Monday, October 13, 2014

Plagiarism – flattery or simply theft

Plagiarism has been an issue that has been debated for ages. There are some who argue that Shakespeare had not really written some of his rather famous plays but rather had only put his name to them. Can it be thought that taking someone else's work for your own is some form of flattery? The Webster's Dictionary provides an archaic description for plagiarism as to have meant kidnapping. Today describes plagiarism as, “the practise of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.”

Whether it is the or the plagiarism is simply theft, no one can disagree. Yet unlike the thief who can be compelled to return what he or she stole, the plagiarist cannot. Instead the violation has a permanency about it that stains the work of the victim even after the theft is discovered.

In our democratic society there are laws in place to protect intellectual content and provide clear rights of ownership. As with any action taken to protect one's ownership, proof of ownership and a trail marked with evidence leading from original conception to eventual discovery of theft is crucial.

Still any thief squirms when caught till the net of evidence tightens. One such individual, Kai Nagata, tried a novel approach claiming “intellectual overlap.” Another individual simply used photos and test results from environmental testing without providing credit as to who those documents belonged to. Many who simply take a photo or other material and use it without providing credit to the original owner do so without intent to steal. They do so without thought or the dignity of acknowledgement but not with malicious intent. Others are simply thieves.

Publishing Mayorgate has meant that extremely high standards were put in place from the first article. No article is based on rumour or innuendo. Research and facts have always been the key to all commentary and each article provides the material for a reader to examine and decide upon for themselves. At the same time publishing Mayorgate has meant to be willing to protect its integrity and original work at all costs.

A week ago it came to my attention that an individual had shot a video and posted it on YouTube making claims that he had broken a story on a rather serious issue. The information came by way of an email sent by Fred Bracken to Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski on September 30th 2014, copied to me and others. After watching the video I decided to find as much public information as possible about Fred Bracken. Even though Fred Bracken is being sued by Debbie Zimmerman for placing a comment on my article published on Mayorgate, I had never met him or spoken with him.

First I watched a few of his other videos as posted on YouTube. My opinion was simply that Bracken comes across as Ezra Levant with a small camera. I searched further. Preston Haskell in a piece titled Lords of Niagara on his News Alert Niagara (September 15th 2014) calls Bracken, “...a well publicized and licensed video reporter.” A Google search on what a “licensed video reporter” means came up empty. Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski tweeted on September 25th 2014, “We need more Fred Bracken truth warriors.” On January 11th 2014 Preston Haskell on his News Alert Niagara did an expose titled Who is Fred Bracken, Bracken added this comment to the article himself. “I look forward to doing more videos. If anyone has topics they would like me to ask the politicians on camera, feel free to send me an email on...”.

Still the mystery remained a mystery as to who this Fred Bracken really is. Other than the twittersphere humming with regular cooing between Councillor Petrowski and Bracken, or Preston Haskell referring to him as a “well publicized and licensed video reporter,” nothing was found, not even a Google clarification on that description used by Haskell. Till two references were finally unearthed from a blog called The Fort Erie Ninja dating back to March 2014. One of the short pieces is titled simply Mr.Bracken from March 25th and the other So Mr.Bracken. What Was In It For Brady? from March 27th.

The author at Fort Erie Ninja, Sensei Ron said on the 25th of March, “It would take far to long to edit all of your comments to post them for accuracy. Let us know what CHCH said as well.”Then on March 26th the author posted a comment under a heading One thought on Mr. Bracken. Sensei Ron began with “Mr. Bracken, if you want to be taken serious then you need to understand a few things. Not everyone is against you.” Sensei Ron continued, “You are pointing fingers at people who had nothing to do with it. If you want us to help you expose something we will, but it has to be done right. Start with Lubberts. Don't look at something then make assumptions and fill in the blanks. You told us in your comments that this is international news. You told us you were notifying CHCH. So what did CHCH say? If they don't run with it, does that mean they are in on this too?”

Nothing more was found on this “well publicized and licensed video reporter,” as Preston Haskell had labelled him. Conspiracists exist in every community as do plagiarists. One simply develops his own theory on assumption and presumption rather than fact, then passes it off as his own fact. The other takes work that does not belong to him and then passes it off as his own to elevate himself.

In his September 30th 2014 email, Bracken claims that Regional Councillor Debbie Zimmerman had gone to the Hamilton Regional Police in relation to his video. He brags that he is going to interview the Hamilton police and videotape the interview, uploading that to YouTube. No upload has been found to date.

Viewing the short video three major points come forward. Fred Bracken makes a claim that he broke the story of the affair between Mayor Brian McMullan of St. Catharines and Regional Councillor Debbie Zimmerman, who represents the town of Grimsby. Both Mayor Brian McMullan and Debbie Zimmerman are members of Regional Council in the Regional Municipality of Niagara. Bracken also claims that Debbie Zimmerman is suing him because he broke the news. Both claims are not true.

Fred Bracken's own words are: “Uh, the question, I just asked her a simple question on, uh, basically, um, why she would sue a civil journalist, um because I broke the news at, uh, Ruth McMullan allegations, that she's having an affair with Brian McMullan.”

As this splat of rhetoric continues from Fred Bracken he presents another lie publicly, and then posts this video for public consumption. Once again Bracken's own words are: “And, uh no one will report that, the news hasn't reported it and now she sued me civilly.”

There is nothing to say other than Fred Bracken lied on three serious points and publicly posted his lies. Since I was aware of the association that Bracken has with both Preston Haskell and Andy Petrowski I sent an email which provided a simple solution. That was a mistake, or maybe not so much in hindsight. Petrowski responded with, “He didn't mean it like that Alex... he is harmless, he meant broke it verbally in public... if you want to get it official, Ruth McMullan broke the story!”.

News of the affair between Regional Councillor Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines Mayor and Regional Councillor Brian McMullan first found public light on Mayorgate, May 19th 2014. Prior to this full and in depth report only rumours had played the airwaves of Niagara for over four years. An issue such as this is news and the thought that local media had ignored it is simply implausible. Mayorgate's article carried clear documentation in support of comments made and raised serious questions. As a result I as publisher have faced threat, intimidation and a law suit first by Debbie Zimmerman and much later by Brian McMullan. It is understandable why both need to silence the truth and the serious implications of the affair.

Breaking a story means that a media outlet distributes the story of an event. When Watergate broke to shock the American people, those reporters provided facts and information. Yet they had to start somewhere, it was not a crystal ball but an informant, or a snitch if you prefer, that led the way. That informant or snitch did not break the story because he or she provided a thread. Time, research, and work is required to provide a story and the thought that anyone simply steals all of that to claim for his own is unacceptable.

Bracken took for his own, work that he had no right to. That was not all he lied about. He claimed that Debbie Zimmerman was suing him for breaking the news. Zimmerman's official Statement of Claim has been published in an article titled, Mayorgate responds to Debbie Zimmerman's Ego. Regional Councillor Debbie Zimmerman is suing me as the author and publisher of Mayorgate for bringing to public attention the affair and raising serious questions regarding her association with Mayor Brian McMullan. She is also suing Fred Bracken as per pages 6 and 7 of her Statement of Claim.

Zimmerman is suing Bracken for three tweets and one comment which he placed on the article published on Mayorgate. He is also accused of republishing the article originally published on Mayorgate by linking to the article in his May 19th 2014 tweet. Bracken likes to call himself a citizen journalist, or in his own words “civil journalist.” The concept of citizen journalism is based upon public citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” (Wikipedia).

Twitter in our modern world is considered a buzz feed providing short bursts of comment usually after an event. Bracken's third lie is that no one had reported the story of the affair between McMullan and Zimmerman as alleged by Ruth McMullan in her divorce papers. Bracken simply lied and Andy Petrowski defended him again by saying, “honestly he is a simple guy and meant NO ill will.” Bracken's original email of September 30th 2014 claims that “Debbie Zimmerman has called the Hamilton Regional Police over the video I made where she goes ballistic...”.

Webster's Dictionary describes ballistic, other than the science of motion or projectiles, as having an informal usage meaning, to become so angry as to lose emotional control. Viewing Bracken's video all one sees of Debbie Zimmerman is that she stands up, then moves with her back to the wall as others get involved. “Goes ballistic” is a lie and his video proves that.

Approaching Andy Petrowski and Preston Haskell I thought that mutual respect and understanding existed, and both of them are strongly associated with Fred Bracken who I do not know. Though when any individual diminishes another's work in the fashion Petrowski had mine, the picture became clear and I had left it alone. That was till one email came from Petrowski on October 1st 2014, at 12:59 pm. Here Councillor Petrowski states “Bracken tweeted the affair 12 days before the mayorgate story.” Some forty minutes later Bracken tweets Petrowski at 1:39 pm, October 1st 2014. This “harmless and simple man” according to Petrowski says “I broke the news May 7th...”

All of Bracken's tweets are here and regardless of how Councillor Petrowski defends Bracken, whether he is harmless or simple, he lied. Petrowski knew that and I responded the following day.

Any individual who presents content on the net is aware of the potential of theft. Many find it difficult to take action of the theft of time, effort, research, and the act of creating something of value. Here in this case it is simple. Fred Bracken stole work that was not his own and passed it off as his. Legally speaking one attempt had been made to resolve the matter, it failed. A second attempt shall be made and if ignored legal action will commence.

The news of Mayor Brian McMullan and his divorce may be unpleasant for some though not a shock to many. One individual who commented on a published article on Mayorgate stated that the rumours of the affair had floated around Niagara for years. Had this individual then broken the story? A tweet harassing a reporter with a question does not break a story. Shoving a camera in anyone's face does not constitute reporting news. A citizen journalist is still required even by the Supreme Court of Canada to follow guidelines and expected provable criteria.

Today the world is opening up and changing. Traditional media has no choice but to acknowledge that fact. People have become tired of the bias that is so prevalent in journalism and the internet has provided an alternative. At the same time the internet allows theft to run rampant and that can only subside with decisive action.

Fred Bracken will be given an opportunity to remedy the situation. After that the choice is his own. Councillor Andy Petrowski sadly has shown that all politicians see truth as a convenient toy and on a scale of 1 to 10 that doesn't rate even a zero.

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