School Board President gets an ‘F’

The president of the San Leandro school board, writing a posting on his blog, borrowed portions of the article without citation from a well-know web site.

In an email response, School Board President Mike Katz called the allegation a non-story, but indicated the dearth of online news regarding former Mayor Jack Maltester’s death May 1 led him to the Wikipedia page.

Katz notes a citation to his May 3 posting on his blog San Leandro Bytes was posted to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that can be updated by anyone and notorious for proffering false information and media hoaxes as proof his article is actually the foundation of the Wikipedia entry. He denies using the site without attribution.

Visitors to the site can add and delete information on any subject without approval. Wikipedia’s accuracy, though, has proven just as reliable as a standard encyclopedia and offers a greater number of entries on virtually any topic.

“I’m familiar enough with Wikipedia to not be foolish enough to rely upon it as a sole source of information for pretty much anything,” said Katz, “ I can assure that the information I posted on my blog did not come from Wikipedia.”

Further investigation, though, reveals the entry updated May 3 with a link attributed to Katz’s blog is nearly identical to versions of the article as far back as May 2007 edited by an unknown poster not known to be Katz. (Click here to view the Wikipedia page on Maltester, Katz would have viewed before writing his article.)

Katz revealed he has revised the posting on Maltester in the past.

The issue of plagiarism and academic dishonesty regularly plagues all levels of academia and has dragged under the reputations of many notable writers. A charge of plagiarism in the classroom routinely brings a failing grade or even expulsion.

The opening paragraph of the offending posting opens in a similar fashion to the Wikipedia page. Early versions of the page attribute the information to a 2006 posting on Katz’s blog—using the the first line verbatim, while condensing the remaining information. In a bizarre twist that highlights the Brave New World of blogging, Katz, in a sense, plagiarizes himself by using similar phrasing from the retooled article for his blog posting.

Subsequent paragraphs of Katz’s posting reveal clear similarities namely in structure, content and tone.

Katz follows with similar sentences on Maltester’s testimony on May 6, 1967 to a U.S. Commission of Civil Rights and his tenure as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The last Wikipedia revision before Katz’s article in December 2008 reads:

Maltester served as President of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) from 1969 to 1970. In 1971, he sponsored a resolution at the annual USCM meeting in Philadelphia, entitled “Withdrawal from Vietnam and Reordering of National Priorities”, which called upon then-President of the United States, Richard Nixon, “to do all within his power to bring about a complete withdrawal of all American forces from Vietnam by December 31, 1971.” Speaking in support of the resolution, Maltester said,

I might ask you: Have we left anything up until now to the military experts or have we been running a political war in Vietnam? My city, a small city in California with less than 70,000 people, proposed this resolution and it is supported by the citizens of the community. It is not a resolution of condemnation. It is not offered in rancor. It is a positive statement of principle. To support this position, I believe, is an obligation none of us can ignore in the name of humanity. I ask your vote for an end to this war.”

Katz’s May 3 posting reads: While he was Mayor, Maltester served as President of the US Conference of Mayors from 1969 to 1970 and introduced a resolution at the 1971 annual conference calling for the US to withdraw from Vietnam. In the resolution, of which he was quite proud, he stated,” which is followed by the exact same quotation from Maltester without attribution or context.

Part of the burgeoning tradition of blogging encourages the author to routinely provide links or journalistic references to other articles, videos or photos. The second half of Katz’s article is notable for its original reporting of various past and current local politicians. In blogging circles, it would have been perfectly acceptable to link his article to the Wikipedia page while incorporating his own reporting.

Katz’s was elevated to president of the school board following voter discontent that swept three new trustees into office. Upon election to the board in 2006, Katz ran on a platform calling for “transparency and accountability.” The voters call for wholesale change allowed Katz an opening to lead the board in addition to being influential in the election of all three new board members.

While there is no law or reason to expect impropriety from an elected official writing a “journalistic” blog, its presence runs a fine line between breaking the natural barrier between city hall and the newsroom in a traditional or cyberspace sense.

“I have no problem with a trustee having a blog while serving as long as that trustee is very clear to their readership that the blog does not represent the opinion of the school board,” said School Board Trustee Morgan Mack-Rose, “To date, I have never seen any implication of his posts being the opinion of the School Board.”

Categories: Jack Maltester, Mike Katz, Morgan Mack-Rose, school board, Wikipedia

1 reply

  1. Your argument is unsupported and the title, “School Board President gets an 'F'”, draws to an unfounded conclusion and states it as fact.

    The two paragraphs are similar, but plagiarism is more than a stretch. You state Mr. Katz was the original source for the article in Wikipedia in 2006, further undermining your case.

    Finally, you say: “While there is no law or reason to expect impropriety from an elected official writing a “journalistic” blog, its presence runs a fine line between breaking the natural barrier between city hall and the newsroom in a traditional or cyberspace sense.”

    What “natural barrier” are you talking about?

    Mr. Katz' blog has been a boon to this city's citizens and I applaud him for his continued effort and integrity. As mentioned in your own article Trustee Mack-Rose says that Mr. Katz has not, to her knowledge, ever crossed lines of impropriety.

    This isn't just a non-story badly reported, it's attack journalism. I believe at the least the title of the article should be changed so as to not create inaccurate impressions, at the most a retraction should also be made.

    Tim Holmes

    Full disclosure: I'm a personal friend of Mr. Katz and worked to get him elected, though I don't think anyone would accuse me of being uncritical follower of anyone.


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