By Justin Spiro
December 24, 2015
A journalist for The Detroit Free Press has committed the greatest transgression in his field, plagiarizing the work of another writer.
A DSR investigation has revealed that Drew Sharp, longtime writer for the Freep, has been caught plagiarizing a November 20 article written by David Harns of iSportsWeb. The article in question detailed Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook’s relationship with Miranda McCoy, an Ohio woman who developed a fondness for the MSU football team after suffering major injuries in an automobile accident. McCoy, now a quadriplegic, shared her story with Harns in a detailed account.
A few weeks later, on December 4th, Sharp also told the story of Miranda McCoy and Connor Cook in his Freep column. The similarities between Sharp’s article and the Harns piece are striking, and with good reason. Drew Sharp stole the Harns story and presented it as his own.
The DSR has learned that Sharp never spoke to Miranda McCoy before telling her inspiring story of resilience in the Freep. In fact, according to our sources the only person he spoke to was Cook, who only provided his perspective and commented on what McCoy’s support had meant to him. All of the details of McCoy’s story and experience were lifted entirely from the Harns piece, lacking any attribution to iSportsWeb or to Harns himself.
We have learned from our source at the paper that the Freep editors were made aware of Sharp’s plagiarism, investigated it and confirmed Sharp had stolen Harns’ reporting. They have since issued corrections in both the print and online editions of the Sharp column. The online piece has been edited to include several references to iSportsWeb, including three separate links to the original source material.
Harns, who has been paid by the Freep in the past for freelance work, was offered his usual rate for his unintended contributions to Sharp’s story according to our source at the paper. This was seen as a form of restitution from the newspaper’s editorial staff.
According to McCoy though, Harns turned down their offer, instead requesting that the Freep make a donation to Shriners Children’s Hospital in Chicago, a charity of great importance to Miranda McCoy. The Freep agreed to double the donation and make the requested contribution. We are awaiting confirmation of whether or not this donation has been made by the paper.
Incredibly, according to our industry source, the Freep admitted Sharp’s transgression privately to Harns, apologized for it, issued corrections to the column, and sought to make Harns whole financially for his work. What they did not do was either suspend or terminate Sharp, who has had several columns published since his plagiarism of Harns came to light. Sharp’s most recent piece on Nick Saban’s exit from Michigan State in 1999 was published earlier this morning.
And while Sharp never spoke to Miranda, the DSR did. The following is her reaction to the Sharp feature:
“I have not talked to Drew Sharp or anyone else with the Free Press before or after their story was published. I was browsing Twitter and noticed Joe Rexrode praising Drew Sharp for his article about me. At first I thought it was cool that someone had picked up on Dave’s story, then I read it. I paused and was like ‘wait, what?’ I didn’t tell any of this stuff to him, and there were some details about me that were wrong.”
The details that were incorrect were minor in detail and innocent memory mistakes Connor Cook made in retelling the story.
But Miranda wasn’t finished ….
“Dave’s original article is the reason I was able to meet Connor Cook… I was upset that someone would do that (take his story) to Dave… but Dave has said he is completely content with their (Freep) handling of it, and if he is OK with it, I am OK with it.”
One is left to wonder why the Detroit Free Press quietly and retroactively inserted proper attribution into Sharp’s December 4th column. While such a correction was imperative, it is grossly insufficient in addressing the ethical issues presented. The Freep knows that Sharp stole the work of another writer and presented it as his own. Meanwhile, they continue to publish Sharp columns and to date have not told their readers what occurred.
Imagine if in 2005 the Freep had simply updated the online version of Mitch Albom’s false story about Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson attending a Spartan basketball game they did not actually attend.
“Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Mitch Albom wrote a majority of his column before the game commenced. Mr. Cleaves and Mr. Richardson were at home watching the game and not in St. Louis for the MSU/North Carolina game as Mr. Albom had portrayed.”
But the Freep did more than that in 2005. The newspaper printed an apology from Albom — even if the columnist did so kicking and screaming the entire way — and promised a thorough investigation in a letter from editor Carole Leigh Hutton. That letter appeared on the front page of the major daily.
For all of their mistakes in handling the Albom matter, the Freep at least offered complete transparency in the wake of Albom’s fabrication. And there were consequences for those involved, as the veteran columnist and several editors who had approved the story were suspended at the conclusion of the Freep investigation.
It would appear that ten years later, major violations of journalistic integrity at the Freep are handled differently. If Sharp has been punished, it wouldn’t seem to be in the form of a suspension. And no public apology or even acknowledgment of their columnist’s grievous ethical transgression has been made by the Freep.
The DSR reached out to David Harns for comment upon discovery of Sharp’s plagiarism but he was only willing to say the following:
Everybody makes mistakes, myself included. I’m satisfied with how the Free Press handled this situation and I consider the matter closed.
Harns would not comment on details regarding his resolution with the Freep and whether or not it included an apology from Sharp.
This is not the first time that someone has accused Sharp of using the Internet dubiously to assist in his work. In 2009, Sharp was caught using a fake Wikipedia quote attributed to Rush Limbaugh in a column where he accused the conservative blowhard of mentioning the merits of slavery.
Limbaugh vociferously denied the charge and publicly called Sharp out for using a bogus quote.
This is not Sharp’s first journalistic transgression covered by the DSR, either. Back in 2011, Sharp wrote a column about Justin Verlander‘s no-hitter in Toronto against the Blue Jays.
Not only was Sharp not in Toronto, he wasn’t even watching a majority of the game that he attempted to cover. Sharp’s piece included several factual errors apparent to anyone watching Verlander’s second career no-no.
You can read the DSR’s three-part expose on Sharp’s 2011 embarrassment here:
It was abundantly clear that Sharp wrote about aspects of the game he didn’t watch. In an email to DSR publisher Jeff Moss, he acknowledged missing the first half of the game. That did not stop him from commenting on the first five innings in his article, though.
Unsurprisingly, the Free Press sports department — then run by sports editor Gene Myers — did nothing. In fact, they did worse than nothing. They issued a public statement defending Sharp’s column even though it was clear that plays Sharp described in his column did not actually occur.
Ironically, Sharp’s email interaction with Moss included dismissive messages regarding “bloggers.”
Sharp’s tastes appear to have changed since 2011 considering his December 4th Connor Cook piece would have never been possible without Sharp plagiarizing David Harns.
You know …. a blogger.
While this isn’t a situation with much humor, we would be remiss if we didn’t include a few comments from Free Press readers of Sharp’s heist piece. These commenters obviously did not know that Sharp had lifted Harns’ work for his story …
In retrospect, it is hilarious that these four Freep readers could not believe that Sharp would write a piece like the one he did on Cook. Because, he kind of didn’t.
We have tried to reach interim sports editor** Kevin Bull at the paper for comment, but it would appear that last night’s storm has knocked out the Freep’s phone lines. He has not responded to an email requesting comment either.
(** — We have been led to believe that Bull is currently holding down the fort until a permanent replacement for Myers is named.)
We have also left a voicemail on Sharp’s cell phone and we are awaiting a return call.
It will be interesting to see how the Freep handles this situation as many journalists and academics believed that Albom should have been fired for his own MSU transgression a decade ago.
The paper was also heavily criticized for their handling of the Rich Rodriguez/University of Michigan “practice hours” investigation that was headed by COLUMNIST Michael Rosenberg.
You cannot read New York Times best-selling author John U. Bacon’s book “Three and Out” and not conclude that Rosenberg’s investigation was a witch hunt and that the former Freep columnist had an axe to grind with the current University of Arizona head coach.
Now that Myers is off into retirement, it will be interesting to see if the paper handles these type of ethical breaches more seriously.
Whoever is in charge now that Myers is gone is officially on the clock. As it stands now, it looks like nothing has changed except that the Freep is now paying for this kind of stuff to go away.
If you’d like to see with your own two eyes the original Harns’ article, the print version of Sharp’s column and the current online version still on the Freep website as of this writing …. well here ya go ….
Screenshots of David Harns’ iSportsWeb Feature
Drew Sharp’s Column from Freep Print Edition December 4, 2015
Drew Sharp’s Column from Freep Online Edition December 15, 2015