The Atlantic Stole My Work

The publication refuses to credit me after copying whole sentences and paragraphs from a freelance pitch I sent to reporter Natasha Bertrand.

This item was edited by Atlanta, GA investigative blogger Peter M. Heimlich.

source

Here’s an excerpt from Bertrand’s article, “The Enigmatic Russian Paying Maria Butina’s Legal Bills,” published March 20, 2019 on the Atlantic’s website:

Ionov runs Ionov Transcontinental (IT), which provides access to Russian government agencies by helping clients “realize the potential opportunities of their business through its participation in political activities,” according to its website. There is no evidence that Ionov works directly for the Kremlin. (IT’s vice president is Roman Khudyakov, a former Russian government official and a member of the Right to Bear Arms.)

And here’s an excerpt from a draft of the story I sent Bertrand earlier that month:

In addition to his legal and advocacy work, Ionov runs Ionov Transcontinental (IT), which […] provides access to Russian government agencies by helping clients “realize the potential of opportunities of [their] business through its participation in political activities.” IT’s Vice President is Roman Khudyakov, former deputy of Russia’s 6th State Duma and a member of Butina’s Russian gun lobby group, the Right to Bear Arms.

By my count, Bertrand’s article contains at least six unequivocal examples of direct copying and revisions of my work. (Bertrand, now at Politico, declined to comment on-the-record for this item.)

On November 1, 2020, I compiled and sent detailed supporting evidence to the Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, asking him for a co-byline credit and freelance fee. After a month, Goldberg had still not replied, so I forwarded my request to Atlantic Media’s vice chairman Peter Lattman.

Here is Lattman’s December 17 reply:

Hi Dean, Thanks for the follow-up. I forwarded this to the appropriate people and I know they’re looking into it. PTL

As of publication, I have still not heard anything from the Atlantic and Lattman has not replied to my subsequent inquiries.

Jeffrey Goldberg (source)

It’s unclear how my writing made it into Bertrand’s article. But here’s a timeline of our correspondence:

• On March 8, 2019, I sent Bertrand an email pitching the story and requesting that I receive a co-byline credit. She expressed interest and conveyed that she’d talk to her editors.

• On March 11, 2019, Bertrand sent me an email stating that a “co-byline won’t be a problem.” That same day, I gave her access to a draft of the story I’d written on Google Docs containing all of my research. I also helped put her in contact with the subject of the story, Russian businessman Alexander Ionov, who’d agreed to speak with me on-the-record.

• On March 20, 2019, Bertrand sent me an email stating:

So my editor in chief isn’t comfortable doing cobylines with people who don’t write full time for the Atlantic, and told me that since the Russian fundraising website is publicly available online and therefore open source, it wouldn’t be the Atlantic’s policy to note a tip in the piece itself […] I’m really sorry about this […] I haven’t used your writing that you sent me in the google doc—I’ve just framed the piece around the fact that the fundraising website exists, which I can hat tip you for on Twitter.

The story was published later that day without my byline, although the Atlantic did eventually agree to credit me within the text of the article (albeit reluctantly and without offering an apology or an explanation for axing me from the story). I didn’t realise my work had been lifted until October 2020, when I was inspired to reinvestigate by the Atlantic magazine’s 800-word correction — and subsequent retraction — of a story by freelance journalist/serial fabricator Ruth Shalit Barrett.

As I told Bertrand in an email, the Atlantic’s refusal to add my byline to the story hurts both of us. I lost out on a writing credit and freelance fee; as a result, her name now sits atop an article that contains copied material.

Being a freelance journalist has its ups and downs, but getting stomped on by a big publication like the Atlantic deserves to be called out, hence this item.

Any other writers out there with similar stories? Feel free to drop me a line at stm1989@protonmail.com.

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