See no evil

Fox News plagiarizes college students. And all they get is a funny T-shirt.

Here’s how the journalism food chain works these days – with cable news as sharks and college journalists as plankton…


The student newspaper at Duquesne University, a small private Catholic school in Pittsburgh, writes a story about LGBT students who don’t want a Chick-fil-A opening on campus.

The newspaper, called The Duke, quotes one Student Government leader with the groovy name of Niko Martini: “Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights.”

The Duke also quotes a woman named Rachel Coury, the president of Duquesne’s LGBT student group…

I’ve tried very hard within the last semester and a half to promote this safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. So I fear that with the Chick-fil-A being in Options that maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.


A website called Campus Reform, a conservative “watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” picks up The Duke’s story.

Written by an “investigative reporter,” the headline is…

Students ‘fear’ Chick-fil-A will jeopardize ‘safe place’

…yet the entire story is a rewrite of The Duke’s reporting. At least that’s acknowledged – sort of…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini remarked in a statement to The Duquesne Duke.

So the headline is based on one student’s comment, and the story contains not one quote – or even fact – that The Duke didn’t write. In other words, this “investigative reporter” did zero investigating. Or even reporting.


The story goes national on The Daily Caller, a conservative website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Under the headline University’s LGBT Students ‘Fear’ Arrival Of Chick-fil-A, here’s the lede…

Some students at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University live in “fear” of the arrival of a Chick-fil-A fast-food restaurant to their college’s food fair, Campus Reform reports.

The Duke only gets mentioned once, in the middle of the story…

“Chick-fil-A has a questionable history on civil rights and human rights,” Martini told The Duquesne Duke.


The story inevitably makes Fox News.

Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt interviews Sean Parnell, a former Army Ranger and Duquesne alum who’s an occasional Fox commentator.

Under a graphic that reads, “RUFFLING FEATHERS,” Earhardt sums up the story without mentioning any sources, which implies Fox did the reporting.

Parnell jumps in with comments like, “They’re a bunch of babies” and “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

(He also says some things I personally agree with, like, “Nobody is forcing them to eat at Chick-fil-A.” But this isn’t about me.)

Then Earhardt says this about Duquesne’s “gay straight alliance”…

We reached out to the president, and she sent this message to us: “I fear with the Chick-fil-A maybe people will feel that safe place is at risk.”

Except that’s a lie. Fox News never reached out to anyone.


The Duke reclaims its story by asking that president, Rachel Coury, if she really did tell Fox News the exact same thing she told them.

Coury replied…

Fox News stated that they reached out to me for comment, and that I gave them the statement they read on-air, but this is false. I never communicated with Fox News. I never gave them the statement they read on-air.

Unlike the “professionals” who didn’t follow up on this story, The Duke tried…

The Duke reached out to Fox News Wednesday night, and did not receive a response by press time.

They still haven’t. And that really pisses off these two women.


“What Fox News did – or more specifically, what it didn’t do – violates a core part of SPJ’s Code of Ethics,” says SPJ president Lynn Walsh, whose day job is investigative executive producer at the NBC affiliate in San Diego.

“The timing couldn’t be more ironic – this is Ethics Week at SPJ,” Walsh says. “One major tenet of our code is: Never plagiarize. Always attribute. By not contacting the student and then using a quote from another publication without attribution, Fox News didn’t practice ethical journalism standards. To do this to college students seem even more wrong.”

That’s precisely what galls The Duke’s staff.

“It’s absurd that as 20-somethings working for a school newspaper, we at The Duke have a better grasp of media ethics than Fox News,” says editor-in-chief Kaye Burnet. “If one of my writers was caught plagiarizing another journalist’s work like this, they would be removed from The Duke’s staff immediately.”

What really enrages Burnet is that her reporter, Zachary Landau, got shafted.

“Zach is a volunteer,” she says. “To see Ainsley pass off Zach’s work as her own was disgusting. Obviously, Fox has so much more power and influence than The Duke. They can steal other people’s work without consequence, and there’s very little we can do about it.”

That’s the the most powerful journalism lesson Burnet and her staff will learn this month. Maybe ever.


Sadly, SPJ doesn’t have a lot of power, either. But we do have T-shirts.

So to raise money (for poor Zach) and awareness (for Burnet and her staff), SPJ SMACK is selling shirts that say, “The Duquesne Duke” on the front and “We’re so good, Fox News steals our s#!t” on the back.

Want one? It’s yours for only $15. ORDER NOW!

I bought two – one for me and one for Ainsley Earhardt. Wonder if she’ll wear it.

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

15 Responses to “See no evil”

  1. Emily Bloch Says:

    It’s gross when the “pros” plagiarize students. It’s damning when they do it during Ethics Week.

  2. Jason Parsley Says:

    Hmmmm sounds like you have a personal story on this one?

  3. Emily Bloch Says:

    Yep! I’m no stranger to being plagiarized while student editor. But it was by a local pub. Not Fox on national television. That’s gross.

  4. Irwin Gratz Says:

    Read The Duke’s original story and you’ll also be struck by how much more professional was their job, than any of the knock-offs that followed. It affirms a principle we added to the SPJ Code of Ethics that stresses the importance of providing the audience original “source material.” In this case, reading it would make the reader much better informed.
    Irwin Gratz
    Past President, Society of Professional Journalists

  5. Jason Parsley Says:

    I agree!

  6. joe pye Says:

    Just another example of Fox News bullying the American people. A “news” channel pushing their own agenda, now they’re stealing words of college students to push their own agenda.

  7. Ben Paley Says:

    I am not surprised. Student journalism is a thousand times better written and researched than anything Fox News could pull out.

  8. MosesZD Says:

    Sadly no. It’s often far worse.

  9. Ryan Lynch Says:

    Fox News: “Fair and balanced… and probably plagiarized.”

  10. Frank Gottlieb Says:

    They plagiarize from the right and the left.

  11. Kerri-Marie Covington Says:

    It’s getting more and more difficult to tell if Fox News is grossly incompetent or just brazen enough to openly not give a shit about the journalistic process. Given Coury’s response, my money’s on the latter.

  12. Maggie Gottlieb Says:

    I guess they didn’t see the giant ad in Times Square promoting ETHICS in JOURNALISM. As the kids say, “shaking my head….”

  13. Nathael Nkumbu Says:

    Ah Fox News. May your “professional journalist” never cease to fuck up and set an example for everyone in the business NOT to follow.

  14. Jean Reid Norman Says:

    I might use this in a class to explain how plagiarism occurs. It’s a good case study.

  15. Andy Schotz Says:

    This goes beyond giving credit. Saying you tried to reach someone for comment, but you didn’t, is lying.


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