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Dean Wakefield, Dead At 53

Simon Sebastien writes for the SF Chronicle 2/12/04, never mentioning Wakefield's plagiarism:

Dean Wakefield of San Francisco, a 30-year journalist who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and other dailies, died of a heart attack early Monday at his Potrero Hill home after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 53.

Mr. Wakefield earned a reputation as an innovator in print journalism, developing ways to increase the racial and generational diversity of newspapers' readership.

Born in Los Angeles, Mr. Wakefield studied at Claremont College before moving to California State University Long Beach, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1972. He worked as a copy editor at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and later at The Chronicle. He then moved to the Los Angeles Times, where he became the Op-Ed page editor and helped develop "Voices," a weekly page of written opinions from the community.

Mr. Wakefield "was very proud of that project because it allowed a wide array of voices into the newspaper," said Janet Clayton, editor of the editorial pages at the Times. "It's important for people to see themselves in the paper. He was on a mission to see that they did."

In mid-1990s, Mr. Wakefield returned to The Chronicle as the Opinion Page editor. For the next several years, Mr. Wakefield took on the issue of race primarily through his occasional book reviews. In 1998, he helped spearhead The Chronicle's yearlong project "About Race."

"One of my primary reasons for going into journalism was to help promote greater understanding of different people," Mr. Wakefield wrote in an editorial in January 1998. "It has been a fulfilling mission."

Later, during a brief stint as the editorial page editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. Wakefield developed the "New Attitudes" feature, which published opinion pieces from high school and college students.

Mr. Wakefield mentored many young journalists, especially minorities, hoping to improve diversity in newsrooms. He also occasionally lectured at schools in low-income communities. "It was an effort to encourage children to rise above whatever their surroundings might be," said Mr. Wakefield's sister, Saundra Davis. "Though he was able to move up in his field, he saw a lot of people who didn't."

Mr. Wakefield is survived by his partner Chris Wisdom; mother, Connie Lawson-Walton of Dallas; stepfather Arthur Walton of Dallas; brother Rudolph Wakefield of Los Angeles; and two sisters, Saundra Davis of Los Angeles and Clarice Wakefield of Dallas.

Dean Wakefield - The Jayson Blair of LA Times, SF Chronicle?

A book review in the 6/30/96 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by assistant book review editor Dean Wakefield plagiarized 12 paragraphs from Jim Sleeper's Washington Post 6/2/96 review of the same book - Marshall Frady's "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson."

Yale Professor Jim Sleeper writes 5/13/03: "Luke, I wish I knew where [Dean] Wakefield is now. I do feel a little sorry for him, and since no one ever conclusively proved plagiarism, I didn't use his name in the Courant column. The problem there, as at the NYT, was definitely his [elderly politically correct] editor, Patricia Holt, who ran the books section. It was she who really spared no effort to cover for him by blaming herself for having mixed and matched parts of my review with parts of a draft of his, all while he was on vacation. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, but even if so, it speaks to a lot of dereliction and incompetence on all sides. And that, too, they protected. Thanks for raising the question of what happened to him. If you find out, would you let me know?"

Jim Sleeper writes Media News 5/13/03:

In 1997 I devoted a chapter of Liberal Racism to warning, specifically and explicitly, that a strange symbiosis between Arthur Sulzberger, Jr's impish moralism and Howell Raines' penitential racialism was setting up just the kind of journalistic disaster that has occurred. The chapter even opens with an anecdote about Times managing editor Gerald Boyd told to me by Gay Talese. Not very surprisingly, almost every reviewer of the book contrived not to mention that chapter. Still, it seems to me that anyone who really wants to discuss what has been going on at the Times should take Liberal Racism down off the shelf and read pp. 67-95.

To my mind, the furious denials from some quarters in recent days that Times' "diversity" policies had all that much to do with what happened are just that: the furor of people in denial. But they're also a backhanded admission that the air is starting to clear--for blacks, especially, I hope, since they've been laboring for so long under the soft bigotry of low expectations.

People like me, Bill McGowan ("Coloring the News": see my review in the LAT, Feb 17, 2002), and others have paid something to try to crack this open. The country has a vast, national race industry of activists, consultants, foundation officers, civil rights lawyers and government monitors that enhances its funding, job lines, and moral cachet by playing up racial "differences" and discounting commonalities. Journalists should be investigating the race industry, not working for it. Jimsleep@aol.com

Jim Sleeper writes 5/13/03 for the Hartford Courant:

Nearly seven years ago, the editor of The Washington Post Book World phoned to ask if I knew how 12 paragraphs from my June 2, 1996, Post review of Marshall Frady's "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson" had wound up a few weeks later in the San Francisco Chronicle under another reviewer's [Dean Wakefield] byline. [This is the Chronicle's cleaned-up version of the original plagiarizing review.]

I was mystified. The Chronicle's reviewer was that paper's deputy opinion page editor. Trying to imagine the heist, I pictured an overeager 26-year-old, in way over his head, writing desperately on deadline.

A more convoluted explanation came from the Chronicle's books editor [Patricia Holt] : Its reviewer had downloaded my Post review to study it but had gone on vacation without finishing his own. The editor, searching for his review, had mistaken some of my paragraphs (mysteriously shorn of my byline and the Post's headline) for his and pasted them in.

That sounds like some of the explanations we're hearing from New York Times editors about the work of Jayson Blair, a young black reporter who cut a devastating swath of mendacity through the newspaper of record before resigning.

When I called the "author" [Dean Wakefield] of the Chronicle review for his account, he stunned me: "As an African American, I would never `lift' a story, because we are already under the cloud of Janet Cooke," he said, referring to The Washington Post reporter who had fabricated her Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a young boy on heroin. Recovering my voice, I said simply, "I really don't care what race you are." He insisted that his editor's story of a mix-up was true and promised to send me his original version. It never came. And he remained at his post for several more years.

.....................................

Luke says: I did a search on the Wall Street Journal Publications Library and found Dean Wakefield's review in the San Francisco Chronicle. At the beginning of Wakefield's plagiarized article is this note:

"Because of an editing error, the Book Review's June 30 review of "Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson" by Marshall Frady carried some paragraphs from the review of the same book that appeared in the Washington Post. The problem occurred when a wire-service version of the Post review was placed in the wrong computer file and inadvertently spliced into The Chronicle review. Our apologies to the Washington Post and its reviewer, Jim Sleeper."

Jim Sleeper writes 5/13/03: "Luke, that's quite a compendium. Thanks. But I have news for you and your readers, which should be checked out immediately: The review by Dean Wakefield which you've linked, and which I assume is the one in their online archive, is not the one that actually ran. The one that actually ran was much longer and had twelve paragraphs from my original Washington Post review. I would hate to think that someone has doctored the review that actually ran, but if they did, they are in big trouble, and you have stumbled upon another cover-up. I have, in my possession, on paper only, of course, a fax of the actual SF Chronicle that ran, exactly as it appeared in the printed edition which everyone read, graphics and all. It is nothing like the review you have linked."

Salon.com reports in 1996: When writers are accused of plagiarism these days, they often plead innocent on the grounds of an electronic mishap: A file of their own notes was inadvertently confused with a file of notes taken from other sources.

According to Wakefield, the resemblance between the two reviews is a case of "electronic error." While working on his review of "Jesse," he says, he called up a copy of Sleeper's earlier review and downloaded it into his files in order to read it and "make sure I was doing justice to Frady's book."

Wakefield, who recently came to the Chronicle from the editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, says he had not reviewed many books in the past and wanted to read Sleeper's review more for form than content, "just to see how good reviews are done." Wakefield says he did write and submit an entirely original review of Frady's book, but that Sleeper's words were mingled with his own in the editing process.

Patricia Holt, the Chronicle's book review editor, did not return telephone calls last week. But in a letter faxed to Sleeper, which he made available to Salon, Holt wrote that she and Wakefield "are both guilty of an incredibly tangled and embarrassing series of blunders that resulted in the sabotage of our own review process." She also notes that "in my 14 years as Book Editor, nothing like this has ever happened."

According to Holt's rambling, three and one-half page letter, the error occurred when she became worried that Wakefield -- who was apparently out of town -- would miss his deadline on the review.

Chaotic as newspaper editing can be, the incident does raise a number of questions. Why did Wakefield remove Sleeper's byline (and all Washington Post references) from the Post's review? Why didn't Holt have an inkling that these two dissimilar reviews were not the work of the same writer? Why didn't Wakefield read the final (combined) version of the review that Holt sent him for his approval? And didn't Wakefield even bother to read his piece once it had appeared in print as a Book Review cover story?

Sleeper also added: "Even knowing as I do how newspapers work and how pressured such work can be, I find your account believable only as an account of gross malfeasance. I don't see how your proposed 'Correction' can say simply that my work ended up in the 'wrong' file and not that the problem involved a failure on both your parts to properly check the work."

From Washington Post 8/12/96:

"I'm not stupid," says Dean Wakefield, the Chronicle's opinion editor and author of the review in question. "I would certainly not plagiarize someone's work. That's just beyond the pale. . . . It was an honest mistake."

The incident that led to an apology and two corrections by the Chronicle began on June 2, when The Post published a review of Marshall Frady's biography of Jesse Jackson. The author was New York writer Jim Sleeper.

Soon afterward, Wakefield, who had little experience reviewing books, was asked to review "Jesse" for his paper. He says he downloaded Sleeper's review to his computer to study it. This was a "mistake," Holt wrote in her letter of apology to Sleeper, "but I later compounded the problem with my own mistake."

Holt says she grabbed what she thought was Wakefield's review -- Sleeper's byline had somehow been deleted -- from his private computer file and began reading it. The Keystone Kops routine was just starting. Wakefield, returning from an out-of-town trip, says he got a message from Holt asking for the review and filed the piece: his own. Holt says she found this "not as strong" as what she believed to be his first draft, so she combined them.

When the Sleeperized review was laid out on the cover of the June 30 book review, Wakefield says, he read the top, saw his own words and didn't bother to turn the page -- to the 12 paragraphs of Sleeper's language, right through to the last sentence.

Holt calls the episode her "worst nightmare . . . we're just feeling terrible for what we did to Sleeper and The Post." Wakefield says he didn't agree with Sleeper's criticisms of "Jesse" that were published under his name. "I'm just totally devastated by this whole thing," he says.

Sleeper, for his part, remains skeptical. "While I don't have any reason to presume plagiarism," he says, "there's a level of incompetence and dereliction here that's unbelievable."

....................

So how was a plagiarist like Dean Wakefield treated by his employer, the San Francisco Chronicle? He was promoted to Op/Ed editor. Story: "About Race" started in January [1995?] with a poll published in the Chronicle, examining race relations in the Bay Area. On its Op-Ed page, editor Dean Wakefield asked readers to participate. "We want to hear from religious leaders, educators and just plain folks who are dealing with the issue of race on a daily basis," he wrote. "We want honest views and comments that will help all Bay Area residents understand race and how we can deal with it -- and each other -- better."

According to this 7/29/02 article about a bomb threat at the LA Times, there was a "Dean Wakefield" working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Same guy? An email to such a name at the LA Times bounced back.

Jim Sleeper was a columnist at The New York Daily News. He is the author of "Liberal Racism" (Viking Press, 1997), and a lecturer in political science at Yale University.

Where is Dean Wakefield today? What happened to his editor Patricia Holt who mounted that turgid defense?

Good article on Salon.com on such plagiarists as Dean Wakefield, Deepak Chopra, novelist/editor Jay Parini, Ruth Shalit, David Leavitt, Julio Iglesias, Jay McInerney, Jacob Epstein, Alex Haley, D.M. Thomas, Julian Barnes, Alexander Theroux, Elizabeth Wurtzel (fired from the Dallas Morning News for plagiarism), NYT's Fox Butterfield, Nina Totenberg, Martin Luther King...

6/4/03

I quote from a discussion on a black journalism website named for the late editor of the Oakland Tribune, Robert C. Maynard:

Richard Prince writes:

The "Soft Bigotry" of Writer Jim Sleeper?

Imagine this scenario: Black journalist writes a book review. The white editor mistakenly pastes in copies of a previous review via computer. The editor runs a correction noting her error. But it's still the black journalist's fault. Another result, we're told, of affirmative action.

That's the scenario that liberal-turned-conservative writer Jim Sleeper unveiled in an op-ed column on the Jayson Blair case May 13 in Connecticut's Hartford Courant, in a piece that was then picked up by other newspapers.

"When I called the 'author' of the [San Francisco] Chronicle review for his account," Sleeper wrote, describing the 1996 incident, "he stunned me: 'As an African American, I would never "lift" a story, because we are already under the cloud of Janet Cooke,' he said, referring to The Washington Post reporter who had fabricated her Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of a young boy on heroin. Recovering my voice, I said simply, 'I really don't care what race you are.' He insisted that his editor's story of a mix-up was true and promised to send me his original version. It never came. And he remained at his post for several more years."

But the book reviewer, Dean Wakefield, tells quite a different story. In fact, Wakefield, who started in the business in 1979, and has been op-ed editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, a copy editor at the Los Angeles Times and worked briefly on the editorial pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says Sleeper's comments are "outrageous."

"I've never, ever talked to Sleeper! And for him compare two people just because they happen to be black is disgusting," Wakefield told Journal-isms. "What I did was not a mistake. As a matter of fact, I got a raise after that. . . . This is defamation."

Sleeper's column continued: "If people like Jayson Blair and the Chronicle's reviewer weren't hired or kept on to assuage white managers' moralistic enthusiasm and guilt, there would still be many fine black journalists in American newsrooms. But too many newspapers are driven by corporate policy to finesse the heavy lifting that should have been done for more black kids much earlier in life, at home and in school."

The headline on the column by Sleeper, author of a book called "Liberal Racism," was "The Soft Bigotry Of Low Newsroom Expectations."

Jim Sleeper replies:

"I've never, ever talked to Sleeper!," former San Francisco Chronicle writer Dean Wakefield told Journal-isms June 4, "And for him to compare two people just because they happen to be black is disgusting."

I'm sorry to see Wakefield doing exactly what he did when I reached him on the morning of July 22, 1996, at his Chronicle extension (1-800-227-4423, ext. 6023), at his editor Patricia Holt's urging, to ask how 12 paragraphs of a review I'd published in the Washington Post had showed up in his own review several weeks later.

First, Wakefield insisted, as his editor did, that the fault in letting my work be published as his had been all hers. Then, just as he's done now, he played the race card, linking himself to someone else who happens to be black, telling me, "As an African-American, I would never 'lift' a story, because we are already under the cloud of Janet Cooke."

Difficult though it may be for some to believe, I had given no thought to Wakefield's race. But his comment made me realize that if in truth he hadn't plagiarized me, then his well-meaning, white-liberal editor had been scrambling to make him look good by confusing some of my review -- which Wakefield had downloaded into his queue, without my byline or the Washington Post's headline -- for his own work. His editor had done that, but Wakefield had had several opportunities to catch the mistake. I don't know why he didn't; he didn't give a straight answer -- just as he doesn't now, by insisting he never talked with me -- and he played the race card then, too.

My May 13, 2003, Hartford Courant column recounted this incident in connection with the Jayson Blair debacle but never mentioned Wakefield's name. I was attacking only the soft bigotry of liberal white editors' low newsroom expectations. That's what made the stories worth linking, and I'd hope both Wakefield and Blair would join in my criticisms.

2/11/04

Dean Wakefield, ex-LAT staffer was 53

Kevin Roderick writes on LA Observed: "The former assistant editor in the L.A. Times opinion section also had edited at the San Francisco Chronicle opinion page and worked for the Atlanta Constitution. He died this week in San Francisco after a lengthy illness. Back in 1996, Wakefield briefly emerged from the obscurity where most newspaper editors work when 12 paragraphs of a Washington Post book review ran under his byline."