Snopes, an outlet dedicated to fact-checking, has suspended its co-founder after plagiarism was discovered in dozens of articles over several years following a BuzzFeed News investigation.
Two members of Snopes's senior management said in a statement posted to Twitter and its website on Friday that co-founder David Mikkelson was suspended pending the results of an internal review.
The statement from Snopes's managing editor Doreen Marchionni and chief operating officer Vinny Green said the internal investigation was launched after BuzzFeed News inquired about "more than two dozen examples" of content that appeared to be plagiarized from various news outlets.
BuzzFeed journalist Dean Sterling Jones reported finding dozens of articles published under Mikkelson's name or a pseudonym where material from news organizations was copied word for word.
“Our internal research so far has found a total of 54 stories Mikkelson published that used appropriated material, including all of the stories Buzzfeed shared with us,” Marchionni and Green said in a public apology issued Friday.
BuzzFeed reported that Mikkelson also wrote emails and Slack messages that appeared to encourage such tactics among writers.
“Usually when a hot real news story breaks (such as a celebrity death), I just find a wire service or other news story about it and publish it on the site verbatim to quickly get a page up. Once that’s done, then I quickly start editing the page to reword it and add material from other sources to make it not plagiarized,” Mikkelson reportedly said in a 2016 Slack message cited by BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed reported that staff were also told by Mikkelson in emails to “pop over to one of our competitor sites (urbanlegends.com or hoaxslayer.com), pick something out that they’ve recently published that we haven’t covered” and "rewrite it just enough to avoid copyright infringement.”
Mikkelson acknowledged his past behavior in an interview with BuzzFeed, saying there were "a number of times I crossed the line to where it was copyright infringement. I own that." He told BuzzFeed that he "didn't come from a journalism background” and “wasn’t used to doing news aggregation.”
The Hill has reached out to Snopes for further comment.
“We strongly condemn these poor journalistic practices. No writer participated in this behavior, nor did any editors — Doreen Marchionni, Camille Knox, and David Emery — support or encourage these practices,” reads a note from eight Snopes staff writers published Friday.
The apology from senior management stated that the plagiarized articles will be removed, but the page will stay up with an editor’s note added to explain why the page was taken down and giving credit to the original outlets that were plagiarized.
"To the staff, past, present, and future, who are undoubtedly impacted by these findings, we are deeply sorry. While an individual’s actions have caused this breach of our ethics, we hope the extraordinary writers and editors who work at Snopes do not see their efforts and reputation undermined by these missteps," Green and Marchionni said.