quotations from stormfront.org - a publicly available Web site - do not in any way support your accusation that "It's fairly obvious that Avlon just ripped off those comments from Zaitchik and then failed to cite him." Settling on the same quotations from fully footnoted dialogue is hardly a rip off. Avlon also footnotes (and in the e-version links to) Alexander Zaitchik's salon.com story twice in the chapter you mention.

Elsewhere in the book, John cites Newsweek and Foxnewswires with their reporting on stormfront.org - obvious evidence that stormfront.org is hardly a secret known only to Mr. Zaitchik.

You should immediately retract your accusations against Wingnuts and Avlon; they are unsupportable.

Andrew