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The CEO and co-founder of Snopes, an outlet that purports to publish “original, investigative reporting” and fact checks, admitted that he plagiarized dozens of articles.
According to an investigation by BuzzFeed, between 2015 and 2019, the outlet’s co-founder David Mikkelson wrote and published dozens of articles containing plagiarized content from major news outlets, including The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times. Inquiries from BuzzFeed prompted an internal review, which confirmed that Mikkelson had published 54 articles with plagiarized material.
“The articles include such topics as same-sex marriage licenses and the death of musician David Bowie,” BuzzFeed reports.
Snopes executives issued a statement condemning Mikkelson for his lapse in judgment.
“Plagiarism undermines our mission and values, full stop,” the statement reads. “It has no place in any context within this organization. We invite readers to let us know here if they find any other examples of plagiarized content so that we can apply the same treatment as above.”
Mikkelson’s publishing rights have since been revoked, though he still maintains 50 percent of the company’s stock and remains a top executive.
In a statement, Mikkelson admitted to plagiarism and handed the reigns of publication duties to Snopes Vice President of Editorial and Managing Editor Doreen Marchionni.
“The results of our internal audit confirmed that I engaged in multiple serious copyright violations of content that Snopes didn’t have rights to use,” Mikkelson said. “There is no excuse for my serious lapses in judgment. I am sorry. I have given full authority to our managing editor, Doreen Marchionni, to take any measures needed to address these issues.”
The BuzzFeed investigation uncovered that the plagiarized articles were published under three separate bylines. The first was Mikkelson’s real name, the second was “Snopes Staff,” and the third was a pseudonym byline “Jeff Zarronandia.”
According to former Managing Editor Brooke Binkowski, Mikkelson used the pseudonym “to write about topics he knew would get him hate mail under that assumed name.” “Plus it made it appear he had more staff than he had,” Binkowski said.
Snopes is known for issuing fact-checks on opinion pieces, analysis articles, and satire. The site appears to have an overt bias against conservatives and has provided cover for Democrats on multiple occasions.
In March, Snopes assigned a “Mixed” true-and-false rating to the claim that President Biden forgot the name of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a speech. Snopes conceded that the president was “fumbling his words and apparently [blanked] on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s name at one point in the speech.”
However, the outlet added that the claim is “mixed” because it’s possible that Biden “got stuck doing an extended ‘folksy’ ad-lib after initially tripping over his words.”
Snopes similarly provided cover for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) when she claimed that she feared for her life on January 6 during the Capitol riot. The outlet provided a “mostly false” rating for the statement that “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exaggerated the danger she was in during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, in that she ‘wasn’t even in the Capitol building’ when the rioting occurred.”
In the same fact check, Snopes admits that “Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t in the main Capitol building where the House and Senate Chambers are located.” The organization still opted to provide cover for AOC’s statements.