Reflecting on Breitbart’s Plagiarism of Spectator Coverage

Reflecting on Breitbart’s Plagiarism of Spectator Coverage

It was shocking for me to see our reporting cited by Breitbart, and it was even more shocking for me to find my writing plagiarized in their article.

After we covered Sundborg’s decision to remove Planned Parenthood as a resource from Seattle University’s website, this story was picked up by Breitbart. Though our reporting was cited in their article, the writer lifted several phrases and sentences directly from our article.

Breitbart as a publication is created by and for those with a white supremacist agenda. Thus, it comes as little surprise that its reporters are willing to steal writing from student journalists.

As a small student newspaper with a staff of 23 people and little institutional backing, we are powerless in terms of holding Breitbart accountable. We do not have the resources to pursue a case against their publication, and we will likely never see their article taken down.

On an academic level, it is interesting to see the details that Breitbart selected to steal from our reporting and the details that they withheld—for example, they switched out “Planned Parenthood” for “abortion business,” and they ignored our coverage of gender-affirming care.

But on a more personal level, I feel sick that my labor and my work is being exploited for the sake of a white supremacist agenda. We spent time and energy covering a story that is deeply important to us and our community, and that labor has been taken from us and used against our will to benefit a neo-Nazi publication.

It’s absurd that the words we typed on a Google Doc now exist on a neo-Nazi publication, and it makes me feel powerless to know that those words have been stolen from us and now belong to white supremacists.

In essence, my words and labor are bringing profit to a publication as disgusting as Breitbart, and I have been forced into providing content for an ideology that I find loathsome.

At the same time, as a writer for a publication that’s available online, my work is available to anyone with any belief. This includes white supremacists and radical right-wingers. As such, it becomes ever more important to do my job as a journalist diligently and in a way that is empowering and just.

As a gatekeeper of information and a storyteller entrusted with the responsibility of accuracy and ethical reporting, this experience serves as a reminder that my words and ideas exist in the world—with or without my name attached to them.

Though I may choose not to write at racist publications like Breitbart, my work enters the same realm as the one Breitbart exists in, and as a result, my writing needs to stand for itself as humane and ethical. Otherwise, they can cause real damage if my writing is disempowering or misleading.

Breitbart is a publication that has influenced white supremacists to commit acts of violence, its articles influence political discussion, and those who were on its editorial staff in the past like Steve Bannon have served in the White House. The ideas discussed at Breitbart have influenced child separation policies and other racist actions taken by the U.S. government.

This power is frightening. This experience has forced me to come to terms with the effects of our writing and the reach of our reporting. While this reality makes me nervous to continue to do my job, it can also be an empowering truth.

If our work has the potential to do harm, it also has the potential to make meaningful change for the better. And by taking ownership of the effects of our writing, we can craft stories with intention and power.

— Josh Merchant, co-signed by Frances Divinagracia, Alec Downing and Sofía Muro-Wells