Gerald Posner Plagiarized Several Passages in Miami Babylon, Author Says

Categories: Media Watch, News

Last month, when Miami Beach journalist Gerald Posner got caught lifting from the Miami Herald in stories he wrote for the Daily Beast, he blamed the "warp speed" of the Internet.

posner2.jpg
Photo by Bill Cooke
Gerald Posner
So what's his excuse for plagiarizing at the presumably snail pace of book writing?

Because it sure looks like his best-selling Miami Babylon stole liberally from author Frank Owen's 2003 book, Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture.

Owen has provided Riptide with eight examples of passages taken from his book with only one or two superficial words changed, and five quotes taken from Clubland that weren't properly cited.

"Gerald Posner is a journalistic vampire and should be ashamed of himself," Owen says.

Consider the following two passages:

This is from page 323 in Posner's Miami Babylon:

"You know Sammy the Bull?" Paciello told Dohler, working himself up into a full-tilt rage. "They should kill him and his whole family." According to the Feds, not long after that conversation with Dohler, Paciello paid $10,000 to a Mafia enforcer to threaten a family member of someone Paciello suspected was snitching about him to the FBI. If the witness cooperated, the family was told, "Everybody is dead."'

Compare it to Owen's Clubland, page 277:

"You know Sammy the Bull?" Paciello continued, working himself up into a full-tilt rage. "They should kill him and his whole family." According to the feds, not long after this conversation with Dohler, Paciello paid $10,000 to a Mafia leg-breaker to threaten a family member of an unnamed source who Paciello presumed was snitching on him to the FBI. If the witness continued to cooperate, the family member was told, "Everybody is dead.'"

Or check out these two passages. The first comes from Miami Babylon, page 322:

By the early summer of 1999, Chris Paciello wanted an extra edge to crush his nightclub rivals.

Here's a nearly identical paragraph from Clubland, page 276:

By the early summer of 1999, Chris Paciello was convinced that he needed an extra edge to crush his rivals.

Late this afternoon, Posner reviewed all the passages highlighted by Owen and sent Riptide a lengthy reply, which is posted in its entirety after all of Owen's evidence.

Posner admits a new system of footnoting might have led him to miss credit for Clubland in the work, writing that after "a first glance at your cut and paste, there's little doubt that Clubland would have been cited more often, I have no doubt, in that chapter."

But Posner stops short of admitting he plagiarized from the book.

"I never intentionally copied text from any other book or publication. That is absolutely key," he says.

Intentional or not, though, it's tough to look at the evidence compiled by Owen and conclude Posner didn't commit plagiarism in this case.

Here are the rest of the passages:

Miami Babylon, page 322

Dohler fed Paciello confidential information about other club owners as well as tipping him off if the police were planning a raid looking for underage drinkers or drug dealers, but Paciello had no idea that his new hire was undercover.

And Clubland, page 276-77

...the supposedly corrupt policeman supplied Paciello with what looked like classified and confidential deep dish about competing club owners. Dohler also tipped him off about upcoming law enforcement actions to catch underage drinkers and drug dealers...He had no idea that Dohler was a plant. Clubland, 276-7

Miami Babylon, page 322:

Paciello felt so comfortable that he opened up to Dohler in ways he did not with his other South Beach friends.

And Clubland, page 277:

Paciello opened up to Dohler in ways he would never have dreamed of talking to his celebrity chums.

Miami Babylon, page 325:

On November 23,1999, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn returned a sealed indictment against Paciello and eight other defendants, all connected to the Bonanno crime family, charging them with multiple counts of murder, robbery, and racketeering. Later that same evening, Bonanno captain Anthony Graziano telephoned Paciello

Clubland, page 284:

On November 23, 1999, a federal grand jury in Brooklyn returned a sealed indictment against Paciello and eight other defendants, all of them connected to the Bonanno crime family. They were charged with numerous murder, robbery, and racketeering counts. Later the same day, at around seven in the evening, Bonanno captain Anthony Graziano called Paciello

Miami Babylon, page 327:

The judge ruled that Paciello could be released on a $5 million cash bond. The prosecutor said he would appeal immediately and the judge agreed that the club owner should remain behind bars pending the appeal. Paciello has flown to New York and was locked up in the high -security Metropolitan Detention Center, a windowless complex tucked under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, not far from his old stomping grounds

And Clubland, page 294:

Finally, the judge ruled that Paciello could be released on $3 million bond. Walden said he would appeal immediately before another court in Brooklyn. The judge agreed that the club owner should remain behind bars until then. In the meantime, Paciello was flown to New York and locked up in the high-security Metropolitan Detention Center, a windowless complex located in an industrial neighborhood, tucked under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, not far from Paciello's old stomping ground

Miami Babylon, page 327:

To help finance Paciello's legal defense, both the Bar Room and Liquid in West Palm Beach were sold, along with his yacht and Flamingo Drive home. His empire was in tatters

And Clubland, page 299 

To help finance Paciello's legal defense, both Bar Room and Liquid in Palm Beach were sold, along with his yacht and Flamingo Drive home. Paciello's empire was in tatters.

Miami Babylon, 327:

Out on bail, Paciello spent the summer under twenty-four-hour guard and house arrest at his mother's simple Brooklyn home

And Clubland, page 299:

Paciello spent the summer under strict house arrest, under twenty-four-hour guard at his mother's humble house

According to Owen, the following five quotes also weren't cited well enough in the story for readers to know they were taken from his research, not from Posner's interviews. Here they are:

"Lord Michael visited [Gilbert] Stafford at The Spot. "We've heard you're the best doorman on the Beach. We're opening a new club and would like to hire you," Miami Babylon, page 281.

He [Lord Michael] told me [Gilbert Stafford], "We've heard you're the best doorman on the beach, we're opening a new club and we'd like to hire you." Clubland, page 102

"The first night was very mobster chic," recalls [Gilbert] Stafford. "Only later did I find out they really were gangsters." Miami Babylon, page 282

"The opening night was very mobster chic," recalled Gilbert Stafford. "I thought they were just dressed up like mobsters; it wasn't until later I found out they really were gangsters." Clubland, 101.

"You treacherous motherfucker," Paciello screamed at him [Lord Michael], pressing the barrel of the pistol into his forehead. "You're lucky I don't kill you" Miami Babylon, page 283.

"You treacherous motherfucker. You set me up. I ought to shoot you right now" Clubland, page 107.

Says [Gilbert] Stafford, "...As clubs went, Risk was eminently forgettable" Miami Babylon, page 283.

Said [Gilbert] Stafford, "... As clubs go, it [Risk] was eminently unforgettable" Clubland, page 103.

"Party people will forgive anything for a good time," said Capponi. Miami Babylon, page 328.

"But what does it say about South Beach, that someone like Paciello could rise to such a position of prominence?" Michael Capponi shrugged. "How about party people will forgive anything for a good time." Clubland, page 301.

Here's Gerald Posner's full response to Riptide's email, which included all the same passages above:

I'll relook at this chapter and try to determine from my own notes and archives how it was sourced and put together. I have to go back to interviews more than three years old in some instances, and the same for handwritten files.

In any case, as you know, Babylon is work of original reporting, relying on a couple of hundred fresh interviews and lots of primary document research.

In his NY Times review, Bryan Burroughs said "at times 'Miami Babylon' feels like oral history" - for me, that wasn't a criticism, but a mark of how much of the book was original first time interviews.

Babylon is the first book I did with trailing endnotes, in which a few words of text are taken and then a source is provided. In other books, I used the more traditional numbered source notes.

There just aren't as many trailing endnotes as there are numbered ones. For instance, Babylon is 385 pages and has 740 endnotes. In Case Closed, which is 472 pages, there are 2,175 endnotes. In Killing the Dream, a smaller book at 339 pages, there are 1,739 endnotes.

With much more extensive endnotes, from a first glance at your cut and paste, there's little doubt that Clubland would have been cited more often, I have no doubt, in that chapter. I've met Frank Owen, count him as a Facebook friend, and have told him that I thought his work was the best of that Paciello period.

Even though there wasn't a new story to tell about the Paciello era, I still conducted interviews (interesting that my notes from an email interview with a former police officer show him citing language from Clubland, which I can only imagine he read in response to some of my questions). It would have been a fresher chapter if Paciello himself had agreed to talk to me. But he refused, both a direct request, and one I placed through Shareef Malnik. And Ingrid was forthcoming about some of her past, but not on the matters around the club history.

I also research my books with my wife, Trisha, an author in her own right. And I had two researcher/volunteers for help on this book. But in the end, it's my byline on the book, so I am ultimately responsible for everything in it.

I'm proud of Babylon, but obviously it's made its share of enemies. I was told recently by a friend that two UofM students had been hired to do a line by line check of the book for just the type of issue you're raising. In any case, I never intentionally copied text from any other book or publication. That is absolutely key.

The explanation doesn't do much for Owen.

"If he'd come right out and admitted he'd plagiarized, I'd have probably let it drop. But all these excuses are flat-out absurd," Owen says. "The section of his book where he stole my work is only 18 pages in a 440-page book. I wonder how much else is stolen in there."

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