There were numerous reasons that I declined to work at the Khmer Times on three occasions starting more than a year ago.
One was how much I have come to value my free time.
The other reasons were more complicated. For one thing, I had a viscerally negative reaction to the owner, one T. Mohan, and I suspect the impression was mutual.
The editor at the time, James Brooke, formerly a longtime foreign correspondent of the New York Times, had talked me into conducting training sessions for members of the fledgling staff. I did a couple without bothering to discuss compensation, and I much enjoyed the experience of imparting what I had learned as a professional journalist to individuals such as the copy editor whose best credential was having worked as an auto mechanic. Really!
Anyway, I subsequently met Mohan, a gruff and brusque individual who ended up offering me via Brooke $12 a session, the idea being that a session might last for the good part of a morning or afternoon. I told Jim — who departed for an editorship in Ukraine late last year and then moved to New York after three weeks on the job — that I had too much self-respect to work for so little money at a profit-making enterprise.
Jim, who became a friend, then asked me at one point to be the Internet editor nights and, at another point, to fill in for two weeks as business editor.
I said “no” both times, in no small part because of my queasiness about the newspaper and its standards. Although I continued to value my free time, my biggest consideration was that I didn’t want to be associated with a newspaper I couldn’t respect, especially since two other English-language newspapers together cover Cambodia pretty well.
It turned out that my doubts were far shallower than the news that emerged last month.
Mr. Mohan was uncovered as a serial plagiarist in his numerous politically slanted opinion pieces by a local Web site for expats that had received a tip from a competing journal’s general manager. That newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, then took the high road in an even-handed exposition of the situation, avoiding a golden opportunity to crow.
The Khmer Times barely acknowledged the plagiarism in a short note buried in a diminutive green box at the bottom of a page early on, merely saying it took the allegations seriously and was investigating them. But a confession, report or apology never appeared.
However, the newspaper ultimately announced a couple of weeks ago that Mohan — whose title at the top of the masthead at the time was “publisher/managing editor” — would no longer be writing opinion columns for the newspaper. Well, yaay.
From the moment that the Khmer Times started publishing, initially once a week and now five times, the linked titles alone baldly leapt the ethical divide between the business and editorial sides of a journalistic enterprise that pretends to command respect. (When the paper began publishing nearly a year and a half ago, many expats in town voiced justified doubts as to its reason for being.)
However, Mohan remains at the top, now shown only as publisher, though the evident plagiarism obviously raises grave questions about the newspaper:
- Is Mohan, who has had a white-collar run-in with the law here, funding the newspaper himself?
- Or is the ruling party, which he patently has supported in his columns, supporting Khmer Times?
- Have any of the news stories been plagiarized?
- What effects does the scandal have on its staff?
- Is an evident plunge in the volume of advertising related to the revelations?
- Is the disappearance of the newspaper in some of the usual locations coincidental or a result of the revelations?
An individual who goes by “gavin mac” exposed the scandalous activity. He followed up his original report on the Khmer440 Web site on the opinion pieces with similarly outrageous breaches of journalistic ethics. His reading of letters to the editor in the Khmer Times demonstrates numerous faked letters to the editor, some with suspiciously strange names and others lifted virtually in toto from other newspapers.
Could no one else at the publication have failed to be aware of the deception?
In any other market, the publisher, manager editor, whatever would be long gone. In almost any other market in the West, the newspaper likely would be gone as well.
Thank goodness I didn’t want to be bothered with working at the newspaper and that I trusted my intuition. In my view, it is high time that the Khmer Times closes up shop.