Global Times Olympics Journalist Tests Positive For Plagiarism [UPDATE]

By Beijing Cream

Let’s talk about journalism and the Olympics. No, not the complete indifference given to China’s 96 Paralympics gold medals, but a more familiar problem: plagiarism. A former senior journalist at the Global Times is probably still wondering what the hell hit her, after being caught lifting material and inventing quotes – including a fake interview with London mayor Boris Johnson – during last month’s Games.

The sorry saga began with the decision to send GT staffer Zhao Ran – who was in charge of the paper’s “sports desk” – to London to cover the Olympics exclusively for the paper. Despite once having actual, English-speaking (and eager) Londoners on their Beijing staff, as well as at least one Chinese-British freelancer on hand in the British capital, it was felt that Zhao’s qualifications – she’s in her mid-20s and spent two years studying something in the UK – made her ideal for the job.

And lo, the decision duly backfired in embarrassing fashion. On July 27, Tania Branigan of the Guardian filed this:

Chinese sports officials have played down their medal chances in London, despite topping the table at the last Games in Beijing.

China is fielding a streamlined London team with 396 athletes, including 29 gold medallists from the Beijing Games in 2008. The 171 men and 225 women are to compete in 212 disciplines in 23 sports.

“It won’t be a Beijing do-over for us,” said Xiao Tian, the deputy chef de mission of the Chinese Olympic delegation. “We face unprecedented difficulties in catching up with the gold haul of Beijing without home advantage.”

Later the same day, Zhao Ran wrote (by a loose definition of the word, but good enough for GT to edit, post and, last we saw, still have on its website):

China’s sports officials downplayed expectations of Team China’s performance at the upcoming London Olympic Games, as the country’s sports fan worry China might not be able to again lead the gold medal tally.

China is fielding a streamlined London team with 396 athletes, including 29 gold medalists from the Beijing Games in 2008. The 171 men and 225 women are to compete in 212 disciplines in 23 sports.

“It won’t be a Beijing do-over for us. We face unprecedented difficulties in catching up with the gold haul of Beijing without home advantage,” Xiao Tian, deputy chef de mission of the Chinese Olympic delegation, told a press briefing.

The article included an interview with a “sports reporter from The Salt Lake Tribune” and another reporter called simply “Kamesh,” who was said to work at The Hindu. (Did she mean Ananth Krishnan? Who knows.)

In another article from August 5  – entitled, ironically enough, “Games of Errors” – Zhao tackled a variety of organizational mistakes that supposedly marred the early stages of the Games, and interviewed, for some reason, “25-year-old Indian undergraduate student Jaime Gornsztejn.” The decidedly non-Asian sounding name is shared by a middle-aged financier living in London.

In other articles such as “Game Time” – which, if you search for it using the words  “Zhao Ran” on the GT website, now brings up a list of recent unrelated news articles but can still actually be found here – Zhao took an alternative approach to basic details like facts and quotes.

Here, for example, is Joseph Bailey, a 31-year-old “Internet novelist” who says of the Games: “I get up, have breakfast and chat with friends online as usual. The only difference for me is that I can collect more stories for my writing… I can handle the inconvenience; everything will be back on track after three weeks.” Indeed! But readers eager to reap the fruits of Bailey’s Olympics anecdote-gathering may have to wait a little longer. Or a lot longer. So far as anyone knows, “Joseph Bailey” does not exist — try searching the Internet for this “Internet writer.”

Other dubious interviews include a supermarket employee called “David Beard” and “Susan Whipple,” the latter a London resident who felt moved to remark “Although we don’t have tickets to the events, we do feel it’s more interesting to watch the games in London to feel the Games in the air.”

None of this might have been queried had not Zhao upped the stakes by “speaking” to idiosyncratic London mayor Boris Johnson. “The Tube has performed pretty well so far, buses are running more or less to time and people are hospitable,” Johnson told the Global Times. The same remarks appear word for word in a column Johnson wrote for The Telegraph on July 29. In the GT article, Zhao claimed that Johnson made the comments “during an exclusive interview” – so exclusive, in fact, that it appears even Johnson himself was not involved.

The rambling Johnson is famous for his embodiment of a Colonel Blimp persona, a style that’s distinctive for its bumbling pomp. In the raw draft of the article that went to the  GT copyeditor’s desk, Johnson is quoted as saying, “It is true that some people want to make a killing during the Games and we do receive a few criminal reports for steal and robber, but that’s normal and during the past four years, the criminal rate was declined continuously.” Not exactly Boris’s voice. This partly mangled phrase was nevertheless polished and duly published:

“It’s true that there have been a few cases of theft, but that’s normal,” said Johnson. “The crime rate has actually dropped significantly over the last four years,” he noted.

Though such matters are hardly a scandal to the GT management, the charade finally became impossible to ignore after the reporter submitted another piece, lifted almost entirely from an article in the London Evening Standard about, of all things, Olympic pin collecting, albeit with the bits from the Evening Standard piece placed – in quotation marks – in the mouths of supposed “interviewees,” including “Belgian collector Jamie McGill.” An keen-eyed foreign editor spotted the haphazard veering between language styles, which finally led to a scouring of Zhou’s previous pieces.

After a certain amount of hemming and hawing – the original plan was to hit her with a suspension of salary for one month – the Global Times editors did the right thing and canned Zhou… but not before pinning the offending pieces to a board in the office, hanging their staff member out to dry like a thief in a medieval gibbet. (We sent an email last night to GT’s “officer for communications and cooperation” for comment and will update if we receive a reply. See update below.)

Her apparent protests that “I expected foreign editors to improve my pieces” cut little ice with a pissed-off management (another reporter was fined at the same time for ripping off large chunks of an Economic Observer piece without due acknowledgement; in regards to that incident, GT previously emailed us, “The Global Times takes plagiarism in any form very seriously. Every editorial staff member has been informed on many different occasions of our citation rules against plagiarism”).

As mentioned, plagiarism is as rife in Chinese papers as opinion pieces by wingnut academics. This is mostly thanks to the complete lack of attention given to this sin at most universities, where even senior professors think nothing of putting together papers stolen from colleagues or compiled by teams of graduate students from Wikipedia and Google Translate.

This isn’t the first time GT has had plagiarism problems, either; one US “commentator” was discovered to be translating articles from US papers into Chinese, sending them to the paper, then having them translated back into English. That’s one of the chief recourses of Chinese journalists with a little foreign-language savvy, since it usually avoids the easy Google search that’s caught so many other plagiarists. One supposes it’s a good thing that the newspaper’s management is, at last, taking this problem seriously and adopting a “zero-tolerance” policy – though don’t expect a coherent and cohesive strategy for eliminating plagiarism to emerge anytime soon.

Update, 7:16 pm: Global Times just replied via email:The Global Times enforces a strict zero-tolerance policy toward plagiarism. The editorial board decided to immediately terminate Zhao Ran’s employment contract after she was found plagiarizing in some of her stories. We do thank you for your continuous efforts in making the Global Times more competitive in the market. And we believe with readers like you the Global Times can always do better.”

UPDATE, 9/27, 11:07 am: The offending stories have been removed from Global Times’s website, but the cached pages can be found here: Story 1 – Guardian, Story 2 – Game of Errors, Story 3 – Boris.

    55 Responses to “Global Times Olympics Journalist Tests Positive For Plagiarism [UPDATE]”

    1. ready-teddy

      Li Hongwei, the guy who runs that paper is an absolute imbecile and harbours a racist attitude toward foreigners. He must have been denied a job as a fixer at one time. Either way, he has no business running a paper.

    2. narsfweasels

      The words “Chinese” and “Journalist” rarely belong in the same sentence, unless “journalist” is preceded by “so-called but really not a”.

      • JamesP

        This strikes me as grossly unfair toward the majority of Chinese journalists, who are doing a very tough job under trying circumstances, especially the investigative reporters. Chinese journalists face genuine physical and career risks that Western journalists don’t, and they work hard for considerably less money. There’s plenty of time servers and a few creeps and crawlers, but show me a paper anywhere where that isn’t the case. So don’t be such a snotty little shit about them.

        • Bush man

          What world you live in? they aren’t doing anything but copying articles form elsewhere and doing their bes to remain unoticed by the staff.

          I worked in both western and Chinese journalism and their is a WORLD of difference. The funniest was always the laowai apologists though. Most of them have never had a real position in media and have no idea what’s really going on or how shitty their jobs actually are.

          • DagNam

            A lot of it’s a management thing, bush man. I’ve seen writers with great potential at GT being slapped down by management for all the wrong reasons when they’re trying to do a decent story. The ones with brains are usually the ones that get out after a year or two of upper-level idiocy.

            Choosing this reporter to go out to London rather than someone more qualified also smacks of the management’s often bizarre approach to allocating resources.

      • will

        most reporters are just political voiceboxes but not all, think the same can be said for western news media as well.

        but i think we all agree beijingcream is where the real news is at

    3. Germ Nerm

      Li Hongwei need to get out go. I no why he big boss now. Maybe he give pleasure to secret people. I hear he like this.. Hehe.

    4. Old angry foreigner

      As this exellent article points out, GT’s plagiarism problems have been ongoing since its founding and predate the Hongwei Dynasty.
      A notable one was back when CCTV 9 “Dialogue” fembot troll Tian Wei was also “writing” slop for GT’s opinion page.
      She was busted at least twice and in one piece managed to lift directly from both the New York Times as well as China Daily.
      Thankfully she gradually faded away after a power shift in the department.

    5. Pi Po

      Plagiarism is nothing compared to the other problems at GT. There have been Chinese reporters caught accepting money aka “hongbao” for stories, and they weren’t even fired.

      • Peep Bo

        Hell, hongbao payments have been around forever. Does anyone really expect Chinese newspaper management to develop and enforce a policy forbidding reporters from accepting hongbao money when they’re so vastly underpaid? I know of one situation at the Shanghai Star in which the assigning editor actually took the hongbao that was given to the reporter.

    6. Old angry foreigner

      Of course not. Why? In many cases they were required to give the money to their editors where it magically disappeared into a mythical “year end bonus” fund.

    7. Shimmy Stick

      Why GT send someone with no experience to cover big sport event? Is that GT policy? It is same style at many state-run media. No experience = great opportunity, professionalism = knee-jerk termination.

    8. Dummy Looker

      The whole piece sounds like a real professional writing a report. But I am wondering how do you guys feel about releasing a picture of a young reporter who still seeks her future in this industry?

        • DagNam

          No. But at the same time, GT is often happy to employ anyone as long as they have minimal English skills. Reporting/journalism training often doesn’t come in to it. A lot of the time young, inexperienced staff are pressured to go on these overseas junkets, even when there are far more suitable people available who are actually willing to do it. There is a lack of training/support, and unfortunately the assumption is that foreign copy editors will fix up the copy, no matter what state it is in. I’m not excusing her actions, but I certainly don’t think she should be the only one taking the fall.

          I would also agree that the paper’s general attitude towards plagiarism is in no way as stringent as the GT’s response to this blog implies.

    9. Sing Ding

      They should release more pictures of other Chinese management and crooked people. Why are they the bosses? What did they do?

    10. tipster

      Shortly GT Chairman Hu and his bootlicking spittlemeister Li Honwei as well as an honestly respected female reporter are on their way to Brazil over the holidays. None speak portuguese and it’s a mystery to the gt staff why?
      Watch GT for more bullshite is all I can say. But dont blame the reporter.

      • Down_under_blunder

        I remember one night in there when Hu came storming in and Li Hongwei was shaking like a little leaf, he’s quite possible the most perfect example of a toadie I’ve ever seen. He’s also a terrible writer and journalist and his little rat claw hands and sqeaking gay voice used to grate on my spine.

        A useless human indeed. I can’t wait to read his pathetic excuse for an article that will come out of the brazil trip.

    11. Louis F

      I noticed the Telegraph didn’t publish her photo, even though “you can find it on google.” But I guess unlike blogs they have to adhere to ethics – and yes, I’m aware of the irony given this matter is about plagiarism.

      She messed up big time, but she is hardly a Fareed Zakaria so put your pitchforks and torches down. Give her a break.

      • Bush man

        So is it wrong to publish Jason Blair’s photo or That guy from Time Magazine? Cause news outlets did that non-stop.

        I am assuming you knowledge of “journalism” is an internet assembled hodge podge of movie clips and make-believe.

        • Rich

          I kicked around State media in China a year or so back in 2007 and it’s not fair to compare and hold to the same standards most Chinese reporters at these outlets to Blair or Zakaria (aka “that guy from Time magazine”).
          I met some wide-eyed kids who really seemed keen to be reporters, but there were also many pretty-faced (I worked in tv) graduates who studied intl business or business English without much enthusiasm for the job. TVs in the “newsroom” would screen CNN or BBC, and it wasn’t uncommon for writers to lift entire supers (graphics) word for word during breaking newsl Nevertheless, the reporters worked hard (well, most of them) for a pittance compared to foreign staffers’ salary.
          Blair, Zakaria and most other high profIle plagiarists are career journos whose reputations are/were built on their trust. Name me a single face you can put to a Chinese byline. They don’t have the same recognition or feedback (from readers/management), which possibly lulls them into a sense of “nobody cares anyway”.
          This case shouldn’t be confused as being as sensational as Stephen Glass (inspiration for the film Shattered Glass), which I think some people are eager to do.

          • Bush man

            If Chinese media wants to present itself as a credible alternative to Western media, which it loves to SAY it is, then they can prove it by taking the heat.

    12. A

      Did anyone notice she’s put an Apple sticker on the front of her IBM PC? It’s all about appearances isn’t it? (which applies in journalism — the making of something look like your writing even if it’s not really?)

    13. TARnation

      If one more person brings up Li Hongwei’s sexual orientation in order to insult him (even though he may be a genuinely detestable individual), I will put on my angry face.

    14. Superfreak

      Just because the boss is gay doesn’t give anyone the right to throw insults at him. It’s better to attack him on behalf of what he’s done to other GT employees, both foreign and Chinese. GT is sinking. Many Chinese and foreign employees there have already quit or are in the process of doing so, and it’s mainly because of him and his second-in-command; both of whom happen to be lousy leaders.

      • Bush man

        BFD. This little shit has demeaned people and screwed up people’s lives.

        I heard he fired two foreigners for not clearing vacation with him directly. He’s also published racist nonsense. He deserves no quarter.

        He’s a inferior little turd and if bringing out that he’s a flaming homo will get him fired, I’m all for it. I didn’t write the rules in China, but I have no problem using them against a little worm like Li Hongwei.

        • Liquid Swords

          @ ‘Bush man,’ Down under blunder and the rest: it’s clear you have a personal vendetta against LHW, for whatever reason. It’s also possible that you have a point (a Chinese friend who used to work there suggests this is so). But all this ‘ends justify the means’ stuff is needless bravado, and deeply, deeply undermines your argument. His private life should remain so, and the only matter of any importance is the professional record of GT’s management and staff. Frankly, your homophobia revolts me and only inspires sympathy for LHW. If those are your tactics, you’d make a first-class politician.

          On the matter of Zhao Ran’s culpability, she’s called a senior reporter. I assume she has worked there for at least a couple of years, so she’s not some half-witted naif. She could have called management for help, could have simply gone and interviewed literally anyone, it’s not hard. She could even have called a foreign editor (they’re friendly enough) and asked them to suggest interviewees, rather than pointing the finger when she was caught. No one’s suggesting a witch-hunt, but I think this article is pretty balanced. It’s not like it’s going to cause any dent in her career, after all.

          • Bush man

            I’m not a homophobe, unless the homosexual in question is an underhanded little shit, which Li Hongwei is.

            Yes a lot of people have a vendetta against him. So, maybe it’s not such a good guy you’re defending.

    15. Worked there, did that

      Superfreak speakth the truth, though the entire leadership apparatus there has stunk since the beginning, long before Hongwei had any real power.

      Zhang Yong — who Hongwei replaced — was equally inept and perhaps even more malicious, though he provided some quality entertainment occasionally such as the night his irate wife stormed into the office for several hours screaming at him about his mistress.

      Zhang Nanyi, Hongwei’s second in command, is another insecure power freak – imagine an unholy union of Jiang Qing (Madame Mao), dowager empress Cixi, and Cruella Deville and you’re in the general terriroty.

    16. Freeslave

      Based on these comments it’s time someone start a website where state-run media survivors can connect and post grievances. I wonder how long Li Hongwei will last by constantly screwing people over? Behavior such as his is bound to catch up with him at some point.

      • Nut man

        Oh it will. I try to screw him over any chance I get, and I know I’m not the only one. He is also making loads of enemies with the Chinese staff, so eventually he’ll screw with someone who has more Guangxi than he has and that’ll be that.

        I just hope I see him in my country one day so I can smack him in the head.

    17. tipster

      The odd thing about Li Hongwei is that in the very beginning he seemed to be an upright dude. He was very popular with foreign and Chinese staff alike but as his power grew, his popularity and persona just wilted.

      He’s now nothing but a sorry ass herbes-ridden lab monkey pressing buttons to get pellets from Mr Hu and pissing on anyone who gets in his way.

      It’s really a shame cuz he seemed briefly to have potential as a decent human being. He’s now loathed for good reasons, but there was a time when I thought he’d be a semi-bright future for GT.
      What was I thinking? My bad.


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