Bix and Plagiarism

Bix and Plagiarism

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

March 1st, 2010, 4:37 pm #1


From a former QC Times staffer who prefers to remain anonymous. Thank you very much for a highly informative posting.

Albert

*****************************************************

1) Newspapers OWN their content. It is NOT plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories within the same newspaper, no matter who the reporter. Indeed, it's common practice to incorporate previously published material into current stories as long as it originated with THAT publication.

2) Reporters have no say when it comes to headlines & subheads. Used to be they had no say far as the fleshing out and "fluffing" that editors did. Today's reporters are more fiercely protective of content because their name is out there for all to see.

3) Nowadays when the <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Associated Press</span> picks up a story, the newspaper of origin is credited and retains copyright. The QC Times is so fiercely competitive that it often doesn't just run a wire story but goes for the local angle, adding additional commentary to a wire story. When it does this, the tag line states: 'QC Times staff contributed to this story' while still acknowledging the wire service as the original source.

4) At the time of the 1929 Bix "interview", Lee Syndicate (now <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Lee Enterprises</span>) owner E.P. "Mannie" Adler published the Davenport Times, Davenport Democrat-Leader, <span class="yshortcuts">Wisconsin</span> Star Journal, Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, Kewanee (IL) Star Courier, & Lincoln (Nebraska) Star. Mannie was the father of Bix's classmate, Philip Adler who became editor/publisher of Kewanee Star Courier in 1926 and took over as publisher of Davenport Times/Democrat in 1949, becoming president of Lee Enterprises in 1960.

5) Mannie Adler would have FIRED a reporter caught plagiarizing; he'd also have fired the editor who knowingly allowed plagiarism in Lee newspapers.

6) Given the close social ties between the Beiderbecke & Adler families (accounting for Bix's 1921 arrest being kept out of local newspapers), Mannie Adler would have gotten an angry phone call about anything attributed to Bix that he didn't say. In all likelihood, Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him but the reporter misunderstood when Bix was saying something original or quoting someone else. That's giving all parties involved the benefit of the doubt. Back in those days the world was not as interconnected as it is now. Bix screwed up by not demanding a correction. Maybe he was too sick to give a darn. Still, given his national reputation the amazing thing is the original author(s) never learned of the story.

7) Les Swanson was a Davenport reporter at the time of the 1929 Bix interview & he mentioned hooking Bix up with city editor Ralph Cram, who likely assigned the reporter who did the interview. Until they merged in 1951, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">The Daily Times</span> & Democrat had separate buildings/presses, separate city desks & reporting staff but often shared breaking stories. Bix's interview was not a breaking story but rather a feature--not the sort of thing a reporter rushes back to type up on deadline.

7) Editors like Cram had full reign over stories, changing & inserting phrasings as they chose. But Cram was a skilled enough writer with a style all his own & didn't need to steal another writer's words. Cram prepared the <span class="yshortcuts">front page story</span> for both papers when Bix died, using info from the '29 interview and other previously published stories on Bix. Cram had a distinctive voice in his own writings. For further research on Ralph Cram, check out the <span class="yshortcuts">University of Iowa</span> because they have Cram's personal letters and published columns in their archives (he was maybe 3 years younger than Bix).

8) Unlikely--indeed improbable that Bix wrote a story/commentary on jazz for publication in the local newspaper or anywhere else. More likely Bix referenced the original source material & the reporter wrote down what Bix said & attributed all the colorful commentaries to Bix. Whether it was the reporter's doing or not, it is still plagiarism.

9) Bix had an eidetic memory. His difficulties in school had more to do with his restlessness than with his IQ. He could quote verbatim from anything he ever read (remember the contests with bandmates over bible quotes?? Bix always won.) He could quote literature same as he could mimic another musician's style. Some folks have postulated he was dyslexic but given his passion for literature, classic & post-modern, doubtful he had any difficulties reading. With Bix it always had to do with whether or not the subject matter interested him.

10) Bix was a voracious reader. He was particularly into post modern writers--same folks his Uncle Carl's sister-in-law, Marjorie Allen Seiffert hung out with. Bix was introduced to classic poetry in Marjorie's parlor where the families gathered for evenings of poetry readings & musical performances. Marjorie read aloud the classic poems Bix loved as well as her own original poetry. Marjorie also played her original piano compositions & likely Bix mimicked every note.

11) Lee Syndicate had a stellar roster of alumni reporters, among them: <span class="yshortcuts">Susan Glaspell</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Floyd Dell</span> & John O'Donnell. Glaspell won her Pulitzer in playwriting (not fiction as previously stated) same year Bix died.

12) Glaspell & her husband, George Cram Cook (relative of Ralph Cram) discovered <span class="yshortcuts">Eugene O'Neill</span> & launched his career via the <span class="yshortcuts">Provincetown Players</span>. Floyd Dell went on to edit a Chicago leftist newspaper & New York's famed Masses magazine that showcased the likes of John Reed & <span class="yshortcuts">Louise Bryant</span> (made famous by <span class="yshortcuts">Warren Beatty'</span>s Oscar-winning "Reds"), <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Sherwood Anderson</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Sinclair Lewis</span>, <span class="yshortcuts">William Carlos Williams</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Carl Sandburg</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Edna St. Vincent Millay</span>, Davenport's Arthur Davison Ficke, and many other <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">famous writers</span> of the early 20th century. One of Dell's stories (An Unmarried Father) was made into a play, "Little Accidents", and then three times filmed as a comedy co-written by <span class="yshortcuts">Dell</span> & Thomas Mitchell who played Scarlett O'Hara's father in "<span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Gone With the Wind</span>."  The 1940 <span class="yshortcuts">Gary Cooper</span> version (<span class="yshortcuts">Casanova Brown</span>) won an Oscar.
Reply
Like
Share

Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 1st, 2010, 6:17 pm #2

Thanks for the information, Albert. I'm not sure why your informant preferred anonymity, or why the Quad-City Times, which actually ran a story on the article several years ago, as yet has shown no institutional interest in this discovery. Nevertheless, I wanted to respond to a few of this person's points:
1) Newspapers OWN their content. It is NOT plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories within the same newspaper, no matter who the reporter. Indeed, it's common practice to incorporate previously published material into current stories as long as it originated with THAT publication.
I agree. I made essentially the same point here on the forum and Albert, your response was: "I am not concerned about 'official' definitions." I guess I am. And so are journalists. It is plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories -- even by the same writer -- if the writer does not own the content and does not have permission. The Bix interview showcases both the ethical and unethical kinds of "borrowing."
4) At the time of the 1929 Bix "interview", Lee Syndicate (now Lee Enterprises) owner E.P. "Mannie" Adler published the Davenport Times, Davenport Democrat-Leader, Wisconsin Star Journal, Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, Kewanee (IL) Star Courier, & Lincoln (Nebraska) Star. Mannie was the father of Bix's classmate, Philip Adler who became editor/publisher of Kewanee Star Courier in 1926 and took over as publisher of Davenport Times/Democrat in 1949, becoming president of Lee Enterprises in 1960.

5) Mannie Adler would have FIRED a reporter caught plagiarizing; he'd also have fired the editor who knowingly allowed plagiarism in Lee newspapers.
I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Did Mannie Adler have a record of firing reporters caught plagiarizing? Or are we supposed to take it on faith that he simply would have done that, and done it in exactly the same circumstances as this case? And is this meant to suggest that a) the reporter in this case wasn't caught; or b) that this wasn't a case of plagiarism in Mannie Adler's mind? I've had people argue to me that the statement below -- that the ties between the Beiderbeckes and Adlers kept Bix's arrest out of the papers -- is not true because the Beiderbeckes would not have used their influence in this way. Would have. Would not have. These are not always reliable guides, especially when conducting a historical investigation. At the very least we should hesitate before assuming we know what these people would have or would not have done.
6) Given the close social ties between the Beiderbecke & Adler families (accounting for Bix's 1921 arrest being kept out of local newspapers), Mannie Adler would have gotten an angry phone call about anything attributed to Bix that he didn't say. In all likelihood, Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him but the reporter misunderstood when Bix was saying something original or quoting someone else. That's giving all parties involved the benefit of the doubt. Back in those days the world was not as interconnected as it is now. Bix screwed up by not demanding a correction. Maybe he was too sick to give a darn. Still, given his national reputation the amazing thing is the original author(s) never learned of the story.
"In all likelihood . . ." This phrase implies that we should rely on Occam's Razor; in other words, the simplest explanation tends to be the best one. We should believe what is most likely, not what is most satisfying or what serves our interests. I think we can agree on that.

Now put the two stories -- Garwood's piece and the Bix interview -- side by side. How could the simplest and most likely explanation for what happened be that "Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him"? It beggars belief. The stories are virtually identical. You don't play telephone with quotations -- Abbe Niles speaks, Louise Garwood writes, Bix reads, Bix speaks, Democrat reporter writes, editor edits -- and have not just the quotations, but all the surrounding material, as well, come out exactly the same. It's beyond unlikely and makes me wonder why, eighty-one years later, we're still trying to make excuses for Bix and now for the local newspaper. I'm happy to believe that the Democrat's editors didn't condone plagiarism, but it's difficult to come up with another even plausible explanation for what happened here.
7) Les Swanson was a Davenport reporter at the time of the 1929 Bix interview & he mentioned hooking Bix up with city editor Ralph Cram, who likely assigned the reporter who did the interview. Until they merged in 1951, The Daily Times & Democrat had separate buildings/presses, separate city desks & reporting staff but often shared breaking stories. Bix's interview was not a breaking story but rather a feature--not the sort of thing a reporter rushes back to type up on deadline.
I don't think the reporter's deadline is that important in the larger scheme of things. But if Bix was in New York on February 3, and the story appeared on February 10, then the deadline was fairly tight either way, regardless of whether it was a feature ... unless my time line is off or I'm misunderstanding something.
7) Editors like Cram had full reign over stories, changing & inserting phrasings as they chose. But Cram was a skilled enough writer with a style all his own & didn't need to steal another writer's words. Cram prepared the front page story for both papers when Bix died, using info from the '29 interview and other previously published stories on Bix. Cram had a distinctive voice in his own writings. For further research on Ralph Cram, check out the University of Iowa because they have Cram's personal letters and published columns in their archives (he was maybe 3 years younger than Bix).
Not sure what this has to do with the interview. If Cram didn't need to steal others' words, then he likely did not write the interview article.
8) Unlikely--indeed improbable that Bix wrote a story/commentary on jazz for publication in the local newspaper or anywhere else. More likely Bix referenced the original source material & the reporter wrote down what Bix said & attributed all the colorful commentaries to Bix. Whether it was the reporter's doing or not, it is still plagiarism.
I agree that Bix probably didn't write something on jazz for the paper. But equally unlikely is the idea that he "referenced the original source material" and the resulting product was the interview article. One does not merely "reference" material and then have a story appear that duplicates, nearly verbatim, that same source material. It just doesn't make sense.

If Bix had a copy of the Garwood-Niles interview on him and handed it over to the reporter, and the reporter went and copied it basically word for word with a few additions from Henry Osgood and an earlier Democrat story, along with some Bix biographical info worked in and some actual Bix quotes tacked on at the end -- that would be something in the neighborhood of plausible. But it's still not the simplest explanation for what happened, because it requires Bix to have had that article when there's no reason for us to believe he did (beyond the fact that it was about jazz). Whereas it is quite easy to believe that the reporter found it as part of his or her research for the story.
9) Bix had an eidetic memory. His difficulties in school had more to do with his restlessness than with his IQ. He could quote verbatim from anything he ever read (remember the contests with bandmates over bible quotes?? Bix always won.) He could quote literature same as he could mimic another musician's style. Some folks have postulated he was dyslexic but given his passion for literature, classic & post-modern, doubtful he had any difficulties reading. With Bix it always had to do with whether or not the subject matter interested him.
You could create an argument where Bix quoted chunks of the Garwood article verbatim to a reporter. I don't think it's likely, but let's say that's what happened. It still strikes me as highly unlikely that the reporter was able to take notes verbatim and that the story, including the quotations and the material between the quotations, even the very structure of the article, remain nearly exactly the same, soup to nuts. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the case that's being made here, and if that's the case, I apologize.

I've made a habit, in various discussions about the interview, both on the forum and off, of defending Davenport and its paper. The city was and is not, in the words of one person in particular who disagrees with me, "pure Hicksville," and its daily paper was pretty sophisticated, I think.*

Acknowledging this should not diminish the paper's work over the years or reflect on Davenport. However, refusing to acknowledge what strikes me as forehead-slapping-ly obvious does reflect on our ability to conduct even the most basic historical investigations regarding Bix Beiderbecke.

___

* I fully acknowledge my bias here: Davenport is my beloved hometown, and the Quad-City Times was, for a short time, my employer. But I make these claims not out of sentiment but based on research.
Reply
Share

Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

March 1st, 2010, 7:47 pm #3


.... my agreement regarding your analysis of the origin of the plagiarized material in Bix's interview. As you point out, not only are the words identical in large passages of the two articles, but the organization of Bix's interview is almost a carbon copy of that of Niles's. Even if Bix had an eiditic memory, the chances for Bix's and Niles's interviews to turn out as near clones are, in my opinion, infinitesimal. Furthermore,  I am skeptical about Bix having read Niles's interview. How widely syndicated was Niles's interview? In what papers, other than the original, did it appear that Bix could have read it?

One area of disagreement between us relates to the question of what constitutes plagiarism. I repeat, I am not concerned with official (or legal) definitions. According to my own ethical principles (based on 50 years of chemical research), anyone who copies someone else's words without providing a citation is commiting plagiarism. I go further, copying from one-self is not plagiarism. My view is that what an author writes belongs to him, regardless of official or legal pronunciations. I spent 12 years of my academic career as associate editor of  "Inorganic Chemistry" a highly prestigious journal published by the American Chemical Society. I must clarify the meaning of editor here. I was not a word editor, I was a scientific editor, concerned with the accuracy of the work. [The bureaucrats in the American Chemical Society were concerned with proper grammar, spelling, etc and with copyrights]. One of the aspects within my control was making sure that the work submitted for publication provided the proper citations to previous publications on the subject. I was very vigilant about this. This is not exactly plagiarism, but it is related. Providing background on a field of science without giving proper citations to the people who prviously worked in the field was (and is) unacceptable (and unethical, in my view), and I did not allow it. Of course, plagiarism was (and is) totally unacceptable to me. I caught a couple of individuals who committed plagiarism, and I banned them indefinitely  from submitting articles to my journal.

Albert
Reply
Like
Share

Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 1st, 2010, 8:22 pm #4

Albert,

It's nice to find areas of agreement. Thank you. I must admit, however, that it can be difficult arguing with you when you reject the definitions offered and refer instead to "living principles" or, in this case, "my own ethical principles." I'm happy to give you your living and ethical principles, as I'm sure you'll give me mine. But for the sake of talking about plagiarism in a world that is bigger than just yourself, it helps to find definitions we all can agree on. Otherwise accusations of plagiarism don't make sense. For journalists -- since we're talking about journalism -- plagiarism consists of using, as your own, words you don't own. And regardless of whether you approve, we do not always own the words that we write. (I have been a writer and editor -- of words -- my whole career, so I say this with authority.)

Anyway, this wasn't an issue in the Bix interview. The story wasn't bylined, and the paper can "borrow" from itself all it wants. On the other hand, the paper took words from Agatha Beiderbecke's mouth and put them in the body of the story, as if they were not, in fact, spoken by someone else. This is not a capital crime, but it does suggest a certain fuzziness about attribution that for some people raised questions about the article in the first place. And of course it absolutely was plagiarism when the Democrat "borrowed" from the NEA Syndicate. (It's a closer call when it comes to Henry Osgood's words. They are unmistakable allusions, and might warrant a slap on the wrist from a teacher. But I'm not sure if they add up to plagiarism.)

One last point: It's worth bringing up your informant's suggestion that the Beiderbeckes and Adler cooperated to keep Bix's arrest out of the paper.

1) Your informant speaks as if this were true. Is it?

2) If it is, why should we believe that Mannie Adler was simultaneously so ethical he would have immediately fired any plagiarizer and so unethical as to keep legitimate news out of the paper based only on his personal connections?

I'll be the first to admit that people are complicated, and righteous fury can coexist alongside some pretty shady dealings. But we're not talking about what we know or don't know about the man. We're talking in the abstract about what he would have done. In this case, such a contradiction topples the entire argument about what he would have done.

Finally, if it is, in fact, true that the Beiderbecke family arranged to keep Bix's arrest out of the paper, does it not become easier to believe that they also arranged some kind of deal to end the case, also using their connections? I am not suggesting that this is what happened because I don't presume to know what happened. But some have argued quite vehemently that this last scenario wasn't possible. If your informant is correct, then I think it very much is possible.
Reply
Share

Glenda Childress
Glenda Childress

March 1st, 2010, 8:48 pm #5

Thanks for the information, Albert. I'm not sure why your informant preferred anonymity, or why the Quad-City Times, which actually ran a story on the article several years ago, as yet has shown no institutional interest in this discovery. Nevertheless, I wanted to respond to a few of this person's points:
1) Newspapers OWN their content. It is NOT plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories within the same newspaper, no matter who the reporter. Indeed, it's common practice to incorporate previously published material into current stories as long as it originated with THAT publication.
I agree. I made essentially the same point here on the forum and Albert, your response was: "I am not concerned about 'official' definitions." I guess I am. And so are journalists. It is plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories -- even by the same writer -- if the writer does not own the content and does not have permission. The Bix interview showcases both the ethical and unethical kinds of "borrowing."
4) At the time of the 1929 Bix "interview", Lee Syndicate (now Lee Enterprises) owner E.P. "Mannie" Adler published the Davenport Times, Davenport Democrat-Leader, Wisconsin Star Journal, Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, Kewanee (IL) Star Courier, & Lincoln (Nebraska) Star. Mannie was the father of Bix's classmate, Philip Adler who became editor/publisher of Kewanee Star Courier in 1926 and took over as publisher of Davenport Times/Democrat in 1949, becoming president of Lee Enterprises in 1960.

5) Mannie Adler would have FIRED a reporter caught plagiarizing; he'd also have fired the editor who knowingly allowed plagiarism in Lee newspapers.
I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Did Mannie Adler have a record of firing reporters caught plagiarizing? Or are we supposed to take it on faith that he simply would have done that, and done it in exactly the same circumstances as this case? And is this meant to suggest that a) the reporter in this case wasn't caught; or b) that this wasn't a case of plagiarism in Mannie Adler's mind? I've had people argue to me that the statement below -- that the ties between the Beiderbeckes and Adlers kept Bix's arrest out of the papers -- is not true because the Beiderbeckes would not have used their influence in this way. Would have. Would not have. These are not always reliable guides, especially when conducting a historical investigation. At the very least we should hesitate before assuming we know what these people would have or would not have done.
6) Given the close social ties between the Beiderbecke & Adler families (accounting for Bix's 1921 arrest being kept out of local newspapers), Mannie Adler would have gotten an angry phone call about anything attributed to Bix that he didn't say. In all likelihood, Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him but the reporter misunderstood when Bix was saying something original or quoting someone else. That's giving all parties involved the benefit of the doubt. Back in those days the world was not as interconnected as it is now. Bix screwed up by not demanding a correction. Maybe he was too sick to give a darn. Still, given his national reputation the amazing thing is the original author(s) never learned of the story.
"In all likelihood . . ." This phrase implies that we should rely on Occam's Razor; in other words, the simplest explanation tends to be the best one. We should believe what is most likely, not what is most satisfying or what serves our interests. I think we can agree on that.

Now put the two stories -- Garwood's piece and the Bix interview -- side by side. How could the simplest and most likely explanation for what happened be that "Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him"? It beggars belief. The stories are virtually identical. You don't play telephone with quotations -- Abbe Niles speaks, Louise Garwood writes, Bix reads, Bix speaks, Democrat reporter writes, editor edits -- and have not just the quotations, but all the surrounding material, as well, come out exactly the same. It's beyond unlikely and makes me wonder why, eighty-one years later, we're still trying to make excuses for Bix and now for the local newspaper. I'm happy to believe that the Democrat's editors didn't condone plagiarism, but it's difficult to come up with another even plausible explanation for what happened here.
7) Les Swanson was a Davenport reporter at the time of the 1929 Bix interview & he mentioned hooking Bix up with city editor Ralph Cram, who likely assigned the reporter who did the interview. Until they merged in 1951, The Daily Times & Democrat had separate buildings/presses, separate city desks & reporting staff but often shared breaking stories. Bix's interview was not a breaking story but rather a feature--not the sort of thing a reporter rushes back to type up on deadline.
I don't think the reporter's deadline is that important in the larger scheme of things. But if Bix was in New York on February 3, and the story appeared on February 10, then the deadline was fairly tight either way, regardless of whether it was a feature ... unless my time line is off or I'm misunderstanding something.
7) Editors like Cram had full reign over stories, changing & inserting phrasings as they chose. But Cram was a skilled enough writer with a style all his own & didn't need to steal another writer's words. Cram prepared the front page story for both papers when Bix died, using info from the '29 interview and other previously published stories on Bix. Cram had a distinctive voice in his own writings. For further research on Ralph Cram, check out the University of Iowa because they have Cram's personal letters and published columns in their archives (he was maybe 3 years younger than Bix).
Not sure what this has to do with the interview. If Cram didn't need to steal others' words, then he likely did not write the interview article.
8) Unlikely--indeed improbable that Bix wrote a story/commentary on jazz for publication in the local newspaper or anywhere else. More likely Bix referenced the original source material & the reporter wrote down what Bix said & attributed all the colorful commentaries to Bix. Whether it was the reporter's doing or not, it is still plagiarism.
I agree that Bix probably didn't write something on jazz for the paper. But equally unlikely is the idea that he "referenced the original source material" and the resulting product was the interview article. One does not merely "reference" material and then have a story appear that duplicates, nearly verbatim, that same source material. It just doesn't make sense.

If Bix had a copy of the Garwood-Niles interview on him and handed it over to the reporter, and the reporter went and copied it basically word for word with a few additions from Henry Osgood and an earlier Democrat story, along with some Bix biographical info worked in and some actual Bix quotes tacked on at the end -- that would be something in the neighborhood of plausible. But it's still not the simplest explanation for what happened, because it requires Bix to have had that article when there's no reason for us to believe he did (beyond the fact that it was about jazz). Whereas it is quite easy to believe that the reporter found it as part of his or her research for the story.
9) Bix had an eidetic memory. His difficulties in school had more to do with his restlessness than with his IQ. He could quote verbatim from anything he ever read (remember the contests with bandmates over bible quotes?? Bix always won.) He could quote literature same as he could mimic another musician's style. Some folks have postulated he was dyslexic but given his passion for literature, classic & post-modern, doubtful he had any difficulties reading. With Bix it always had to do with whether or not the subject matter interested him.
You could create an argument where Bix quoted chunks of the Garwood article verbatim to a reporter. I don't think it's likely, but let's say that's what happened. It still strikes me as highly unlikely that the reporter was able to take notes verbatim and that the story, including the quotations and the material between the quotations, even the very structure of the article, remain nearly exactly the same, soup to nuts. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the case that's being made here, and if that's the case, I apologize.

I've made a habit, in various discussions about the interview, both on the forum and off, of defending Davenport and its paper. The city was and is not, in the words of one person in particular who disagrees with me, "pure Hicksville," and its daily paper was pretty sophisticated, I think.*

Acknowledging this should not diminish the paper's work over the years or reflect on Davenport. However, refusing to acknowledge what strikes me as forehead-slapping-ly obvious does reflect on our ability to conduct even the most basic historical investigations regarding Bix Beiderbecke.

___

* I fully acknowledge my bias here: Davenport is my beloved hometown, and the Quad-City Times was, for a short time, my employer. But I make these claims not out of sentiment but based on research.
Thanks for the very interesting input from the local newspaper source.

Brendan says,

"You could create an argument where Bix quoted chunks of the Garwood article verbatim to a reporter. I don't think it's likely, but let's say that's what happened. It still strikes me as highly unlikely that the reporter was able to take notes verbatim and that the story, including the quotations and the material between the quotations, even the very structure of the article, remain nearly exactly the same, soup to nuts."

Assuming that Bix's verbal memory was eidetic and he was able to quote 1000 or more words perfectly in order, it is hard to believe that, in an oral interview, any reporter could have taken down such complete text in rather complex vocabulary word for word.

We all know there were no tape recorders in 1929. There was, of course, Gregg shorthand. I'm very familiar with that discipline, since I spent two years in high school learning to take dictation at nearly 140 words per minute. But even with my best 17-year-old brain, I doubt I could have transcribed the attributed quote in the Davenport newspaper with that high a degree of accuracy. It is certainly possible that there were reporters on staff who could, and perhaps a real super-sleuth could determine if any of their reporters had been schooled in shorthand and were capable of transcribing at that level. (E.g., was shorthand included in the high school or local business college curriculums in the early years of the 20th century? Was it a condition of employment for local reporters?) Presumably court reporters (pre-Stenotype), if not news staffers, once had to be quite proficient.

[Still, what are the odds of having incredible eidetic recall matched with exceptional transcription skills at this one place and time?]

The other alternative offered is the theory that Bix had the articles on hand in Davenport and either typed or copied them by hand (no photocopiers in those days either) without sourcing or handed them over in original print form to the reporter. In the former case, Bix is the plagiarist; in the latter,it seems the plagiarism is still on the heads of the reporter and editor.
Reply
Share

Emrah Erken
Emrah Erken

March 1st, 2010, 9:01 pm #6

From a former QC Times staffer who prefers to remain anonymous. Thank you very much for a highly informative posting.

Albert

*****************************************************

1) Newspapers OWN their content. It is NOT plagiarism to lift passages from previously published stories within the same newspaper, no matter who the reporter. Indeed, it's common practice to incorporate previously published material into current stories as long as it originated with THAT publication.

2) Reporters have no say when it comes to headlines & subheads. Used to be they had no say far as the fleshing out and "fluffing" that editors did. Today's reporters are more fiercely protective of content because their name is out there for all to see.

3) Nowadays when the <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Associated Press</span> picks up a story, the newspaper of origin is credited and retains copyright. The QC Times is so fiercely competitive that it often doesn't just run a wire story but goes for the local angle, adding additional commentary to a wire story. When it does this, the tag line states: 'QC Times staff contributed to this story' while still acknowledging the wire service as the original source.

4) At the time of the 1929 Bix "interview", Lee Syndicate (now <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Lee Enterprises</span>) owner E.P. "Mannie" Adler published the Davenport Times, Davenport Democrat-Leader, <span class="yshortcuts">Wisconsin</span> Star Journal, Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette, Kewanee (IL) Star Courier, & Lincoln (Nebraska) Star. Mannie was the father of Bix's classmate, Philip Adler who became editor/publisher of Kewanee Star Courier in 1926 and took over as publisher of Davenport Times/Democrat in 1949, becoming president of Lee Enterprises in 1960.

5) Mannie Adler would have FIRED a reporter caught plagiarizing; he'd also have fired the editor who knowingly allowed plagiarism in Lee newspapers.

6) Given the close social ties between the Beiderbecke & Adler families (accounting for Bix's 1921 arrest being kept out of local newspapers), Mannie Adler would have gotten an angry phone call about anything attributed to Bix that he didn't say. In all likelihood, Bix said what was quoted to have been said by him but the reporter misunderstood when Bix was saying something original or quoting someone else. That's giving all parties involved the benefit of the doubt. Back in those days the world was not as interconnected as it is now. Bix screwed up by not demanding a correction. Maybe he was too sick to give a darn. Still, given his national reputation the amazing thing is the original author(s) never learned of the story.

7) Les Swanson was a Davenport reporter at the time of the 1929 Bix interview & he mentioned hooking Bix up with city editor Ralph Cram, who likely assigned the reporter who did the interview. Until they merged in 1951, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">The Daily Times</span> & Democrat had separate buildings/presses, separate city desks & reporting staff but often shared breaking stories. Bix's interview was not a breaking story but rather a feature--not the sort of thing a reporter rushes back to type up on deadline.

7) Editors like Cram had full reign over stories, changing & inserting phrasings as they chose. But Cram was a skilled enough writer with a style all his own & didn't need to steal another writer's words. Cram prepared the <span class="yshortcuts">front page story</span> for both papers when Bix died, using info from the '29 interview and other previously published stories on Bix. Cram had a distinctive voice in his own writings. For further research on Ralph Cram, check out the <span class="yshortcuts">University of Iowa</span> because they have Cram's personal letters and published columns in their archives (he was maybe 3 years younger than Bix).

8) Unlikely--indeed improbable that Bix wrote a story/commentary on jazz for publication in the local newspaper or anywhere else. More likely Bix referenced the original source material & the reporter wrote down what Bix said & attributed all the colorful commentaries to Bix. Whether it was the reporter's doing or not, it is still plagiarism.

9) Bix had an eidetic memory. His difficulties in school had more to do with his restlessness than with his IQ. He could quote verbatim from anything he ever read (remember the contests with bandmates over bible quotes?? Bix always won.) He could quote literature same as he could mimic another musician's style. Some folks have postulated he was dyslexic but given his passion for literature, classic & post-modern, doubtful he had any difficulties reading. With Bix it always had to do with whether or not the subject matter interested him.

10) Bix was a voracious reader. He was particularly into post modern writers--same folks his Uncle Carl's sister-in-law, Marjorie Allen Seiffert hung out with. Bix was introduced to classic poetry in Marjorie's parlor where the families gathered for evenings of poetry readings & musical performances. Marjorie read aloud the classic poems Bix loved as well as her own original poetry. Marjorie also played her original piano compositions & likely Bix mimicked every note.

11) Lee Syndicate had a stellar roster of alumni reporters, among them: <span class="yshortcuts">Susan Glaspell</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Floyd Dell</span> & John O'Donnell. Glaspell won her Pulitzer in playwriting (not fiction as previously stated) same year Bix died.

12) Glaspell & her husband, George Cram Cook (relative of Ralph Cram) discovered <span class="yshortcuts">Eugene O'Neill</span> & launched his career via the <span class="yshortcuts">Provincetown Players</span>. Floyd Dell went on to edit a Chicago leftist newspaper & New York's famed Masses magazine that showcased the likes of John Reed & <span class="yshortcuts">Louise Bryant</span> (made famous by <span class="yshortcuts">Warren Beatty'</span>s Oscar-winning "Reds"), <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Sherwood Anderson</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Sinclair Lewis</span>, <span class="yshortcuts">William Carlos Williams</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="border-bottom:#0066cc 1px dashed;">Carl Sandburg</span>, <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Edna St. Vincent Millay</span>, Davenport's Arthur Davison Ficke, and many other <span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">famous writers</span> of the early 20th century. One of Dell's stories (An Unmarried Father) was made into a play, "Little Accidents", and then three times filmed as a comedy co-written by <span class="yshortcuts">Dell</span> & Thomas Mitchell who played Scarlett O'Hara's father in "<span class="yshortcuts" style="background:transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%;border-bottom:medium none;">Gone With the Wind</span>."  The 1940 <span class="yshortcuts">Gary Cooper</span> version (<span class="yshortcuts">Casanova Brown</span>) won an Oscar.
I have to admit that I haven't read all the comments about this issue and what I want to say might be a repetition.

After what Brendan found out and having read some of the comments, I have the impression that the author of the interview wanted to have an article published about "this new and fashionable thing called jazz", probably without having any knowledge about it and spice it up with a Davenporter who was not only the child of a respected and famous family but also one of the best players of his time. The message is like: "One of us Davenporters is one of the top notches in this scene!" The important thing for him was in my opinion the Davenport connection.

I don't think that the journalist responsible for this interview had enough knowledge to have a serious talk with Bix about jazz. He couldn't have asked the questions, which might have been of interest. I don't believe that Bix had learned the interview by heart. He might have even suggested the reporter to use the previous article as a source when he asked Bix to explain what jazz exactly is. The only thing that such a journalist from a small town could have asked would be things like "How is the life of a jazz musician?" "Do you guys have wild parties?" and other completely uninteresting things.

Plagiarism is in my opinion a strong word for what happened here. It's just an article about jazz, spiced up with the mentioning of a Davenporter in order to attract the attention of the average reader who bought this newspaper mostly for local news. Without Bix and without his connection to Davenport, less Davenporters would have had interest reading it.


Emrah
Reply
Share

Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 1st, 2010, 9:28 pm #7

With all respect to Emrah, who has promised to play me his 78s in person someday, the word plagiarism has no meaning if it is not to be used in this case.

It's certainly possible that the reporter plagiarized because he or she failed at interviewing Bix, who perhaps said nothing of real interest. And that failure could be attributed to the reporter knowing little of real value about jazz.

But it doesn't follow that "the only thing that such a journalist from a small town could have asked would be things like . . ." Davenport was no New York in 1929 -- only New York was New York -- but it was not a particularly small town; it was not a town at all, in fact, but a city. And if Bix could listen to and learn about jazz in Davenport in 1919, then so could a reporter ten years later. And if Bix could come home and play gigs, then that same reporter could attend them. Jazz was in New York and Chicago, but it also was in Davenport.

There just doesn't seem to be any good reason to see Davenport -- its size or its culture -- as any source of explanation for how and why this article was plagiarized.
Reply
Share

Jamaica
Jamaica

March 1st, 2010, 11:13 pm #8

The reporter easily could have known little about jazz. Just because it's the music of the day, doesn't mean everyone knew something about it. Geez, how much about rap music do any of us know? Precious little, probably.

I also don't see plagiarism, in the 1920s, as any big deal. I've always been led to believe that it happened frequently, then, and would've been easy to do, considering the world wasn't so instantly connected, as it is now. The world just wasn't as ethical, or structured, as it is now, and I agree with Emrah, it's a story about a hometown boy. It just wasn't that important, in the big scheme of things. It's only important now, because we recognize Bix for what he was, a pioneer, and now we've discovered that very little of what Bix said, in the article, were his own words. (Although, if he did say them, and we'll never know if he did, then it would be a remarkable discovery of exactly that memory he was credited with having - that - I do not find implausible. Just because he was bored, at school, doesn't mean he couldn't have had a photographic memory, or a "photographic ear" as I've heard one person describe the same sort of memory, but in relating to sound.)
Reply
Share

Glenda
Glenda

March 2nd, 2010, 12:04 am #9

I have to admit that I haven't read all the comments about this issue and what I want to say might be a repetition.

After what Brendan found out and having read some of the comments, I have the impression that the author of the interview wanted to have an article published about "this new and fashionable thing called jazz", probably without having any knowledge about it and spice it up with a Davenporter who was not only the child of a respected and famous family but also one of the best players of his time. The message is like: "One of us Davenporters is one of the top notches in this scene!" The important thing for him was in my opinion the Davenport connection.

I don't think that the journalist responsible for this interview had enough knowledge to have a serious talk with Bix about jazz. He couldn't have asked the questions, which might have been of interest. I don't believe that Bix had learned the interview by heart. He might have even suggested the reporter to use the previous article as a source when he asked Bix to explain what jazz exactly is. The only thing that such a journalist from a small town could have asked would be things like "How is the life of a jazz musician?" "Do you guys have wild parties?" and other completely uninteresting things.

Plagiarism is in my opinion a strong word for what happened here. It's just an article about jazz, spiced up with the mentioning of a Davenporter in order to attract the attention of the average reader who bought this newspaper mostly for local news. Without Bix and without his connection to Davenport, less Davenporters would have had interest reading it.


Emrah
Emrah, I think you are "misunderestimating" the sophistication of Davenport at that time. It was a good-sized city with educated citizens and a fairly lively music scene if we are to believe the Bix biographers. What it was lacking, it appears, is the right journalist for the job.

Perhaps the reporter wasn't completely knowledgeable about the current jazz scene. But reporters don't have to be experts on everything. They have to have curiosity, research and interviewing skills, and the craft to let the interviewee speak in his or her own voice in the finished product. There were plenty of good questions we can all think of that we would have loved to ask Bix, none of which required a degree in modern music or the sort of overcooked prose that he or she seems to have lifted to fill out the article.

Another "if only..." moment.
Reply
Share

Brendan Wolfe
Brendan Wolfe

March 2nd, 2010, 12:25 am #10

The reporter easily could have known little about jazz. Just because it's the music of the day, doesn't mean everyone knew something about it. Geez, how much about rap music do any of us know? Precious little, probably.

I also don't see plagiarism, in the 1920s, as any big deal. I've always been led to believe that it happened frequently, then, and would've been easy to do, considering the world wasn't so instantly connected, as it is now. The world just wasn't as ethical, or structured, as it is now, and I agree with Emrah, it's a story about a hometown boy. It just wasn't that important, in the big scheme of things. It's only important now, because we recognize Bix for what he was, a pioneer, and now we've discovered that very little of what Bix said, in the article, were his own words. (Although, if he did say them, and we'll never know if he did, then it would be a remarkable discovery of exactly that memory he was credited with having - that - I do not find implausible. Just because he was bored, at school, doesn't mean he couldn't have had a photographic memory, or a "photographic ear" as I've heard one person describe the same sort of memory, but in relating to sound.)
Hi, Jamaica.

I agree that the reporter could easily have known little about jazz. It seems likely, in fact. I just don't think, as Emrah seemed to suggest, that the reporter knew little about jazz because s/he was from Davenport. Seems to me that if the reporter knew much about jazz -- or about reporting, or about interviewing people -- then he or she wouldn't have needed to copy another article.

I'll have you know, however, that I am well-enough acquainted with rap to love Biggie Smalls and Ludacris and Lil Wayne. And shockingly, I learned about all of them in Iowa! Who knew?*

Re whether plagiarism in the 1920s was a "big deal," I asked a former big-city journalist and now teacher about the journalistic conventions of the day, and in particular plagiarism and bylines. Here's what he told me:
Plagiarism has been endemic in newspaper journalism from the start. Papers in the 18th and 19th centuries freely reprinted material from other publications without acknowledgement. There were few or no professional standards for newspaper writers in the 20th century until the rise of journalism schools and professional organizations. Even today, as you can see from the annual plagiarism review at RegrettheError.com, it crops up in low and high places alike.

Bylines were not commonplace in newspapers until the second half of the 20th century, most particularly the past 30 or 40 years. A byline until then was thought to be an achievement, awarded for exceptional word. Today it is conferred on an employee who has rewritten, or perhaps just transcribed, a press release.
So yes, Jamaica, I think you're right that plagiarism may not have had the stigma then that it has today. But my point has never been to pass judgment on the reporter or on the Democrat. I mean, I do think it's a spectacularly lazy and irresponsible piece of journalism even by the ethical standards of the 1920s. After all, this is not just plagiarism; it's fraud (as I think Albert once described it). The reporter is taking the words and hard-earned ideas of someone else and giving them to Bix for free. But that's all beside the point, which is to figure out what happened. And what happened, I think, and as I've said way too many times now, is plagiarism.**

One more point regarding Bix's remarkable memory: I certainly have never denied that he had it; it just doesn't seem to me to be particularly relevant here either way. Picture a scene where you're a reporter showing up at someone's house with an assignment to interview him. You ask a couple break-the-ice-type questions and get nothing. But then the person begins to recite to you -- verbatim -- a thousand-word article. No give and take. No conversation. No dumb questions and half-hearted answers. Just this article. Word for word. Can you even imagine how odd that would be? And he's not even reading it from paper. He's reciting it from memory! I likely would stare dumbly at the guy for at least a moment or two before writing anything down. If I had half a brain, I would ask the person what this article was, where it came from, why he was reciting it to me, what I was supposed to do with it. I would be less inclined to just run to the office and attribute it all to Bix -- that is if I picked my jaw up from the floor in time to write most of what he said down in the first place.

And yet ... Albert's informant would have us believe (if I correctly understand what he's saying) that this is not only plausible, it is the most likely scenario. It doesn't make sense, and to be honest, I don't understand the motivation behind even trying to get it to make sense.

---

* For the record, I also love Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn and John Prine and Son House and Louis Jordan and Serge Gainsbourg and the Replacements and even Lady Gaga . . . I'm musically omnivorous. But the more important point is that we need to be more skeptical of our assumptions about one another.

</i> Why are we so quick to say this was <i>just a hometown paper writing about a hometown boy? In a town where nobody knew or cared about jazz? Strikes me as horribly condescending to Davenport, a city that has not earned such condescension.
Reply
Share