By: Dave Astor
Chris Cecil, associate managing editor of a Georgia newspaper, was fired yesterday for plagiarizing at least eight columns by Miami Herald/Tribune Media Services commentator Leonard Pitts Jr.
“I’m sick and embarrassed about this whole thing, and so is the news staff,” said Charles Hurley, editor and publisher of The Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Ga. Hurley told E&P that he fired Cecil — who wrote a weekly column along with his editing tasks — after being informed of the plagiarism by the Herald.
Cecil worked less than a year for The Daily Tribune News, according to Hurley, who has been with the paper for more than three decades. “I’ve seen a little bit of everything, but nothing like this,” Hurley said.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Pitts — addressing Cecil in a column posted today on the Herald site — had a similar reaction. “I’ve been in this business 29 years, Mr. Cecil, and I’ve been plagiarized before. But I’ve never seen a plagiarist as industrious and brazen as you.”
For instance, Pitts recalled writing on March 11: “I like hypocrites. You would, too, if you had this job. A hypocrite is the next best thing to a day off. Some pious moralizer contradicts his words with his deeds and the column all but writes itself. It’s different with Bill Cosby.” On May 12, Cecil’s column read: “I like hypocrites. You would, too, if you had this job. A hypocrite is the next best thing to a day off. Some pious moralizer contradicts his words with his deeds and the column all but writes itself. It’s different with Bill Cosby.”
Pitts continued: “The one that really got me, though, was your theft of a personal anecdote about the moment I realized my mother was dying of cancer. ‘The tears surprised me,’ I wrote. ‘I pulled over, blinded by them.’ Seven days later, there you were: ‘The tears surprised me. I pulled over, blinded by them on central Kentucky’s I-75.’ Actually, it happened at an on-ramp to the Artesia Freeway in Compton, Calif.”
The Herald/TMS columnist added: “I had a house burglarized once. This reminds me of that. Same sense of violation, same apoplectic disbelief that someone has the testicular fortitude to come into your place and take what is yours. … My words are important to me. I struggle with them, obsess over them. … You are just the latest in a growing list of people — in journalism and out — who … think it’s OK to cheat your way across the finish line. … The dictionary is a big book. Get your own damn words. Leave mine alone.”