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Play-by-Play Plagiarism

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Michael Miner lets Jay Mariotti off the hook in "Copier Jam" [Hot Type, January 24]. The issue was plagiarism and whether Mariotti committed it by not attributing a quote in his column lifted from a wire-service story.

Miner says plagiarism didn't happen, calling it more like "Hamburger Helper--what readers have to chew on when too little news picked over by too many writers has to last for too many days." If that's true then Mariotti's January 10 column, "Titletown rebirth puts cynics on ice" is almost 100 percent Helper and zero percent ground beef.

Not only is the wire-service quote in the column on the Green Bay Packers' Lambeau Field, but other "Hamburger Helper" resides throughout when you realize that a Sports Illustrated story on the same subject had come out just days before Mariotti's piece.

The title of the SI story was "Frozen in Time." Mariotti's second paragraph begins, "It has frozen sports in time..." The next paragraph from Mariotti reads: "From the locals who volunteer to shovel Lambeau Field snow, to porch lights that are left on when the team returns after a big road game..."

The SI piece reads: "When the Packers return from an important road game, win or lose, townspeople leave their porch lights on as a show of support. When a heavy snowfall hits the area in the days leading up to a game, the front office...[asks]...fans to show up at Lambeau, shovel in hand."

SI quotes Packer president Bob Harlan saying, "It's not so much what the stadium looks like; it's what happened here that makes this place unique. A story like this will never happen in professional sports again." In Mr. Mariotti's version, Harlan says, "The Packers are unique in sports, and I would hazard a guess that you won't see anything like it again."

In Miner's story, Mariotti says the wire-service quote "happened to fit the spot where I was writing." Apparently the SI stuff also conveniently fits and is acceptable to Miner's standards. But shouldn't the readers of one of the nation's self-proclaimed best sports pages expect more original reporting from someone who holds arguably one of the most coveted columnist posts in sports journalism?

Ironically, Rick Telander seems able to come up with original stuff on the Super Bowl while Mariotti lifts wire-service and Sports Illustrated copy. Telander presented a fine story in his column about a Vince Lombardi motivational video for business people. Of course Bob Greene stole that idea two days later--but Tribune readers expect that.

Mike Mitka

Oak Park

Michael Miner replies:

One role of the wires is to feed bylined journalists with raw material. That is not the role of other newspapers and magazines.

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