‘USA Today’ Reporter Resigns After Borrowing Quotes for Story

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(AP) A reporter for USA Today resigned Thursday after an internal investigation found that he used without attribution quotations that had appeared last year in another newspaper, USA Today said.

Tom Squitieri, who worked for USA Today for 16 years, resigned during a meeting with editors who had examined his March 28 story on armored Humvees and compared it with an account from May 7, 2004, in The Indianapolis Star, USA Today editor Kenneth Paulson said.

“Squitieri’s actions violated USA Today’s standards on sources and attribution,” Paulson said in a statement posted on the newspaper’s Web site. “USA Today apologizes to its readers. Squitieri has apologized and resigned.”

Squitieri, contacted at his Washington home, referred questions to his lawyer, Joseph Cammarata. Cammarata had no immediate comment when contacted Thursday by The Associated Press.

Gannett Co. owns both USA Today and the Star.

USA Today’s investigation showed other problems with quotations in stories by Squitieri that had not yet been published, Paulson said in an interview.

Squitieri met with editors about the problems on Monday. On Thursday, he offered his resignation almost immediately during a second meeting, Paulson said.

“He asked that we apologize on his behalf to his colleagues at USA Today,” Paulson said. “He characterized what he had done as careless mistakes, and he said that even if we had decided we could keep him on that he still would have resigned because he felt that his mistakes undercut our high standards.”

The Indianapolis story from a year ago included comments by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and a man from Bedford, Mass., whose son was killed in an unarmored Humvee in Iraq. Squitieri’s story included their quotes verbatim and without attribution.

[Speaking with the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, Squitieri’s lawyer, Joseph Cammarata, said his client spoke to all the sources or their spokesmen, although he ended up using the old quotes anyway. “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 told Kurtz. “There was nothing inaccurate about it. … The suggestion that there was a pattern of misuse of quotes is not true.” Asked about this by Kurtz, Paulson called it “an interesting defense.”]

USA Today’s investigation was conducted by the newspaper’s standards editor, a position created in the aftermath of a plagiarism and fabrication scandal involving USA Today reporter Jack Kelley. Kelley left the paper in January 2004, and a review by outside experts found he had plagiarized and invented material dating back to 1991.

Squitieri was Washington bureau chief for the Boston Herald before joining USA Today in 1989, according to a profile on the newspaper’s Web site.

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