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G.R. Anderson on Rolling Stone's Bachmann piece: "I do want credit where credit is due"

Matt Taibbi's piece on Michele Bachmann in Rolling Stone this week borrows liberally from a 2006 cover story by former City Pages reporter G.R. Anderson Jr.

So much so that Abe Sauer of the Awl called them out in a point-by-point comparison and got Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates to admit he had deleted several "according to City Pages" references. Bates promised to add link backs into the electronic version of the story, which he did.

But the original piece's author, who is now a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota, says that's not enough and he wants an apology from the magazine.

"I would never want to get anybody fired," Anderson says. "But I do want credit where credit is due."

We interviewed Anderson about the controversy yesterday evening:

Q. Have you seen Rolling Stone's response to the Awl pointing out the pieces of your story that appear without attribution in Taibbi's piece?
My understanding is that they put up the link to The Chosen One, the story that I wrote in 2006. The website, the Awl.com, has obviously parsed a bigger story than what's on the website now, which makes me wonder if they took part of it down.

Q.What did you think about all of this?
I've been an uninterrupted subscriber to Rolling Stone since 1983. I read Taibbi all the time. I don't know him--when I lived in New York, I read the New York Press, and always greatly admired his writing. And I think that perhaps what has happened to Taibbi is that he's being encouraged to be the new gonzo that Wenner romanticizes and those days are over. I don't think either one of the them realizes it. The differences between Taibbi and Dr. Thompson is that Thompson went to get a story--he went places--he didn't write it from fucking Jann Wenner's fucking couch. You couldn't find Thompson for months, because he was working on a story. Clearly, this Bachmann piece shows the difference quite clearly, between Taibbi and Hunter S. Thompson--which is vast. The longer Taibbi chases it with rhetoric and no reporting, he's going to lose.

G.R. Anderson's cover story on Bachmann--the one that Taibbi found so inspiring
G.R. Anderson's cover story on Bachmann--the one that Taibbi found so inspiring

Q. How did you find out about the controversy?
I don't think it is a controversy. It's a controversy in the effect that I want to choose my words carefully here. I learned about it via Facebook, like most citizens learn about their news these days. And at first I kind of shrugged it off, because the more popular Bachmann gets, the more my stories are linked to. Then I thought, well, it's just another day in that regard. You know, for instance, like I told you before, Mother Jones at least had the courtesy and the courage to cite City Pages for stories that I did.

I do have mixed feelings about the idea that it's cited to City Pages and not to me, because I was the only one doing these stories--I was doing them of my own volition. At that time I was doing these stories, I was both the news editor and a reporter, and there was nobody but me to say no. I knew that this was a political movement rising right here--and I just followed it, like any good reporter would. I'm not congratulating myself, but I knew that she was a rising star. I knew when I first saw her at a state senate committee hearing, when she brought up the idea of a gay marriage ban--I want to say it was 2004. I checked my records, and it seems like that's the case. I knew that she was going to be the next step in the W revolution. And in fact I think she was very relevant in getting him re-elected.

If you go back and look at my stories, I quoted her verbatim, I got her on the phone--I did not shy away from her--and it's exactly the person that we're seeing now. I knew then that there were two rising stars in Minnesota--Michele Bachmann and Amy Klobuchar. And not Tim Pawlenty.

Q. Would you call what Taibbi did plagiarism?
I do want to say this for the record: I would not consider what the Rolling Stone article contained in it to be plagiarism. That is for other people to decide. I'm glad that web sites have parsed it down to show that. What I will say, as a graduate of the Columbia J-School, and an adjunct at the University of Minnesota J-School, I do know that if a student handed in a story with that particular lack of sourcing, not only would I give it an 'F,' I would probably put that student on academic fraud.

I'm not saying anything in particular about Taibbi's piece. What I'm saying is there is an ethical decision to make there. I'm surprised that a publication that I respect so much would actually play so fast and loose with something as simple as citations. I do know that during my course as a reporter for City Pages and other publications, I've quoted from Rolling Stone and attributed it to something of the effect of, according to Rolling Stone magazine article. If it was space considerations for Eric Bates, I would tell him that it's very easy to cut five words somewhere else in the story, and put the five words in that actually cite the source. That strikes me as a basic tenet of good journalism. Having said that, I don't know that Taibbi is a good journalist. He's a great polemicist. He is wonderfully gifted writer. But the idea that he wrote an entire story on Michele Bachmann that lifted from my story without setting foot in the face of Minnesota, and went on Don Imus, and actually showed himself to be the ill-informed flame-thrower that he is. Well, he followed her for a month. I'll tell you something, Matt Taibbi. I followed her for fucking ten years. If you're going to sycophant off of me, well, at least admit to it.

Q. Do you have anything more you want to say?
I have your kicker. The irony of this, is that over the last few years, I have pitched several stories to Eric Bates in particular, because I've wanted nothing more than to have my byline in Rolling Stone, since I was about 16 years old. I've pitched him several stories, one of which I know was about Michele Bachmann being a factor in the 2008 election. I pitched all of them with due diligence, and to Mr. Bates's credit, he responded via e-mail, the same way every time, which is, "We're not interested."

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