Ethics Dunces In Arms: Gloria Steinem And The New York Times Demonstrate How “The Star Syndrome” Works

Gloria 2017 (right), with her ghostwriter, Gloria 2007 ( left)

Last week, Gloria Steinem authored an op-ed in The New York Times headlined, “Women Have Chick-Flicks. What About Men?”.

It was standard issue male-bashing; biased and badly researched junk, but more interestingly, at least half of it was ten years old, substantially lifted from a piece Steinem wrote for the Women’s Media Center website in 2007. This kind of lazy self-plagiarism is a major ethical breach that respectable publications do not suffer gladly, at least when the miscreant isn’t a feminist icon that their editors worship, or at least feel has earned immunity from those annoying ethical principles lesser mortals have to deal with.

As an aside, it really is a silly op-ed, not worthy of publication the first time, much less plagiarizing now. Some excerpts:

I was on a flight from New York to Seattle when a long delay on the tarmac prompted the airline to offer us a free movie. As the flight attendant read the choices aloud, a young man across the aisle said, “I don’t watch chick flicks!” I knew what he meant, and so did the woman sitting next to me. A “chick flick” is one that has more dialogue than car chases, more relationships than special effects, and whose suspense comes more from how people live than from how they get killed.

Translation: “Men are morons, women are sophisticates.” No generalizations or stereotypes there…

Think about it: If “Anna Karenina” had been by Leah Tolstoy, or “The Scarlet Letter” by Nancy Hawthorne or “A Doll’s House” by Henrietta Ibsen — if “The Invisible Man” had been “The Invisible Woman” — would they have been hailed as classics? Suppose Shakespeare had really been the Dark Lady who some people still think he/she was. I bet most of her plays and all of her sonnets would have been dismissed as ye olde Elizabethan chick lit and buried until they were resurrected by stubborn feminist scholars of today.

Two words: Prove it. Since  very few  great female authors were writing similarly brilliant literature in those periods, Steinem’s bet is rigged. Where are those buried woman-authored masterpieces that stand up as the equals of “King Lear” and  “War and Peace”? I’ll make another bet: I bet if those works had been written by women, we’d know it, and they would be just as admired and immortal as the works authored by men. Has Gloria heard of Wuthering Heights? Jane Eyre? Frankenstein? Pride and Prejudice? Has she heard of Jane Austen?

But I digress.

The original article published referred to that airplane flight as taken by Steinem  “recently.” That word was taken out after Gloria’s cheat was discovered, and this “Editor’s Note” was added:

Because of a misunderstanding by the editors, it was discovered only after publication that this article reproduces in substantial part an essay by the same writer that appeared on the Women’s Media Center website in 2007 and was republished by other outlets. It is not The Times’s policy to print previously published work without attribution. In addition, the article referred incorrectly to the timing of a flight during which “chick flicks” were mentioned. It was not “recently,” the flight having occurred in 2007.

Oh, it’s the EDITORS’ fault that Steinem submitted, word for word, a large chunk of a previously published work, is it? What “misunderstanding’?  Foolishly trusting Gloria Steinem not to cheat the Times and its readers? Is that it? Assuming that Steinem knew that “Please write an op-ed for us” didn’t mean “Pull and old one out your trunk’? Was that the misunderstanding.

When New Yorker contributor Jonah Lehrer was discovered to have engaged in self-plagiarism (as well as regular plagiarism), he was run out of journalism. The New Yorker didn’t excuse his dishonesty by saying that it was due to their “misunderstanding.” But then, he wasn’t a feminist icon who deserves a special, blame-free standard:

Rationalization #11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others..

Does anyone think that if KellyAnne Conway, Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin has submitted an op-ed similarly recycled, the Times editors would have fallen on their swords for them? Come on, all you “Biased? The mainstream news media isn’t biased!” Jumbo-ites out there. I dare you. Make that case. I can’t wait.

Not that the op-ed isn’t informative, now that we know its history. It reveals the depressinly cynical, partisan dishonesty of the feminist movement, which like the civil rights movement, cares more about partisan loyalty than its own mission and principles. 2007, eh? So Gloria had no complaints about the culture when it was under the stewardship of a Democratic President. This actually makes sense: Gloria Steinem completely debased herself and rejected integrity when she supported the concept of powerful men making sexual advances on their employees  in order to give  Bill Clinton’s treatment of Monica Lewisky the seal of approval—yup, Rationalization #11 again.

It’s so nice that Gloria is getting the benefit of it herself, now, don’t you think?


Pointer: Acculturated

24 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces In Arms: Gloria Steinem And The New York Times Demonstrate How “The Star Syndrome” Works

  1. What should the editors have said, Jack? Steinem certainly bears the largest burden of responsibility here for self-plagiarizing, but I also think it is the editors’ job to ensure they aren’t being fooled. I think it’s good that they took responsibility in this case, but they should do that in every case.

    • What? I made their equivocation pretty clear. “Misunderstanding” is a euphemism for “We trusted her, and she took advantage of it.”

      Editor’s note: This piece was falsely represented to us as original and current, and it was not. It is an updated piece Ms. Steinem wrote 10 years ago, and was published elsewhere. The Times does not knowingly publish such material without attribution, and was misled by the author. We apologize to our readers.

  2. This post covers a lot of issues. I wonder if Steinem ever read Mary Shelly’s *Frankenstein* or Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry. Anyway, she remains a feminist hack although a lot of women seem to think that she is a profound thinker. Btw, I dislike movies like “Fried Green Tomatoes” which is definitely a weepy chick flick. What happened to movies like “Mildred Pierce” about strong, complex women characters??

    • Don’t forget Lady Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote The Tale of Genji, one of the world’s first complicated novels, Agatha Christie, who created detective Hercule Poirot, Louisa May Alcott, who could write a mean thriller when she wasn’t writing drippy sentimental stuff about the March family, and Ursula K. Le Guin and Katherine Kurtz, as good of fantasy writers as any of the men, until superseded by J.K. Rowling (though Ms. Rowling should stick to writing and stay out of politics). On the kinder side the world would be the poorer without Johanna Spyri, who gave us Heidi, Eleanor Porter, who made Pollyanna glad, and Cornelia Meigs, Bryn Mawr professor and towering figure of children’s literature, who, unfortunately, most of us only know from playing “Authors.” Women can actually do a pretty awesome job at writing if they just put pen to paper and stay away from ranting and worrying about The Message.

  3. Gloria Steinem is — or should be – a non-entity. That the NYT would pull out an aging 60s activist — and plaigiarst to boot — for any kind of analysis is pathetic. Clearly, she can’t be bothered to know either basic political or literary history. Shame on her and the NYT. Here’s a question: How many millenials (or even Y2Ks) know who she even is? She is old, old, old news, and her opinions mean NOTHING. I am NOT denigrating people of a certain age (being one myself) but Steinem is stuck in the 60s and the 15-minutes if fame that came with it.

    The NYT (to which I still subscribe if only to watch the total loss of ethics in the media as it unfolds — a $90/month commitment BTW) seems to be running out of fun stuff and reaching back as far as they can to trash Trump. Soon I expect to see some analysis of Trump and James Madison: the intellectual vs. the asshole.

    And Jack, sorry, but Steinem is — except apparently for NYT readers, is in no way a STAR. So I object to the “Star Syndrome” rationalization. There must be a different one you can cite.

  4. I have two words for Gloria Steinem if she thinks women, given the chance, would always write superior literary fiction and not chick fiction: Nora Roberts.

  5. The op-ed is garbage, and it says something that the writer had to reach back 10 years to produce even garbage. The last time Gloria had an original idea she clearly left it swirling in the bowl. This isn’t even star syndrome, this is hack syndrome, based on the first two truths – that people are biased and partisan. The women out there wearing pink hats in the shape of human genitals and writing poems that are just stream of consciousness venom are the only people reading this crap and thinking “clever” or “you tell ’em, Gloria!” Well, maybe their whipped beta partners, too. This sounds like one of those rants I used to hear from the ugly female philosophy majors in college, here written because in the real world I might left her get about three sentences into this crap before I told her to STFU.

  6. I just had a conversation with my editor about this subject. I don’t think it’s an ethical breach if I copy and paste boilerplate background information, as long it it’s just a few sentences. If it’s more than a paragraph or two, though, it needs to be rewritten. My editor agreed with me.

    When you’re talking about columns, it’s a different animal, because the pact with the reader is that the columnist is sharing his or her immediate thoughts about an issue.

    But I don’t think it’s unethical to self-plagiarize if I’m writing a straight news story about, say, a bill to build a new road, and I paste word-for-word from a previous story I wrote, “similar proposals were introduced in 1999, 2004 and 2013, although none of the measures passed in the legislature.”

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