Jul 11, 2012

NPR says intern "made a mistake" in plagiarizing account of execution

NPR has removed a story from its website, and requested that member stations do the same, after learning portions of the text were plagiarized by an intern, according to the Poynter Institute.

In a note to stations, Margaret Low Smith, NPR’s senior v.p. for news, said the intern, Ahmad Shafi, arrived in D.C. after working for NPR as a producer and fixer in the network's Kabul, Afghanistan, bureau. After Shafi wrote a first-person account of witnessing an execution, published July 9, it came to NPR's attention that "portions of the piece were copied from a story by Jason Burke, published by the London Review of Books in March 2001," Smith wrote, adding that "we deeply regret" the incident.

"What happened is fairly simple: an intern made a mistake," NPR spokesperson Anna Christopher told Poynter. "English is not Shafi’s first language; it’s one of five he speaks. In writing about this execution he witnessed in 1998, he went looking for a better way to describe what he remembered seeing. When asked about the similar passages by our editors, he was completely upfront and honest, and deeply contrite."

Christopher said that Shafi is still at NPR but not writing for broadcast or the Web while his other work is reviewed. Shafi's byline is on some 15 stories on, dating to August 2011.

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