It is always with regret when an editor must admit to the wrongdoings of a publication and it is with extreme disappointment that I must admit the Mustang Daily unknowingly published an act of plagiarism.
Last Thursday, the Mustang Daily received a letter of apology from Steve Kristoff, a political science senior, for his act of plagiarism in the form of editorial cartoons. Kristoff, who submitted 12 cartoons for the newspaper since October, was found guilty of plagiarism at the end of winter quarter.
“I am publicly acknowledging my mistake and am deeply disappointed in myself,” he wrote in his letter. “If I could have prevented this from ever happening, certainly I would have, for I never intended for this; however, I face the situation and am accounting for my mistake.”
Kristoff approached the Mustang Daily at the beginning of fall quarter, expressing his interest in doing freelance work for the newspaper and he promptly began doing cartoons that accompanied commentaries in the Opinion/Editorial section. At this time, his work was purely based on the material covered in the commentaries.
When winter quarter came around, Kristoff started submitting free-standing editorial cartoons based on what he personally chose to draw. Only some of the submitted cartoons were run due to the fact that not all the work was deemed acceptable for print.
Kristoff’s last cartoon ran Feb. 12 and depicted a small girl holding her father’s hand and saying, “Daddy when I grow up I’m gonna be a whore” to which her father responds, “Thanks MTV.” Following the publication of this cartoon, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities was notified that the work may not be original. As it turns out, the MTV-themed cartoon closely shadowed a drawing by Hugleikur Dagsson in his book “Should you be laughing at this?” Kristoff admitted to the Mustang Daily in his letter that although the characters were originals by himself, the cartoon contained dialogue by Dagsson.
Kristoff was threatened with a two-quarter suspension and immediately appealed the accusation. He told the Mustang Daily that he submitted a packet of materials to the office detailing the financial burden that would be placed on his family if he were to be suspended for two quarters. He instead offered to issue a letter of apology to the Mustang Daily and write a critique of the film “Shattered Glass” (a 2003 film chronicling the fall of Washington, D.C. journalist Stephen Glass who plagiarized his stories). The office never followed through with the appeals hearing and instead allowed Kristoff to do the things he promised, as well as some community service.
But Kristoff noted in an e-mail to the Mustang Daily that it was the “disagreeable reactions” of his peers that caused him to “dumb down” his style.
“When I look back at it, for some pathetic reason, I guess I didn’t feel my little known rules of plagiarism applied to art the same as they do for a term paper,” he wrote in the e-mail.
None of the Mustang Daily cartoonists receive any payment or credit for their work. Unlike our student reporters, the cartoonists do not have any set quotas per quarter and receive no pressure whatsoever from the editors. Therefore, we would never expect such a person to plagiarize.
Moreover, Kristoff drew his material from an obscure Icelandic cartoonist and had someone not reported the incident to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the Mustang Daily may never have known the material was plagiarized.
Though Kristoff nor any of the other cartoonists are established members of the Mustang Daily, his work will no longer be printed in this publication.
In the future, all freelance cartoonists will be expected to sign a contract outlining the Mustang Daily’s standards and expectations. The publication does not tolerate plagiarism of any kind and abides by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, continually striving to be a credible source of information for the Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo communities.
We take pride in the publication we put together each day for our readers and believe that it is important to be up-front and honest about both errors that have occurred and the policies that are in place. I offer my sincerest apologies to our readers that this incident took place, and promise that the Mustang Daily remains committed to truth and excellence.
Kristen Marschall is the editor in chief of the Mustang Daily.