The Church Times, Muriel Porter, and the Spurious Claiming of Sources

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Over a month ago we reported on the failed attempt to elect a new Primate for the Anglican Church of Australia. As would be expected, the piece generated a lot of traffic and not a little comment. Much of the conversation was over the hard work we did to get sources from within the meeting to tell us the story of that election as they experienced it. Not everyone was happy with what we wrote.

One of the reasons that is widely read at moments like this is that I work hard to cultivate such sources and then report what they say. That’s the way these things are done, whether it’s on a little blog like this or in the wider reporting media. We work hard at maintaining those sources and the material that they give us is the lifeblood of the reporting that then happens. Simply put, our sources are our work.

Of course, that doesn’t stop other people from sharing that work or us from sharing what others have done. We just do it with proper attribution. If I report on something where someone else has done the hard work then I put a link in the piece. It’s simple really. And a professional courtesy.

But not so Muriel Porter writing in the Church Times as their “Australia Correspondent“. That’s a bold claim so let me back it up.

The original piece published on March 14 here at opened with the following sentence:

In what was described to as “a very carefully orchestrated plan”, conservative electors for the new Australian Primate have prevented the election of a new Primate who would not uphold the doctrinal integrity of the Anglican Church of Australia.

It was a bold opening, granted. The quote (for that is what it is, clearly marked with quote marks) caused a bit of a stink. Some were very upset at the notion of “a very carefully orchestrated plan” for such an election. Others found the whole idea of reporting from within the meeting as objectionable. I don’t intend to replay that argument here.

So imagine my surprise when almost a week later the Church Times in England published a piece by Muriel Porter which closed with the following:

Let’s be clear on what Porter is claiming here. She presents a quote that has exactly the same words as our piece and describes it as “Sources say”, i.e. her sources. No attribution to No acknowledgement that I was the one who worked hard to get that quote from someone inside the meeting. I went back to my source and confirmed with them that they hadn’t provided the line to anyone else.

I then approached Church Times about this, asking simply that appropriate attribution be made for work that was clearly mine. I approached the Church Times since they were the publisher and thus responsible for the piece. I was astounded by the reply I got. I would not normally choose to publish correspondence in this way but one sentence in particular needs to be read:

I have heard from Muriel about your accusation and am happy to assure you that, although she saw your piece, she has her own sources, built up over a lifetime in the Anglican Church.

So let’s now be clear. The argument being made by the Church Times (and by Porter) is that she went to her own sources who gave her exactly the same quote and descriptor “conservatives” as my piece and she then chose to label it as her own work from her own sources, described in exactly the same way, despite the fact that she acknowledges that she read my piece which contained the quote in question.

She just happened to get exactly the same quote, labelled it in the same way, and presented it as her own work. And the Church Times published it and defended it.

That’s an amazing coincidence. Or plagiarism. You decide.

image: cut copy paste, KE4

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. fyffee

    I suppose if anyone is willing to put aside the Bible’s teaching on marriage being between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others until separated by death, then other commands such as not stealing from others are just as dispensable. And then we are free to make up our own rules, and be right in our own eyes.

  2. Robert Bruce

    We live in an age in which apostate bishops and other senior churchmen not only support but campaign for sodomy, pederasty, abortion and euthanasia as consistent with the teachings of Christ. They would have us believe that anyone who opposes their heretical views does not show Christian love.
    By comparison to those issues it hardly seems worthwhile to bring up matters of intellectual property theft, plagiarism, dishonesty and the like. We conservatives just have to accept that the rules have changed, the old nonsense about following the Word and the Way are so passé.
    What next? Will we dare to challenge incest and bestiality as part of the “Newcastle way” that will replace those old-fashioned standards supposedly based on the scriptures?

    1. Geoff Fletcher

      Really Robert? Theft & dishonesty & all that flows from them are not worthwhile issues? I think of “act justly . . . love mercy . . . walk humbly” and following that.

      And I think davidould gives broad & balanced attention, with appropriate weight, to a vast array of issues that are relevant to those of the Christian world view. Maybe you have not worked in the creative space and seen what you have made taken by others without honest acknowledgment, let alone payment for its value. The implications of “created from nothing” are far reaching for thought & action. Isn’t the backdrop to the Christian world view that God has made all from nothing and these fallen creatures have taken what has been made (including themselves) without thought or credit to the Maker? Many a parent knows a little of what that feels like at times . . .

    2. Greg the Explorer

      Name any recognised church man or woman who campaigns for “pederasty…as consistent with the teachings of Christ”. You won’t be able to, as none, I am certain, exist. This is a most disgusting conflation of peoples positions with what any and every good and decent person recognises as evil.

  3. Chris

    David, it appears to me that Porter is simply using the term “sources” loosely, as, evidently, your report was the relevant source for her. She should have simply said that David Ould reports such and such. It appears that she did not do the appropriate thing in this respect because it did not serve her rhetorical purpose, namely, to try and put conservatives and their “carefully orchestrated plan” in a bad light. Thus she did not want to acknowledge the fact that conservatives were happy to describe their the push to elect Condie as a “carefully orchestrated plan”; instead, she wanted to characterise this as an “unusual move”. This would explain why she did not name you as her source, not because she was plagiarising.The response to you by the Church Times signifies merely that they are on her side, and that what this is all about, on every side, is politics. I think that there are larger issues. Was it appropriate to carefully orchestrate a push to elect Condie, rather than simply refuse to tolerate the decadence of the Anglican Church of Australia?

    1. David Ould

      hi Chris. If you’re right then the quote still needs appropriate attribution. I don’t need (nor expect) the Church Times nor Porter to agree with me. But we should all expect things to be properly attributed.

  4. chris russell

    I agree, David: “[s]he should have simply said that David Ould reports such and such”. The irony is that Porter and the Church Times did agree with you i.e. that there was a carefully orchestrated push to elect Condie, whereas what Porter and the Church Times really wanted was the facility to say this, themselves, despite the fact, and as if it had not first been said (unashamedly) by David Ould.

  5. Chris

    Further, David, it is one thing to insist (quite rightly) on appropriate attribution; however, to do so, instead of rebutting the sly insinuation of Porter and the Church Times that it was somehow improper to “carefully orchestrate” the advancement of a conservative candidate, allows, in effect, for Porter, and the Church Times, to control the debate. The argument that needs to be made is that it was imperative to elect a Primate in Australia, who is not an archbishop, because infidelity to Christ is rampant in the current leadership.

    1. David Ould

      hi Chris,
      More than happy for that argument to be made (although those in the room did argue on two grounds; doctrine AND polity) but it is a seperate issue to the attribution one. This post is about the latter, not the former.

  6. Greg the Explorer

    Robert I’d like you to provide any evidence anywhere at anytime of any recognised church man or woman, who considers “pederasty…as consistent with the teachings of Christ”. I imagine that you’ll find it impossible to do so, as none, I dare say, exist. The very idea that anyone could argue that decent good Christians (of any theological persuasion) could consider such an evil as acceptable is simply stunning.

    1. chris russell

      Robert will have to speak for himself, but it should be borne in mind that recognised church leaders who do molest children may very well consider their actions to be “consistent with the teachings of Christ”. It is difficult otherwise to see how they could possibly consider their actions to be sinful, unless, that is, we suppose that they construe their profession of faith as being a subterfuge.

      The point, however, is that it is not clear that abusive clergy do construe their profession of faith in those terms, any more than do church leaders who consider consensual sodomy, both heterosexual and homosexual, and the targetted killing of the unborn and the unhealthy, as not being inconsistent with the teachings of Christ.

      Certainly we may grant that church leaders today do not bring themselves to say that pederasty is consistent with the teachings of Christ. This, however, would appear to miss the point, if what they are doing, in the area of speaking as to sexual ethics, is merely drawing a line in effect when it comes to advocating homosexuality.

      It is also noteworthy that pederasty, in fact, is more or less condoned within some circles that are respected in our society eg. the artistic community. Academics also have a tendency to condone the abuse of children in accordance with their commitment to cultural relativism. This is noteworthy because many in the church are often unable to distinguish Christian ethical teaching from what is advocated by unbelievers who lack an objective basis for their morality.

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