Monday, July 15, 2013

About the Lianne Spiderbaby Situation

Last week, on July 11, I was among the recipients of a blind-copied email from one John Timmerson. It forwarded a mass of unsigned documentation charging one of VIDEO WATCHDOG's contributors, Lianne Spiderbaby (McDougall), with plagiarism. The documents alleged that her articles for the Fear.net website had been removed after one of her articles -- a piece on Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA -- was found to be composited from writing obtained from three unattributed online sources, including critical-film.com, empireonline.com and blueray.highdefdigest.com. There was no indication in the mailing of how this investigation was launched, by whom, or what prompted it.

Two days later, on July 13, writer Mary Ann Johanson blogged that Lianne had plagiarized her review of the movie TURN ME ON DAMMIT! The news fuelled various fires on various discussion boards. As more examples began to surface, including some tied to her previous VW article about Pedro Almodóvar's THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Lianne posted the following statement on her Twitter page:

"I apologize for the plagiarism in my work. I am leaving journalism behind for awhile. I’m so very sorry to everyone esp those I’ve wronged."

Needless to say, this came as very distressing news to us at VIDEO WATCHDOG, not least of all because our new issue is now at the printer and it contains a lengthy feature article by Lianne Spiderbaby, about the Emmanuelle films of Sylvia Kristel and the Black Emanuelle films of Laura Gemser. VW's associate editor John Charles checked its content against Google and, I was relieved to hear, the piece came up clean. I would have been surprised had it turned out otherwise, because I worked closely with Lianne on its development, encouraging her to dig deeper into this and that, identifying more material that she needed to include, so it developed under close editorial guidance. I think it stands as a fine example of what she is (or was) capable of doing.

I don't really know Lianne, outside of a dozen or so emails. We've never spoken on the phone. It's my nature to trust the people I know and like until they give me a reason not to. She has always projected a public image of leading a charmed life and, on Facebook and elsewhere, I've seen muckrakers devote themselves to taking her down a few pegs, which is another reason I initially responded to this news with guarded suspicion. It was with these factors in mind, over the weekend, that I took the (in retrospect) presumptuous step of posting on a message board about all this -- before I was in possession of any facts, armed only with Lianne's shared side of things, my suspicions about that initial mailing, and my own beliefs about the integrity of her work for VW. I now regret doing this. Two days later, I am still not in possession of all the sides of this story -- who is? -- so it was wrong of me to involve myself as any kind of source, though I did so with the most solvent of intentions. As it happens, I only fanned the flames.

I don't argue the point that she abused her colleagues, and of course they have a right -- indeed, a duty -- to object, but they still have the integrity of their work and their good names. In contrast, Lianne's misconduct has already had a devastating effect on her authority, reputation and a most promising career.

I was asked earlier today if Lianne will continue to write for VIDEO WATCHDOG. In the eyes of its readers, a magazine is only as reliable as the people who write for it, so -- with the greatest regret -- I think not.

Addenda 7/15, 2:40pm:

Unfortunately, new findings have forced me to retract a portion of yesterday's statement. John Charles has notified me that evidence of plagiarism has been found in Lianne Spiderbaby's coverage of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA. John is preparing a statement we will be posting later in the day.

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