“The Katz stuff was flat out plagiarism,” says the Harper’s fact-checker. “At least twenty instances of sentences that were exactly the same. Three grafs where a ‘that’ was changed to a ‘which.’” The fact-checker reiterated to me that first-person accounts in Hedges’s draft had him quoting the same sources as in Katz’s pieces, with the sources using exactly the same wording as in Katz’s pieces. “Hedges not only used another journalist’s quotes,” says the fact-checker, “but he used them in first-person scenes, claiming he himself gathered the quotes. It was one of the worst things I’d ever seen as a fact-checker at the magazine. And it was endemic throughout the piece.”
The fact-checker spoke on the phone with Hedges at least three times and exchanged about a dozen e-mails with him. “He was very unhelpful from the beginning, and very aggressive,” said the fact-checker. Hedges repeatedly claimed he had done original reporting. “Hedges reassured me there were no problems,” said Ross. “He then went to the fact-checker and tried to intimidate him and give him a hard time. Hedges told him, ‘Why are you going to the editor?’”
The fact-checker told me, “Not only was the plagiarism more egregious than I had seen before, but it was shocking how unapologetic Hedges was when it was put in his face. He got very heavy-handed about it. He kept claiming that the people quoted in the Katz piece gave him the exact same quotes.”
According to Ross and the fact-checker, Hedges then tried to circumvent their questions by appealing privately to Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur, who at the time was a personal friend.
“After it became clear that we had a serious problem, the reaction at the magazine was admirable,” Ross said. “Ellen brought me in to talk to Hedges on the phone when we killed it. He was very upset. He didn’t believe he did anything wrong. It was a hostile conversation between the three of us. It got heated. I said words to the effect of ‘Chris, we’re doing you a favor here. You don’t want to go out with that kind of work. Because you’ll get caught. Someone is going to catch you.’ I thought it was all pretty sad. Here was a chance to do a creative, smart, impactful story on poverty and we lost it because he wasn’t willing to do the work.” Hedges has not been invited to write for Harper’s again.