Another Journalist Down
Late last night, I learned that my good friend Ken Parish Perkins has resigned as TV critic at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper amid charges he plagiarized several passages of past stories.
For those who don't know Ken's work, that's like hearing that Picasso ripped off other painters or Shakespeare lifted lines from a no-name contemporary. As we got to know each other during several years side-by-side covering the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, Ken developed a reputation as a quietly intense, brilliant writer -- someone who would hardly need to use other people's words in his work.
Quite simply, I always felt he was one of the best arts critics in the country. And it was particularly inspiring that he was a black man asking the same questions about race, culture and entertainment that I was.
With so much going on that is demoralizing in journalism -- Judith Miller's shenanigans, Bob Woodward's lapse, Mary Mapes' blame-shifting -- the news about Ken has hit me particularly hard. Last year, I saw another promising young black arts journalist felled by plagiarism problems -- Greg Fields of the Macon Telegraph, who I mentored briefly. And Bob Betcher, longtime TV critic at the Stuart News, recently passed away. So it feels as if my friends are slowly falling away.
My attitude wasn't helped by the Star-Telegram's explanation of the nature of the transgressions they found, which they said involved long sentences or phrases taken from other publications without attribution: "Almost all of the questionable content involved a sentence or two of background material found far into the story. But the evidence represented a clear pattern to Star-Telegram editors that Perkins was violating our ethics policy on attribution of material that was not original. "
Plagiarism is, of course, a serious offense for a journalist. But I want to believe in my friend, and I can't help wondering if this wasn't some horrible mistake -- a bad habit that went on too long or an oversight allowed to stand for too long.
UPDATE: Former Chicago Tribune TV critic John Cook has posted his own blog item on Ken, alleging he left that newspaper's TV critic job amid charges he had fabricated material in some stories. See John's item here.)
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Richard Prince has the first post-resignation interview with Ken, in which he says he "can't take the lies" about his career and explains that the offending paragraph was a piece of research which he forgot to rewrite in the story.
More than ever, journalism is starting to feel like a precarious profession.