By: Mark Fitzgerald
Chicago Sun-Times editorial page editor acknowledges copying from Washington Post column.
MARK HORNUNG resigned as editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times March 9 after admitting he plagiarized a Washington Post editorial in a column.
In a final column headlined “An explanation and an apology,” Hornung explained March 10 that under the pressure of writer’s block and an impending deadline for his Feb. 24 column, he “started to write over and around” material he copied from a Feb. 23 Post editorial.
“Determined to meet deadlines and to attend to other responsibilities, I was not mindful that I was breaking the rules of my craft,” Hornung wrote.
Two weeks later, he was confronted by an editor with the plagiarized material, which had been noticed by a reader.
“After retracing my steps,” Hornung wrote, “I understood that I had plagiarized.”
Hornung’s column closely followed the theme of the Post editorial entitled “Constitutional Pork.”
The column also borrowed phrases, and whole passages, from the Post’s editorial.
For instance, the Post editorial reads in part: “Tucked away in the Senate committee report on the balanced budget amendment are three sentences about the Tennessee Valley Authority, the most important of which reads: ….”
The passage appears almost verbatim in Hornung’s column: “Slipped into a Senate committee report on the balanced budget amendment are three sentences about the Tennessee Valley Authority, the most important of which reads:…. “
In his farewell column, Hornung writes that “horrified and heartbroken that I had put the Sun-Times at risk, I immediately offered to resign.”
However, Sun-Times editor and executive vice president Dennis Britton said Larry Perrotto, chief executive of the Sun-Times’ publisher, American Publishing Co., is trying to find a “non-news, noneditorial function” for Hornung somewhere among American’s several Chicago-area media properties.
Britton said Perrotto made the offer out of concern for Hornung’s young family.
In his column, Hornung mentioned the offer and wrote, “I don’t know what I will do.”
Hornung said he had phoned the Post’s editorial page editor, Meg Greenfield, to apologize for the plagiarism.
“She graciously accepted my apology,” he wrote.
Britton said the incident was “a very tragic experience for us, very troubling.”
“Mark is a bright, good journalist, who got caught up in an aberration. We’re very sorry that it happened,” Britton said.
Hornung joined the Sun-Times two years ago from Crain’s Chicago Business.
“I am very sorry about what I did,” Hornung wrote at the end of his final column. “In this case, that’s not enough.”