David Mikkelson, co-founder of the fact-checking site Snopes, has been suspended without pay by his own company after admitting to plagiarizing material on the site for years under his own and several pseudonymous names.
After being presented with evidence of Mikkelson’s wrongdoing by Buzzfeed, which first reported the the suspension, Snopes conducted an internal review and made the decision. The fact-checker has identified 54 stories “so far” that include plagiarized material, according to Chief Operating Officer Vinny Green.
Green and Doreen Marchionni, Snopes‘s managing editor, released a statement declaring that “plagiarism undermines our mission and values, full stop,” and it “has no place in any context within this organization.” The site’s staff condemned Mikkelson’s actions, while professing that they all had “been held to very high journalistic standards,” by their editors as well as their audience.
Mikkelson apologized, admitting, “There is no excuse for my serious lapses in judgement.” But he also asserted that his company is composed of “dedicated, professional journalists who serve the public with trustworthy information.”
Buzzfeed reported that, in an interview, Mikkelson did provide some explanation for his behavior, telling Buzzfeed contributor Dean Sterling Jones, “I didn’t come from a journalism background, I wasn’t used to doing news aggregation. A number of times I crossed the line to where it was copyright infringement. I own that.”
Yet correspondence reviewed by Buzzfeed revealed that Mikkelson instructed staff to rewrite stories published on competitor sites “just enough to avoid copyright infringement,” and he outlined a strategy of publishing wire-service pieces verbatim before going back and changing the content later.
Snopes has been criticized for its bias against conservative politicians and publications, as well as for repeatedly targeting the conservative satire website The Babylon Bee.