Times Columnist Roger Cohen Borrows Quotes

Oversharers.Com screen capture

The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen engages in some ethically questionable journalism in his column Thursday about people sharing too much on Facebook and Twitter.

In his commentary, Cohen shares this lament:

Now I was determined to get through 2012 without doing a peevish column ... but everyone has a tipping point. Mine occurred when I came across this tweet from Claire:

"Have such a volcanically deep zit laying roots in my chin that it feels like someone hit me with a right cross."

Good to know, Claire.

I was just recovering from that when I found Deanna tweeting that she had "picked up pet food" and was heading to "the dreaded consult on colon stuff. The joys of turning 50." As for Kate she let the world know the status of her labor: "Contractions 3 minutes apart and dilated at 2 cm."

Social media does not mean that you have to be that social.

Cohen makes it sound as if these are people he interacts with on Twitter and Facebook, but it's far more likely that he found them on Oversharers.Com, a site that's the top Google search result for the term "oversharing." The quotes from Claire and Deanna are the first and third entries on the second page of the site's archive. The zit tweet was something Claire shared with her followers in February 2010. Deanna's "colon stuff" status update, which Cohen incorrectly calls a tweet, was posted to her Facebook friends no later than July 2010, if the date on Oversharers.Com post is correct.

He never credits Oversharers.Com as the source of these quotes. There was no "tipping point" that roused his inner curmudgeon about people sharing too much. He was fishing for examples to write a column around. More seriously from a journalistic standpoint, Cohen has no way of knowing if the Deanna quote is real. It's just a screen capture on a humor site with no link or full name of the author on Facebook. Someone could have made it up.

Regarding Cohen's premise that we're living in a too-much-information age, that's hard to argue.

But there's something obnoxiously elitist about a New York Times columnist ridiculing ordinary people for sharing observations about their lives on social networks to an audience of people who've specifically asked to receive them. Two years ago, Cohen used his column to share the text of a suicide note written by his mother:

That jolted me -- and sent me back to my mother's suicide note of July 25, 1978: "It's as though I've turned to stone. I can't relate, I can't communicate and I can no longer bear the pain and gloom I cause to those I love most. ... At present I am filled only with self-hate. I do love my family and dear friends but I can't go on and on like this."

My mother survived, just. But the bi-polar state that led her to try to take her life that day never entirely relaxed its grip.

What would Cohen have thought if he found something like that on a Facebook wall?

Update: The Times has acknowledged that Cohen made improper use of those quotes.


I think you're right -- his only real concern is having something to write about. Not that i can't relate.

Yow, that's some classic phoned-in bullshit right there. I hope you've passed this along to the NYT public editor. "Ethically questionable" is a polite way of putting it.

I sent an email to the public editor yesterday.

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