Snopes, the popular fact-checking site, has suspended its co-founder over plagiarized content.
According to BuzzFeed News, the outlet confirmed it was retracting 54 articles published by David Mikkelson, who helped launch the site in 1994 alongside his ex-wife Barbara Mikkelson. The decision was announced after BuzzFeed presented Snopes with dozens of articles containing plagarized material lifted from publications like the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian. The articles in question were written between 2015-2019, and were published Mikkelson’s name, his alias Jeff Zarronandia, and the Snopes byline.
After being contacted by BuzzFeed, the website conducted internal research and determined a number of Mikkelson’s articles included lifted language, sentences, and even entire paragraphs without any attribution. Mikkelson has since been relieved of his editorial duties as Snopes completes an internal probe.
“Let us be clear: Plagiarism undermines our mission and values, full stop,” Snopes’ chief operating officer Vinny Green and managing editor Doreen Marchionni wrote in a statement. “It has no place in any context within this organization. We invite readers to let us know here if they find any other examples of plagiarized content so that we can apply the same treatment as above. We talk often in the newsroom about the priceless value of reputation — that we are worth no more than the credibility we maintain with our community. Our reputation is dependent on our ability to get things right, and more importantly, to quickly correct the record when we are wrong. We are committed to a lifetime of atonement through the rigorous pursuit of the facts, especially in scenarios such as this.”
Snopes staff members also released a joint statement condemning Mikkelson’s actions, claiming no other writer or editor encouraged or participated in these practices.
“We have all been held to very high journalistic standards, both by our editors and by our audience,” the staffers wrote. “Although none of us was to blame for the actions of Snopes’ co-founder, we empathize with the journalists whose work was appropriated. This simply should never have happened.”
Mikkelson expressed regret over his plagiarism, and said there was no excuse for his “serious lapses in judgement.” He suggested his behavior stemmed from his lack of a journalism background, and he was simply unfamiliar with news aggregation.
“While I can’t change the past, I couldn’t be prouder of how Snopes has evolved ...” he said in a statement. “Snopes has grown beyond our roots as a ‘one-man band’ website into a newsroom of dedicated, professional journalists who serve the public with trustworthy information. Thanks to their efforts, Snopes has published original reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent elections, Russian disinformation efforts and so much more. The last thing I ever wanted was to have my mistakes detract from their excellent work, and I’m doing everything I can to make it right.”