By Vexen Crabtree 2016
HarperCollins is owned by News Corp1, a company deeply mired in complaints about poor publishing methods. Some of the same behaviour surfaces in HarperCollins itself. In 1997 it blocked the publishing of a book about Hong Kong that was critical of China because Murdoch was expanding into China and so wanted to court the Chinese government, and bizarrely in 2015 it removed Israel from the Collins Middle East Atlas to appease schools in the Middle East who didn't like Israel. HarperCollins is a massive enterprise with many subsidiaries, it suffers very few misdemeanours and is in the whole a respectable outfit but allowing such typically-Murdoch strategies to interfere with the facts presented in factual books has damaged the reputation of HarperCollins both in terms of its intellectual values and trustworthiness of its books.
Chris Patten was governor of Hong Kong before it was returned to China by the UK in 1997. His book East and West was blocked by Rupert Murdoch because it was critical of China, and, Rupert Murdoch wanted to expand his business empire (News International) into China. Murdoch is infamous for using skewed newspaper reporting for his own political ends, typically by doing deals with politicians where he gains business advantage in exchange for positive reporting of the politicians' party (or negative reporting of his enemies, of course). See Rupert Murdoch and News Corp's Involvements in Politics for examples.
“Ray Snoddy, media editor of Mr Murdoch's own paper The Times, believes that it was indeed Mr Murdoch's ambitions in the Chinese market that thwarted Mr Patten's book. He said: "It seems to me completely obvious that the Chris Patten book was dropped by HarperCollins because it might be seen as a threat to those economic aspirations.”
The UK government's official enquiry into corruption, bribery and allegations of large-scale misconduct at some of Murdoch's newspapers2 examined these accusations; Mr Proffitt, HarperCollins' editor at the time, stated that Murdoch's move was clear a result of his ambition with the government, and was fired. The story ends positively however, after a legal campaign Chris Patten resulted in his being given an apology and a £50,000 payout3 and commentators said that "never again" would HarperCollins be trusted as a respected publisher as long as it remained within Murdoch's empire.
Benjamin Radford is a skeptical investigator and perhaps the world's topmost expert on the chupacabra, a mythical monster of the same ilk as bigfoot and the Lock Ness Monster. He stumbled across a book which led to an interesting exposé of the way New Age material is churned out with little in the way of editorial checks on quality or accuracy. The book, published by HarperCollins, was authored by Theresa Cheung, who, according to her Amazon profile was "born into a family of psychics and astrologers. She gave her first public psychic reading at the age of 14 and has been involved in the serious study of the psychic world ever since". Her books typically feature in the mind-body-spirit section and she in 2013 wrote a column for The Daily Mail on dream interpretation.
Radford's interest was piqued by the following paragraph in Theresa Cheung's book:
“In 2005, Isaac Espinoza spent millions of his own money trying to hunt down the chupacabra. He lived in the jungles of South America for eight months with a team of researchers, video and print journalists, and local guides.”
Radford looked into Isaac Espinoza, a man who he's never heard of before, only to find after extended and methodical searching, that he didn't exist. He was a figment of the imagination of anonymous web authors, and exactly the same paragraph of text about him has been copied to a few monster-hunter websites. She copied this fictional character into her book and now, for years to come, innocent readers will forever believe in Isaac Espinoza, and even have a referenceable book to back up their belief. How did this happen?
“The author, Theresa Cheung, surely hadn't just made him up in a reference work published by HarperCollins. [...] It seemed clear that Cheung had simply cut and pasted the information about Espinoza from the web and into the chupacabra entry in the encyclopedia she was writing. If she was so indifferent to factual accuracy in her book that she would use someone else's words without bothering to check if the information was true (much less 'credit' them), then what did that say about her other research? [...] Using my own chupacabra notes, books from my library, and the Internet, after several hours I identified no less than four different sources from which Cheung had taken her words, often verbatim. I was shocked that that plagiarism was so obvious and so rampant. [...] Over 80% of her entry was taken, uncredited, from other sources. [...] Once we knew what to look for, it became clear how Cheung 'wrote' those entries of her book; she merely typed a subject name into the Google search engine and then cut and pasted paragraphs from the top three or four hits, changed a few words, and then submitted it as her own work. [...] There are likely more (many more) entries that may have been copied from other sources, but we stopped after finding evidence of plagiarism in a stunning eight out of ten randomly-selected entries we spot-checked.
The findings were sent to HarperCollins, who (basically) dismissed them as being an ordinary level of human error! The researchers are continuing to collect evidence from other articles in Theresa Cheung's encyclopedia.”
Benjamin Radford wasn't the first to sound the alarm about the plagiarism of Theresa Cheung. A few years earlier Niels K. Petersen described her book as "an inaccurate mix of information taken from various sources"5. Shame on Theresa Cheung, and shame on HarperCollins for failing to perform basic plagiarism checks on its text before publishing it.
The Collins Middle East Atlas is said by HarperCollins to be "specifically designed for schools in Middle East countries". But still, I had to check with multiple sources before I accepted that Murdoch's company had removed Israel from its maps for Middle East Muslim schools. The move attracted widespread ridicule and criticism, and thankfully the company resultantly restored the existence of Israel. Just be pleased they don't sell SatNavs.
“The Tablet the first to notice that this meant its map of the area “shows Jordan and Syria extending all the way to the Mediterranean”. Gaza and the West Bank are both labelled, but Israel does not appear.
HarperCollins subsidiary Collins Bartholomew told the Tablet last week that the decision to exclude Israel reflected "local preferences", and that including Israel in the atlas would have been "unacceptable" to its Gulf customers. [...]
HarperCollins, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has now issued a statement on its Facebook page, saying that it "regrets the omission of the name Israel from their Collins Middle East Atlas".”
It is interesting how even with this retraction they tried to play down the scale of the distortion, calling it "omission of the name" as if it was as simple as a mere word. It wasn't - the region was designed, with Jordan and Syria being extended. It casts doubt on the values of the staff if such an obvious falsehood can be included in a textbook for reasons of strategy.
Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp have gained a reputation for being powerful political players. The desire to win the favour of his news publications have allowed him to stand up and knock down entire governments. In 1968 he done a secret deal with the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia ('Black Jack' McEwen) to destroy the political career of Billy McMahon, a rival7. The Secret Service were told to investigate fake claims, and Murdoch ran the story, causing an outcry against Billy McMahon. He also played with the careers of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser. In 1969 Murdoch swapped favours to get the law changed so he could export business assets, and began his global career7. He engaged in the same political chess in the UK, dealing with Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Woodrow Wyatt and then Tony Blair. A deal with Thatcher exchanged positive reporting in the news for the securing of Murdoch's purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times8,9. A Government investigation in 2011 and 2012 saw Murdoch reveal that when he switched his paper's support from Labour to the Conservatives the Prime Minister (a close personal friend) called him with bitter threats. The true story is that these politically corrupt relationships with Murdoch shouldn't have developed in the first place. Murdoch's staff also frequently developed close personal relationships with key senior police officials, skewing and preventing some police investigations into journalistic misbehaviour10.
Murdoch's papers were caught in an epic series of scandals for using large-scale criminal and hacking techniques to invade people's privacy in order to get stories. It resulted in the closure of News of the World in 20111. The police's Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers said that The Sun had a "culture of illegal payments"11. In 2011 the UK Prime Minister said "all party leaders had turned a blind eye to warning signs, because they were so keen to win the support of newspapers"12. The result was a 2-year government investigation, The Leveson Inquiry2. It noted that the Leaders of all three main UK political parties spoke for politicians in general in sounding the alarms and declaring that the relationship between senior press staff and politicians had become dangerously close. The evidence "clearly demonstrates" that this has been true over the last 30-35 years, and that this has worked against the public interest13.
The warnings of academics about the institutional biases of Murdoch's news outlets are longstanding and the bias is so great that it has a statistically detectable effect. In the USA, a University study from 2011 found that those who watched Murdoch's Fox News channel were less knowledgeable about current events even than those who watched no news at all - in other words, Fox News spreads misinformation14.”
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source..
The Guardian. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Respectable and generally well researched UK broadsheet newspaper..
Skeptical Inquirer. Magazine. Published by Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, NY, USA. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly.
The Daily Telegraph. UK newspaper. See Which are the Best and Worst Newspapers in the UK?. Published by The Telegraph Media Group. National broadsheet. It is one of the UK's many right-wing and traditionalist papers.
Leveson, Lord Justice
(2012) The Leveson Inquiry. Subtitled: "An Inquiry Into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press". Published by The Stationary Office, UK. Dated 2012 Nov. Official UK government document. Available for download from www.official-documents.gov.uk . The full report is spreadh across 4 volumes, totalling 2000 pages. I've used the 48-page Executive Summary which contains numbered paragraphs and these as referenced directly. Accessed 2016 Nov 09.
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